Nigeria approves Africa’s first Dominican university

“The vision is African, Catholic, and Dominican,” says Father Anthony Akinwale of Nigeria’s new Dominican University.

Last month it was announced that the Nigerian Federal Executive Council had approved the establishment of eight new private universities in the country. Among these is the Dominican University in the city of Ibadan, which will be Africa’s first Dominican university. The new university builds upon the work of the Dominican Institute, which has been offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy and theology for more than 20 years, under the auspices of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph the Worker. As a government-approved institution of higher learning, the new Dominican University will be able to offer degrees in other fields of study.

Catholic World Report recently corresponded with Father Anthony Akinwale, OP, professor of theology and chair of the committee that is overseeing the transition of the new Dominican University.

CWR: Father Akinwale, please tell us more about the new Dominican University—where in Nigeria is it located, and why was it started?

Father Anthony Akinwale, OP: The Dominican University in Nigeria is located in the ancient city of Ibadan, Oyo State of Nigeria. It is a university that belongs to the Dominican Province of St. Joseph the Worker. Its seed is the Dominican Institute which, since 1994, has been running programs in philosophy and theology as an affiliate tertiary institution. With the granting of its license on November 2, 2016, the Dominican University is now authorized by the federal government of Nigeria to run programs in other academic disciplines.

Recall that the Order’s early preachers and thinkers played a pioneering and pivotal role in the development of Europe. History testifies to the immense intellectual output of St. Thomas Aquinas in Paris, and of his teacher St. Albert the Great in Cologne. Today, the Dominican Order has its universities on all the other continents. But while there are other tertiary institutions of the Order in Africa—such as l’Institut de St Thomas d’Aquin in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire—the Dominican University in Ibadan will be the Order’s first full-fledged university in Africa. That it is being licensed during the 800th-year jubilee of the founding of our Order is the jubilee gift of Divine Providence to our Order. 

The mission of the Dominican University is to respond to Nigeria and Africa’s developmental needs. So much has been said and is still being said about the developmental potential of the African continent. But the beautiful discourses on Africa’s rich potential need to translate from dream into reality. The mission of the Dominican University in Nigeria is to contribute to the actualization of this potential, and this mission is driven by a vision.

It is a vision of integral humanism, integral education, and authentic development. By integral humanism, we mean the promotion of the dignity of the human person in his or her spiritual, intellectual, moral, and technical dimensions. By integral education, we mean education that forms the human person in these same dimensions. The vision is African, Catholic, and Dominican.

It is African because education so envisioned, like the traditional African cooking-stove which is made of three stones, it stands on three feet. It is a project of integral (Catholic) education whose three feet are intellectual formation or formation for truth, moral formation or formation for the good, and technical formation or formation for managerial competence. And the three feet stand on the ground of spiritual formation.

[This vision] is also illustrated by the Dominican life of prayer and study, a life which makes us stay tuned to God and to the human person in the quest for the best way to live together. It corresponds to the Dominican quest for spiritual and intellectual formation, a quest for God in a quest for truth, and a quest for good in [pursuit of] personal self-realization and communal self-realization. Here in this vision, therefore, is a concrete expression of the Dominican tradition of prayer and study.

This vision of education for authentic development evokes the spirit of Blessed Paul VI’s landmark encyclical Populorum Progressio. In that encyclical, he wisely admonished our world not to limit development to the provision of technical infrastructure. Development, and by extension education, is about the human person. For this reason, the development of Africa cannot be left in the hands of technocrats alone. It requires the formation of a new generation of leaders, men and women of spiritual, intellectual, and moral competence, present and actively deploying this multiple competence in every sphere of human endeavor in the search for the common good. The cultivation of spiritual and intellectual life will express itself in a well-cultivated moral life placed at the service of the common good. Education today must include the acquisition of technical competence at the same time as spiritual, intellectual, and moral competence. For while technical competence is necessary, it is insufficient.

The driver’s seat of Africa’s development must be occupied by those who desire the truth, the good, and technical efficiency in the love of God above all things, and in the love of neighbor created in the image and likeness of God. We dream of a university that serves the mission of the Order of Preachers by using the Gospel to refine and rectify reason and technique: a meeting point of religion, philosophy, and technology; a symposium of faith, reason, and science; a constant conversation of theory and praxis. The Dominican University hopes to form future leaders, men and women of multiple competences, to occupy the driver’s seat in Africa’s vehicle of development. We seek to accomplish in Nigeria and Africa what the early Dominicans did in Europe.  

CWR: How much does it cost for a student per semester? Does the university offer any support for bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds?

Father Akinwale: The cost of education is not what can be fixed in an interview published on the pages of a newspaper. So many factors go into it—namely, the need for quality, the economic situation of students and their sponsors. At the Dominican University, we are conscious of the fact that good quality education is quite expensive, and that access to good quality education is very difficult for the economically deprived. For this reason, the Dominican University is already considering ways of providing support for intellectually endowed but economically deprived students. At the same time, a newly-established university is also in need of generous benefactors. 

