By ’FEMI ADETUNJI
The advent of missionaries (both Christian and Islam) in the 19th century brought home vividly the significance of education as a great weapon of evangelisation in Nigeria. For them, taking care of both body and soul of their converts was very dear to their hearts. They did not waste time to establish primary and secondary schools in the country to actualise their dream.
Though the schools were forcefully acquired by the then Nigerian government, the products of these mission schools will forever remain grateful to the proprietors who made it possible for them to have a taste of modern education.
In the last 20 years, however, the number of students applying for admission into tertiary institutions has increased tremendously. Unfortunately, not less than 40 per cent of qualified candidates cannot be admitted into universities due to shortage of space in the existing institutions. Again, the missionaries have come on board to salvage the situation.
The first to take the shot at this noble enterprise was Madonna University, Okija. It is the first private university in Nigeria. Founded in 1999 by Very Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Emmanuel Edeh, Cssp, it was meant to be a university with a difference. It works for the improvement of the local community as well as for an active contribution, to the needs of the international community. The Seventh Day Adventist Church followed the same year and established Babcock University, Ilisan-Remo, Ogun State. The university was named after the American Missionary, David C. Babcock, who pioneered the Seventh Day Adventist Church’s work in Nigeria in 1914. It was officially chartered on April 20, 1999.
In 2002, Bowen University, Iwo, and Covenant University, Ota, were equally established to help in the educational development of the country. Owned and operated by the Nigerian Baptist Convention, Bowen is named in honour of Rev. Thomas Jefferson Bowen, the first American Baptist missionary from the Southern Baptist Convention who arrived in Nigeria in 1850. The latter however, was granted the licence to operate as a private university on February 12, 2002. It is owned by the presiding bishop of the Living Faith Church (aka Winners Chapel) – Bishop David Oyedepo. It is a growing dynamic vision-birthed, vision driven university, founded on a Christian mission ethos and committed to pioneering excellence at the cutting edge of learning.
Perhaps the success story of these earlier universities might have prompted few others in 2005. Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo which came on board January 7, 2005, was established by the Supra Diocesan Board (West) of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) Communion). It is named after late Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African bishop who first translated the Bible into Yoruba language.
The Islamic groups were not left behind in the use of education to enhance the cause of human development. Al-Hikmah University, an Islamic university was also located in Ilorin, Kwara State. The goal is to be a centre of intellectual and moral excellence. It was founded by Abdul Raheem Oladimeji Islamic Foundation, AROIF, with the partnership of the World Assembly of Muslim Youths, WAMY. The Crescent University, Abeokuta was established by the Islamic Mission for Africa, IMA, in consonance with her doctrine and vision. The mission of the university is to ensure the delivery of the university education in ways that recognise personnel discipline and integrity, and promote positive societal values. Redeemer’s University, located in Redemption City, Mowe, Ogun State, is owned by the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
Joseph Ayo Babalola University, JABU located in Ikeji – Arakeji in Osun State was established by the Christ Apostolic Church, CAC Worldwide. It was named after the late spiritual leader of CAC, Joseph Ayo Babalola, JABU, is a fully residential institution. An Islamic group, Nasrue-Lahi-ll-fatih also established Fountain University, Osogbo, Osun State in May 2007 with a view to having a total development of men and women in an enabling environment through appropriate teaching, research and service to God and humanity.
With the same spirit, the Veritas University of Nigeria was founded by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria. It is as a request for a university that would provide high quality tertiary education according to the noble tradition of the Catholic Church. Even though the location is Abuja, the take-off campus meanwhile, which started in 2008/2009 academic session is Obehie, Abia State, Nigeria. On May 14, 2008, the Methodist Church of Nigeria formally opened the Wesley University of Science and Technology, Ondo. The university is to produce self-reliant responsible graduates who are in tune with the needs of the society.
While all these universities came into existence about 12 years ago, one institution that has spanned three decades is the Catholic Institute of West Africa, CIWA, Port Harcourt, Nigeria. CIWA was established in 1981 as a higher ecclesiastical institute for the study of theology by the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Anglophone West Africa, AECAWA. In 1984, the institute was recognised by the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a religious educational institution and affiliated to University of Calabar.
In May 1984, the institute was approved and canonically erected by the Holy See for the award of Masters Degree in Theology, while it started to offer doctorate programme in Sacred Theology in 1993. The institute equally started to offer Communications in 2003. The University of Calabar approved and ratified the masters degree programme in Communications in April, 2006
At present the institute also offers full-time courses leading to the award of Bachelors Degree in Communication Studies and Theology. The courses are duly accredited by the Nigerian Universities Commission.
A great significance of these mission universities is that, they are out to assist in closing the widening gap between attainable potential student population and limited space in the country’s educational system. Some of them go extra miles to create jobs for their graduates. More importantly, the vision of these universities is to be a model institution in terms of learning, character building and service to God and humanity. The philosophy behind their establishment is, therefore, to produce competent and resourceful graduates with high moral standards.
There is no doubt that mission universities have made great impact in the educational development of Nigerian youths, some people however, are of the opinion that the schools belong to the rich. The question in their mind is, can a child of a poor man afford N300,000 per session? Maybe, the proprietors of these mission universities can actually address the monetary issue. Otherwise, the gap between the poor and the rich will remain perpetually wide.
(Fr. Adetunji is a graduate student of the Catholic Institute of West Africa, Port Harcourt.)