By Seun Akioye
In 2014, the National Universities Commission (NUC) published the names of over 50 degree awarding institutions it claimed were being run illegally. It also shut down some of the illegal schools, including the Borough College London, Igboho Study Campus. Seun Akioye visited Igboho and writes about how the closure has polarised the sleepy community.
The day prophetess Foluke Jacob received her letter of admission to Borough College London (BCL), Igboho Study Centre to study Public Administration was the happiest day of her life. The letter indicated that she would undergo a one-year foundational course. But this meant little to her, her admission into the college was enough satisfaction.
There were other interesting details about the admission. At the completion of her study at the BCL, she would be able to travel to the United Kingdom for her graduation ceremony and she would also be awarded a British certificate.
“I was glad when the school came, I am a prophetess and a Bible school graduate, but I always wanted to further my education. So, this was the opportunity to do so,” Jacob said.
Jacob was not the only enthusiastic student in Igboho who received the life changing letters of admission. About 600 others also joined in the rally held in August 2014 to signify the commencement of academic studies that would catapult the sleepy and poor community into a university town. Businesses also opened up in the town. Restaurants, hostels and transport business boomed.
As the news of the new college spread, students came from other cities, such as Ibadan, Lagos, Rivers and Abuja. They all found a common fulfillment in their desire for a university degree which had been so unexpectedly fulfilled by the BCL.
Then, in March 2015, after just a semester into the one-year foundation course, things fell apart.
That day the chairman, National Universities Commission (NUC), committee on closure of illegal universities, Prof. Adebisi Balogun told the media in Ibadan that BCL Igboho had been closed down. The closure was done by members of the (NUC) committee, officers of the Department of State Security (DSS), and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC.
Balogun said the school which had been running since October 2014 did not have NUC approval having only written to the body for permission. But the founder, Prof. James Ogunleye, who resides in London, has been telling the students a different story.
The news of the closure of BCL hit the Igboho community like a thunderbolt; it threw the plans of Jacobs and hundreds of other students into jeopardy. The indigenes, who had viewed the school as the propeller for development; were left disappointed. But more worrisome is the allegation that BCL was an illegal institution, running unapproved courses which would lead the students nowhere.
“We were shown the certificate for the approval of the school; we were told the school has also been approved by the Federal Government and Oyo State government. They showed us all the papers. I do not think from all we saw that the school could be illegal. Borough College is not an illegal school,” Jacob said, her eyes expressing strong disapproval.
A quest for education
Igboho, a town of about 150,000 inhabitants, has a rich history and a pride of place in Oyo traditional history. It is the home and the resting place of the original Alaafin of Oyo. There is a historic site called the Igbo Oba where at least four of the ancient Oyo kings were buried.
The town is also the food basket of Oyo State. It is known for its agricultural produce, especially yam, but for all its traditional and agricultural achievements, it is also a town crippled by unemployment and poverty.
The people found a way out in education and this would have helped but for the location of the town which is far away from the centre of business and commerce in Ibadan. This has also affected the location of higher institutions in the area. Many of the indigenes desirous of a higher degree would have to go far up in the northern parts of Nigeria, such as Sokoto and Abuja. In the whole of Oke Ogun, (comprising about 10 local governments) there is only one affiliate of the Polytechnic Ibadan.
“That was our dilemma,” Jaiyeola Olatunde, chairman of Ifelodun Association of Igboho indigenes worldwide, said. He has been one of the forces behind the establishment of Borough College in the town and with the closure of the institution, life seemed to have dealt him a fatal blow.
“We saw there is no development in this town. Our people are poor and there is no higher institution that can serve our people. We have a son who lives abroad; Otunba Abdulsalami Mustafa and we told him of the need to have a school here. He was the one who introduced us to Prof. James Ogunleye in April 2014 who told us of a school in London called the Borough College,” Olatunde told The Nation.
The story of the setting up of Borough College could be likened to an idea whose time had come. Prof. Ogunleye came to Igboho for the initial discussions and discovered a goldmine of educational opportunities. He was taken to the Alepata of Igboho and all the prominent chiefs in the town and his idea of establishing a “study center” of Borough College was accepted.
