By Adnan Tudunwada
Nigerians are not only attracted to Zone-al-Madina, the bustling car market in Cotonou, Republic of Benin, for second-hand cars but also attracted to second-rate degrees in mushroom universities dotted across the small West African state.
Following public outcry by some Nigerian students over how their colleagues rush to Cotonou to bag degrees within a year, DAILY NIGERIAN reporter traveled to the country and investigated the situation.
The duration of the degree programmes is short, sharp and attractive to students willing to cut corners. Like grist of bees, Nigerian students swarm there to collect the easy but cheap academic nectar.
DAILY NIGERIAN gathered that universities in Benin Republic hire agents in Nigeria to visit both public and private universities to get students on probation, or those withdrawn and lure them to Cotonou to get the quick degrees.
There have been complaints by Nigerians that the degrees, in view of their short duration, do not cover the full curricula of the various disciplines they claim to study.
And despite the glaring shortcomings of these institutions, products of these universities are mobilised for the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC.
Investigation by this reporter show that Nigeria has the highest number of students in Cotonou, pursuing different degree programmes on various courses from universities that are neither licensed nor accredited.
Despite the fact that there are more than 100 private universities in the country, Benin Republic has two inadequately funded public universities.
Also gathered, 40 universities in the Francophone country use English as medium of instruction, just as less than 10 of them operate in accordance with the Benin Ministry of Education’s standard.
Our investigation further reveals that most of these universities lack qualified lecturers, just as some academics manning the rostrum posses questionable qualifications.
A Nigerian student studying in one of the institutions spoke to DAILY NIGERIAN under the condition of anonymity, saying most of the universities are money making ventures.
“Some universities in Cotonou admit students irrespective of how poor their transcript is. They are just after the financial gain in the admission of students,” he said.
Some of the mushroom universities visited by this reporter include Eco-Tes, King Amachree International School, ISM Adonai, Houdegebe North American University, Irgib Africa, Hill City University, the West African Union University, Iscom University, Esep Le berge University, Esgis University, Saint fecilite University, Les cour sonou and ESAE University.
Findings show that some of the universities operate in rented apartments including those claiming to offer science-based and medical courses.
Recently, the Benin Ministry of Education banned and refused to accredit science and medical courses in private universities. While Houdegbe and Adonai Universities obeyed these instructions, findings show that others still operate illegally.
Despite the ban, it was discovered that Eco-Tes, Hill City university and the West African Union University are offering medical and science-based courses with no laboratories or professionals and their graduates.
While many of the universities offer substandard degrees qualifications, some are well established and officially accredited to offer different programmes in the country.
An official of a university said: “You can see it with your eyes. From the environment, you know we are serious here. From our lecturers, classrooms, equipment, hostels and rigorous admission process, we offer the very best for our students.
“While the duration for fresh intake is three years, students for diplomas spend minimum of two years before their graduation.”
James Rodrigue, a professor in one of the universities lamented the influx of Nigerians to the substandard universities for certification.
The professor advised that urgent steps should be taken to address the problem.
“One of the universities runs five to six weeks for a semester and offers MBBS, Pharmacy, Environmental Health and Petrochemical engineering with no single laboratory in the school to carry out practicals.
“Other universities with restrictions on their courses, still offer science-based and medical courses like Estate Management, Architecture, Micro Biology and Computer Science in a rented apartments that are not conducive for learning.
“It’s unfortunate some students merely pay off to get the degree certificates without attending tutorials.”
Citing example of the speed with which academic pursuit is completed in the country, Musa Habib, a staff of Maryam Abacha University, said a student who was recently expelled for poor academic performance in the university rushed to Cotonou and bagged a degree in one month.
“He is currently a corps member with NYSC,” he said.
Nigerian Ministry of Education has been blamed for recognizing the certificates of the degree milling institutions and the NYSC for mobilizing them for service.
A Nigerian resident in Cotonou, Aliyu Dikko, told this paper that he changed his mind from taking his children to a school in Benin Republic after learning “the facts on the ground”.
He said: “When I brought my three children here, they told me that they will acquire a degree in nine months. I became worried and just changed my mind to return them back to Nigeria where I’m currently seeking admission for them in one of the private universities.”
Where the Problem lies
The degree programmes in Benin Republic have continued to be an issue of discussion on social media and among parents in Nigeria. This was after series of articles were written by some Nigerians, calling on authorities to look into it for fear of employing half-baked graduates into the system.
Insiders said the problem of the proliferation of substandard private universities could be blamed on the poor regulation by authorities in Benin Republic.
They argued that Nigerian embassy in Benin too needs to also give advisory to students who seek admission into some of the universities.
When contacted, the spokesman of Nigerian Universities Commission Ibrahim Usman Yakasai said it issue is outside regulatory purview of the NUC.
“The jurisdiction of NUC is restricted to Nigerian universities alone. I’m not at the right position to say something over this. it is diplomatic issue, but all I will say is, awarding a degree in seven month or a year is not reasonable, and whoever bags that knows what he bagged for himself”.
The spokespersons for Nigeria’s Education ministry and Nigerian ambassador to Benin could not be reached for comment at the time of filing in this report.