When countries around the globe are busy thinking of how to build world class universities that will have positive impacts on their societies, it is unfortunate that some universities in Nigeria could still be burdened with the task of keeping cows away from their classrooms. Sometimes, stories about happenings in Nigeria are just unbelievable. Or, how can anyone fathom a cry for help by a university to curtail cattle invasion of its premises? 

This is pure tragedy especially now that many universities are working on attracting more funds   to embark on cutting-edge researches that will create solutions to world’s challenges. It is bad enough that higher institutions in the country are confronted with myriads of challenges occasioned by either maladministration or paucity of funding. To now add the problem of competing with cows for space in a university environment is one problem too many.

The management of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State, had on Tuesday raised the alarm that herdsmen were turning the institution into a cattle colony. The registrar, Mr. John Nnabuihe, described how difficult it was to drive to the university’s Senate building that morning due to the massive cattle invasion of the institution. He further disclosed that the university had written letters to the Cattle Owners Association and copied heads of security agencies, complaining about the development. Going by the registrar’s account, one could deduce that the cattle were more than mere occasional visitors to the campus. They seem to be regular visitors if not permanent residents. This should be more than enough distraction in a learning environment on the norm.

Sincerely, but for the credible source of this information, it would have been hard to believe that Nigeria had degenerated to a level where cows could be competing with students and staff members for space in an ivory tower!  

Of course, FUTO is not the first university to complain about the activities of herdsmen on their campuses. The University of Ilorin and University of Uyo had at one time or the other, lodged similar complaints. It is just that the latest cry from FUTO seems to be more alarming in that the cattle there appear to be bolder and more unrestrained.

Unfortunately, cattle have been sacking pupils from classrooms in Nigeria for some time now. There are many verified videos of such invasion online. Indeed, with the way these cattle move from one level of school to the other, one might be tempted to think that the animals actually understand what it means to progress from a primary school to secondary, and then the university.

Two years ago, teachers and pupils of Ohovbe Primary School, Ikpoba, in Okha Local Government Area of Edo State, abandoned their classrooms and scampered for safety, when a herd of cattle invaded the school. The school authorities watched helplessly, not knowing what to do.

In January this year, a similar thing happened at Ideke Secondary School in the Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State as cattle and herdsmen took over the school. The school’s head teacher, Mrs Mercy Emumen, could only turn to the state ministry of education for help. Mercifully, the ministry moved into action and evacuated the cows from the classroom for normal academic activities to continue. The Ogun State Government has also had cause in the past to complain about the invasion of its schools by cattle and herdsmen. The education ministry specifically warned cattle herders to stay off the premises of its model schools. 

While cattle escaping to graze within school compounds may not be entirely strange even in the developed countries, it is still viewed as an aberration all the same. Hence, authorities step in as fast as possible to ensure normality as witnessed at a South Georgia middle and high school four years ago, when a small herd of escaped cattle decided to stop and graze at the school’s manicured lawns. The police immediately redirected the cows to where they belonged – a farm located behind the school.

Needless to say, in a country where over 10 million schoolchildren are officially out of school, it is evil omen to allow cattle chase out of classrooms those that have beaten the odds against dropping out of school.

Nigerian universities are still struggling to provide ordinary power – something that is taken for granted in many parts of the world. More than 15 years ago, a vice-chancellor in one of the nation’s first generation universities disclosed that the institution was spending over N120m per year on diesel. That was when a litre of diesel was less than N100. This gives an idea of the amount of money power alone could be gulping in many higher institutions in the country today. Just this Tuesday, two students of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti in Ekiti State, lost their lives while protesting lack of power supply to the institution. They were reportedly killed by the police that were invited to contain the situation. By the way, the Nigeria police have a lot to learn from their counterparts in Hong Kong. Thousands of people in Hong Kong have been protesting for months now but there is yet to be a record of any casualty. Shooting at unarmed citizens simply because they are demanding for their rights, is a despicable crime. 

Meanwhile, the situation in FUTO should be a major concern to all well-meaning Nigerians.  How can universities that are burdened with the task of chasing cattle away from their classrooms and campuses do what universities are meant to be doing in the 21st century? People keep complaining that Nigerian universities are nowhere to be found among top universities in the world. The few ones that appear on world universities’ ratings are far below the list. We must realize that the environment of study is as important as the quality of teaching in any institution. Besides, the negative report of cattle invading a university campus is likely to do more damage to the reputation of our institutions as a whole, than any good.  

Huawei is currently planning to spend more than $300m a year in research funding for universities all over the world. I doubt if Nigerian universities are in the picture. It is not yet late for our universities to start work on attracting some of this huge investment in human knowledge for the benefit of the citizenry and the society as a whole. This is one of the productive tasks universities should be undertaking, not the duty of chasing out cows from their classrooms in the 21st century.  

Whether we like it or not, the world will judge products of Nigerian universities based on the reports they read about these institutions. Nobody is likely to hold in high esteem any university where cows and human beings compete for learning.

Olabisi Deji-Folutile, a member of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, can be reached via bisideji@yahoo.co.uk

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