Nigerian students in Benin are at the receiving end of an unstable economic situation and fractured political relations between the two neighbours. Three weeks after the Seme-Krake international border was abruptly and indefinitely closed by Nigeria – a move ostensibly aimed at curbing rampant smuggling – it was announced by Benin that all English language courses in private universities were suspended.
Benin university programmes offered in English have been popular choices for Nigerian students who are unable to attend university back home, partly as a result of the enormous demand for university places.
In an interview with University World News, Benin’s director of private universities in the Education Ministry, Professor Dodji Amouzouvi, who made the announcement about the suspension of private university courses, said his department had received an official complaint sent from the Nigerian Embassy to the Presidency of Benin about the quality of graduates being produced through courses taught in English.
He said Benin’s private universities have been accused of producing graduates who are unemployable in their home countries. He said some employers said the graduates were unable to express themselves in English, but declined to elaborate further for fear of being drawn into diplomatic controversy.
According to Professor Mouftau Olalaye, Benin’s former ambassador to Nigeria and a former professor of public administration at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, the suspension of the programmes in English – an offering that was mutually beneficial to both countries – was intended as a kind of diplomatic response to Nigeria’s unilateral closure of the border with Benin which, he said, has had a negative impact on his country’s economy.
“Over 80% of Benin’s external commerce is with Nigeria,” he said.
At the time of the sudden border closure on 22 August, Colonel Hameed Ali, director general of the Nigerian customs service, told an international press conference the border closure was a necessary solution to the perennial problems of incessant smuggling of banned goods into Nigeria.
“The border would remain closed indefinitely until the two governments find a mutually agreed formula to put an end to smuggling activities which have a very negative impact on the Nigerian economy,” he said.
Origins of English tuition in Benin
Olalaye said that, as a university teacher in Nigeria and later Benin’s ambassador to Nigeria, he took part in what became a statutory establishment of an English language section in Benin’s private universities whereby academic courses and research programmes could be mounted. “After all, such a provision is available in some universities in France,” he said.
After an inter-ministerial committee had completed its spadework, a law was passed at Benin’s National Assembly on 6 October 2005, permitting the country’s private universities to create an anglophone section in their university programmes.
Olalaye said that, at the time, there was a significant increase in Nigerians who registered at these private universities in Benin.