Nigeria's 31 universities, which only re-opened late last month, may once again be closed down to prevent student activism during most of March when the Junior World Cup football tournament takes place in the country.
"We don't want Nigerian students to use the occasion to vent their anger against the Nigerian government before world journalists, just like their Mexican counterparts during the 1966 Olympic Games. So we have been instructed by the presidency to interrupt studies and send students home," said an official of a Nigerian University, who pleaded for anonymity.
Nigeria's 230,000 students returned to classes last month after university lecturers called off their five-month strike. Asis Assobie, president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, said the decision to suspend the strike was a response to the appeal by "well-meaning Nigerians who have promised to intervene in order to make the government reciprocate by implementing all the agreements it had earlier reached with ASUU".
With the exception of Ahmadu Bello University at Zaria in the north of the country, whose academic staff have refused to go back to work until the university administration is probed for alleged corruption and financial mismanagement, all Nigeria's 30 universities have re-commenced teaching.
However, many students are apprehensive because the unprecedented 300 per cent price increase for all petroleum products last November has drastically reduced their purchasing power.
"Many of us will have to eat sparingly because the price of food has become highly prohibitive," said Adekule Ojo, a third-year English degree student at the University of Lagos. "For those of us living off the campus, landlords are demanding six times the rate for renting their houses. We shall go through hell this session."
Despite education taking 8.2 per cent of the total government anticipated expenditure in the 1995 budget, lecturers are highly sceptical about any substantial improvement in either teaching or research. "The budget proposal is not an end in itself, it is the implementation that matters," echoed Lucky Akaruesie, vice chairman of the union at the University of Port Harcourt.
Lemmy Onwugah, a senior lecturer at the department of political science at Rivers State College of Education, said:"The fact that education tops the budget is irrelevant because successive budgets in the country have not been faithfully implemented. For instance, in the 1994 fiscal year, the federal government ignored its balanced budget and incurred a deficit of about $40 million within the first six months."
He added: "In a country where most vice chancellors retire after second tenure as millionaires, I would imagine some vice chancellors would just say this is their chance."
Inyang Eteng, of the sociology department at Port Harcourt University, said that parents and students, whose cause the union had fought for during the five months, did not appreciate their efforts. "We have opened the universities - let the students come. They are not getting any education from us," he said.
The atmosphere of decay in Nigeria's university system was graphically painted by Miyi Osundane, head of English and literature at Nigeria's oldest university, Ibadan. A leading poet and one-time Commonwealth poetry prize winner, Dr Osundane expressed alarm that "our laboratories are gathering cobwebs. Looking around our universities, everything has literally broken down. The roads are not well maintained. There are potholes. The lawns are not well maintained. They have been overgrown by weeds. The bookshops are empty. The library acquisitions are outdated. So you take a total picture and then you ask: what is the future for education in this country and then what is the future of this country?" The government previously agreed to release $75 million to the federal universities as part of a three-year period for capital grants. Only half was released. The government also promised to release money obtained from an education tax imposed on companies. The money was collected by the Federal Tax Office but not a cent was given to the universities.