It was not clear if the people of Igboho understood the exact nature of the study centre but a promise that a degree certificate issued from a foreign university at the end of the course was enough to sway the indigenes.
Ogunleye reportedly told the people that his school would be running a Higher National Diploma programme, but the people wanted a degree-awarding institution. The deal was struck and the school began with an entrance examination in Irepo Grammar School, Akitipa.
Jacobs remembered that day. “I was told about the school in May 2014 and obtained the application form for N5,000. On September 18 of the same year, we had the entrance examination; there were about 600 students who sat for that exam.”
Almost all of them were successful and in October, the Borough College London began operation in Igboho. The opening was celebrated with much funfair and a rally around the town. The school began operation in a refurbished compound formerly housing a nursery and primary school-the Shining Light Schools.
“We found a land for the school and they started operation. In the few months that the school was here, we saw a lot of development in this town because students came from as far as Lagos and Ibadan,” Olatunde said.
But trouble began almost immediately for the school as a team from the DSS soon visited and demanded to examine the books of the school. After a thorough scrutiny, they seemed impressed and left the college to continue operations.
But a terrible story was already going around that the school was unaccredited. The source of this story was traced to an illustrious son of the town and Registrar, Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Dibu Ojerinde. At a town hall meeting in Oke Ogun, he was said to have told the people that BCL had no accreditation to run the courses and was therefore illegal.
Four indigenes interviewed by The Nation, who claimed to have been at the meeting, confirmed this story. The indigenes who do not want to be named said the JAMB boss never wanted the school in Igboho.
“We understand Prof. Ojerinde wanted to bring his own university to Igboho and was determined to run down the BCL. We know he was the one who brought the people from Abuja to seal the school, the police who came confirmed it,’ the sources said.
The closure of BCL seemed to have divided the town of Igboho more than ever, while there are those who believed that the presence of the college has brought development to the community, others believe the school if it cannot fulfil the requirements of the NUC should remain closed.
“A lot of things were wrong with the college,” Kabir, an indigene, told The Nation. As an unemployed graduate, he had watched with great concern the publicity for the school and how many of the indigenes fell for it. Personally, he tried to convince many of the students to jettison the idea.
“We checked with the NUC and we did not see the name of the school. It is not even in Jamb brochure. That was when we started telling people that it is a fake school. To operate a university, there is a certain amount of money you must have and this school has none of it. Also, we looked at the admission requirements and discovered people who didn’t have the required credits are also admitted as long as they can pay the school fees. If you ask my opinion, the school is fake and the closure has polarised this community” he said.
The school fights back
On April 29 about 50 students of the college gathered in front of the school to register their protest against the continued closure of the institution by the NUC. Led by the governors of each department, the students demanded from the NUC and the school management, the immediate reopening of the college.
The Dean of the school, Dr. Ayodele Ayeni, and the administrator, Solomon Durojaiye, appealed to the students to show understanding with the school. Ayeni said the management has gone to the ICPC in Abuja and shown all the accreditation and approvals from relevant bodies.
“We have gone to Abuja and they have seen all our approvals, what they requested are that the paramount ruler and the community leadership should write to them before they can reopen the school and we have done all this,” Ayeni said. However, his assurances did little to assuage the students who seemed determined to resume academic activities as soon as possible. Samuel Ezekiel, who said he was a Biology student said: “We have come here today in the belief that the school will be open, we cannot be expressing joy when we are in grief.”
Olawo Solomon, another student said, “What is our hope and what is the future, when exactly do we open?”
But that was a question too difficult for anyone to answer. The school solicitor, Ade Asudemade, pleaded for time for the ICPC to open the school.
“We have done all that they required of us and we want them to come and reopen it. If you forcefully reopen the school they will come and lock it up for a longer time, so the best is for us to be patient and wait for the ICPC to reopen it,” he said. He also declared that the NUC erred in tagging the school “illegal” and closing it down in a commando style without proper verification of its accreditations.
