The Esama of Benin Kingdom, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, has given a blow-by-blow account on how former military president, General Ibrahim Badanmasi Babangida (IBB) conceived the idea of private universities in the country.
Igbinedion, who is the founder of the first private university in Nigeria, Igbinedion University, Okada, said Babangida was provoked by the frequent strikes of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), prompting him to issue a policy that allowed for establishment of private higher education institutions.
Speaking in an interview with Daily Trust, Igbinedion however, said his university, was only able to come into existence after Babangida left office as head of state.
His words: “For the university, a former military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida called me to spend time with him at the Aso Rock, so I took my private plane and went to visit him.
” When I got there, everybody had gone to church because it was on a Sunday. He was alone with his wife, Maryam. His wife had a special way of preparing fresh fish, and nobody knew the secret.
” We were cracking jokes and about to eat it when Babangida’s telephone rang. He was in a light mood, but it changed as soon as he picked up the phone. He said, “Oh my God, ASUU again!”
” After receiving the call, he put the phone down and was not smiling. I asked what happened and he said university lecturers were on strike. Out of curiosity, I said why not allow private universities to operate in the country so as to dwarf the lecturers.
“Immediately, he called the Minister of Education, Professor Baba Fafunwa and asked him to see me in Benin the following day. Before 11am, Fafunwa had already arrived Benin from Lagos on the bad road. On getting to my house, he looked disturbed and asked why I reported him to IBB. I told him that I didn’t report him to anyone but he was still ranting, so I allowed him to calm down before telling him what happened.
Within three days he brought the form to me. At that time, 63 of us collected the forms, but because the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) wanted to hold the government to ransom all the time, they didn’t want private universities to come on board. So they said all those seeking to establish private universities should bring N200 million as guarantee fund. My bank issued the draft guarantee.
“Out of that number that collected the form, I was the only one that returned it with the N200m guarantee fund. So, after about six months or one year, they wrote to me that only four banks could give the guarantee in the country.
” At that time, I knew I was the target. But I like challenges and was also ready for whatever would come my way. I gathered all the money and asked the Union Bank to issue the guarantee.
“On seeing that I was able to meet the condition, after few months, they wrote back to me that the money should be deposited at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). At that time, the interest rate was 36 per cent and the CBN was only paying us 19 per cent.
“But I had no option but to withdraw the money and take to the apex bank. At the end, after nine years and three months of firework, a former military head of state, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, made it a reality by granting the licence.”