The accreditation the management spoke about include: A Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), certificate of incorporation given on February 24, 2015, Oyo State Ministry of Education Provisional Approval to Study/Continuing Education Center, with Ref number EDU/A/41/22/23/130 given on January 30, 2015, approval for Borough College London to offer BTEC Qualifications by edexcel and approval as a branch campus by the Universidad Azteca.
But the arguments of BCL management did not impress the NUC. According to the Head of Legal Department and the Secretary of the NUC Committee on schools closure, Moses Awe, the NUC has the rights to regulate and approve BCL.
Awe told The Nation: “We saw all of these documents. We have a whole department DDE at the NUC with a Director which is responsible for Open/Distant Learning. Under this arrangement, there are three models of running open distant learning. If you look at the Educational Act, CAP E3, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, it clearly spelt it out the conditions that applies to Open Universities domiciled in Nigeria. Now, that is to tell you that we have the authority to regulate not just conventional universities but Open and Distant Learning.”
Awe listed the three models of Distant Learning as Branch System, Twinning and Open/Distant Learning which BCL falls under. He said as long as the school is training Nigerians and developing manpower for Nigerians in Nigeria, it must be regulated by the NUC.
“Can the University of Ibadan as popular as it is just go and open a distant learning centre in London without submitting itself to the authorities in that country, with due respect some of these professors are just parading illiteracy, Awe said.
The NUC also said mere registration with the CAC is not enough to run a study centre unless it is backed up with an approval from the NIUC. “We have standards for all these, if you check the Educational Act, we have set minimum standards and BCL must follow that procedure. Let me tell you how bad it is, you can operate with NUC license without the CAC but you cannot use CAC to operate without the NUC license,” Awe said.
This is more bad news for the longsuffering management of the BCL and the continued closure of the college is one of the issues that gives the paramount ruler, the Alepata of IgbohoDr. Johnson Olaide Oyeyiola, much cause for worry.
“I do not want the government to lock the college, after secondary school, there is no higher institution here, we have just one polytechnic in Oke Ogun, so if a branch of a university is here, it is good,” the Alepata told The Nation. He said he has written to the ICPC to plead for the reopening of the school.
He urged the management to also do the needful. “If need be, Prof. Ogunleye should come and rectify all that is wrong, we need the school here because students come from all over Oke Ogun and they have spent money which is non-refundable. So the best thing is for the school to do the needful and government should let the academic exercise continue,” he concluded.
The Nation was able to contact Prof. Ogunleye in London who said in a telephone interview that he never claimed Borough College was a university but a study centre.
“There is nothing like a degree course, what we are running is foundation course. The idea of a degree was something that was fronted by a particular man at Igboho, I am sure you would have heard about the man, he is the one saying we are running degree there, it is a foundation course.”
Ogunleye said the students were admitted for a foundation course after which they will be eligible to proceed for the full university course. He claimed that Borough College in London is affiliate with a Universidad Azteca in Mexico which awards the degree for the programme of the college.
According to him, students of the study centRE in Igboho who passed the foundation course will be enrolled at the Universidad Azteca. “Borough College does not award degree, the students we have there are foundational students and at the end of their course we register them on our own degree programme from the University that is accredited to do that and the degree is recognized all over the world including Nigeria,” he said.
The Nation did a search on Universidad Azteca. According to its Wikipedia page, “Universidad Azteca is a private university with recognition of the Official Validity of Studies awarded by the Federal Secretary of Education, RVOE, accredited by the Federal Ministry of Education of the Republic and recognized by the Federal Government] to provide higher education and award graduate and postgraduate university degrees.
According to the Mexican Higher Education laws Universidad Azteca is authorized to offer study programmes and award degrees with RVOE and offer autonomous programmes and award academic degrees of the university”
Also, The Nation found out that the university has international accreditation to run courses in Europe. “-Universidad Azteca in 2013 is the first Mexican University to ever achieve institutional accreditation by ASIC the Accreditation Service for International Colleges, a leading UK accreditation agency, recognised by the Home Office, UK Border Agency, and listed by CHEA as a recognised accreditation body in the UK and internationally. ASIC is a national UK Affiliate of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education”. But while the Universidad Azteca has credible accreditation to run courses for European students like those of BCL, does it mean that its accreditation also extends to Nigeria without proper and due accreditation with the relevant authorities?
While the NUC does not think so, the Ayeni said the NUC has no rights to close down an institution with British accreditations. “The NUC has no rights over a British accredited programme. They say Borough College students don’t do Jamb, they cannot because it is a British programme and all the papers have been sent to the Ministry of Education, Corporate Affairs Commission and other education sectors in Oyo state and Abuja, that is the truth,” Ayeni said.
He also accused the JAMB registrar of being behind the travails of the institution.
“If Nigerians in Diaspora can bring projects to Nigeria to support the country in any sector, I don’t see any problem in that, that is what professor James Ogunleye did by bringing the study centre from London to Nigeria. Any lie they tell you don’t listen to them; the truth of the matter is that since we started the school, there is one big man in this town who has been victimizing the school. Anybody has rights in this country to bring any project to any part of this country so far as you are Nigerian.”
Ayeni insisted the school must be reopened. “The school must be reopened for the sakes of the students, this man has been victimizing the school since it started ,we tried to get him to see reason but he has been insisting that we cannot stay here, what is the meaning of that?”
For about two weeks, The Nation made several attempts to contact Prof. Ojerinde but was unsuccessful. Many telephone calls and text messages to his mobile number went unanswered as well. But sources close to him in Igboho denied that the registrar had anything to do with the travails of the college.
“ I have spoken to the Professor and he said he has nothing to do with the closure of the college, he denied any involvement in the closure of the school,” Alepata said.
A search of Borough College London indicates it is situated at Victoria Lodge, Chartwell Business Park, 61-65, Paulet Road, Camberwell, SE5 9HW London. It also indicated it offered varying courses including English, Computing and IT, Accountancy and Management. There was nothing about affiliation with Universidad Azteca and no announcement of the opening of a study centre in Nigeria. A statement on the page of the school website reads: “Borough College London is a relatively new and modern institution.”
The Nation wrote to the school asking for clarifications about its relationship with the study centRE in Nigeria. On April 21, 2015, a reply came saying the request will be looked into and a detailed response supplied; it was signed by Prof. James Ogunleye as the Director of BCL.
Another email from BCL arrived from the college on April 30, 2015 and signed by Prof. Ogunleye but this time as the Proprietor of BCL.
Jacob and other students still hold out hope for the continuation of their studies. Bridget Amoni, a student of Mass Communications and Mercy Tamunobarasin, a Bio-Chemistry student, both came from Rivers State. After years of battling with JAMB examination, the BCL offered attractive incentives for them.
“We are disappointed this is happening because we have so much hope for the school, we hope that it will be open this week so we can continue our studies,” they said.
Some other students who spoke to The Nation expressed similar sentiments. “Academically the BCL is okay, I have gained a lot by being here. But I am not satisfied until the school is reopened and if it is not done soon, I will have to go on a rally around the town, “ Adeoti Grace from Niger State said.
For Busayo Ayoade, a former student of Federal Polytechnic Offa,, the desire for a university degree and the affordable fees drew her to BCL. “All we want is for the school to stay, we just want the school reopened because the academic classes are really superior to what you find in many schools,” she said.
Jacob was one of the leaders of the rally as she constantly interfaced between students and management. A few months after her enrolment, she was honoured with the award of “Mother of Borough” because of her passion and unequal contributions to the school.
In a neat pouch, she had kept all the documents relating to her study at BCL waiting for the day she will resume her studies. Her course registration form indicated her student number as BCL/14/105/001. Already, she had paid the N70,000 school fees and other levies, so she has a lot to lose if the school does not reopen.
“If there is anything the school can do to rectify whatever is wrong, the government should allow the management to do it, so we can reopen our school and continue with our studies,” she said in a subdued voice. On her television, her award plaque from the school occupied a prominent position. It was a reminder of the time she attempted to get a university education.
This investigation was supported by Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).