CWR: What concrete needs are there in Nigeria and how does the Dominican University respond to these needs?

Father Akinwale: Nigeria, like many African countries, is characterized by religious and ethnic diversity. The problem is not the diversity; the problem is the mismanagement of diversity, its manipulation for the purpose of securing political and economic advantages to the disadvantage of others. There is a concrete need to form a future generation of leaders who will manage Nigeria’s diversity by building a nation whose citizens collaborate to actualize their personal and collective potentials. The Dominican University intends to form citizens who will appreciate the beauty of diversity, citizens and leaders who will work for their self-actualization by working for our collective actualization. Our diversity needs not be an impediment to development. It should in fact be a means. We will hope and work for the formation of citizens and leaders who will appreciate the enriching potential of religious and ethnic diversity. For that to happen, the university, through its programs in the humanities, will enable its students to identify and work for shared core values that are needed for building a nation.

CWR: How different is the pedagogy offered at the Dominican University from that found at state-run universities?

Father Akinwale: In state-run universities, one perceives a marginalization of humanities. So much emphasis is laid on science and technology. Science and technology furnish us with techniques. But there is need for values, and it is the humanities that enable us to identify and promote values. We hope to offer courses in the arts to students in the sciences, and courses in the sciences to those in the humanities. Our pedagogy will reflect the three feet of education and the spiritual ground on which they stand.

CWR: How does the Dominican University balance between the pursuit of academic freedom and thought and maintaining a distinctive Catholic identity?

Father Akinwale: The question would presuppose an antithesis between freedom and Catholicity. But in fact, there is no such antithesis. I make this point even as I bear in mind the famous altercation in history between Galileo and the Church.

It is the truth that sets us free. The motto of the Dominican University was deliberately chosen to reflect this fact; its motto is “In veritate libertas” [“Freedom in truth”]. Academic freedom and Catholic education are collaborators and not competitors in academia because freedom promotes integral education, and integral education leads us to true freedom.

Of course, we must avoid a notion of freedom that amounts to licentiousness. There is no freedom without truth, and our ability to know the truth is severely impaired when legitimate freedom is impeded. Our distinctive Catholic identity will be maintained by a university education that recognizes, respects, and promotes the pure and unrestricted desire to know. In the same way, our desire to know is fulfilled when we provide education that forms the whole person, that is, education standing on three feet, as is I have earlier described. Truth resides in the intellect, freedom in the will, and the intellect and the will are bosom friends. It is by rightly cultivating the intellect that the will is rightly ordered. When that is done academic freedom and Catholicity are seen to be allies.

CWR: The “Fees Must Fall” protests in South Africa highlighted the financial challenges faced by students in accessing higher education. What is the situation in Nigeria?

Father Akinwale: The situation is not different in Nigeria. I dare say it is the same everywhere in the world. Financing education is becoming a challenge of ever-increasing magnitude. Everyone desires high-quality education. But there cannot be high-quality education without adequate funding. Since an African adage says it takes a village to form a child, facing the double challenge of access and funding demands a synergy between the state, the family, voluntary agencies like religious bodies, and the corporate world. It would be a mistake to leave that to government alone. It would equally be a mistake to leave funding to the family alone, or to the school alone. Don’t forget, every university has to pay its staff, equip its laboratories, update its libraries, and attend to sundry infrastructural imperatives. Solution will not come from protests. We all need to use our energy for progress, not for protests.

CWR: Do you think the Nigerian government is investing enough in higher education? What more can the government do? How is the Church bridging the shortfalls?

Father Akinwale: I do not believe Nigeria is sufficiently investing in education. Government at the federal, state, and local levels can do a lot more. For decades, we have run a system in which more money is spent maintaining government officials and structure than on education. There is need for an effective legislative framework for funding education in Nigeria. In the absence of such framework, the Church can only do what she can do. And I must say, contrary to what most people believe, the Catholic Church in Nigeria is doing a lot in the area of education. While it is true that the cost of attending schools run by the Church is on the high side, it is equally true that, without the Church, many children of economically disadvantaged parents would not have had access to education. I do not believe it is appropriate to mention names, but I know of a number of dioceses in Nigeria where there are annual fund-raising events the proceeds of which are used to educate children of the poor. A few years ago, I was invited as guest speaker at an annual lecture organized by one of the dioceses to raise such funds. There are wealthy members of the Church who are encouraged to give scholarships to children of the poor. Their response has not been discouraging.

Government needs to and can be innovative in funding education. That would be more profitable to the citizen than the campaign gimmick of “free education” which we hear in every election season. The bitter truth is: education is never free. Someone has to pay for it. There is therefore an urgent need to construct a solid legislative framework for funding education. Government should seriously consider the possibility of levying an education tax on major players in the corporate world. The time has come to give a grant for the education of each student. Government should let us know how much is budgeted for the education of each Nigerian student. Each university can then be given that sum of money, drawn from the education levy, as government’s contribution towards the education of the child. Of course, the university will be made to be accountable for how the grant is spent. It is the least government can do. But it seems the political will to do so is in short supply.

CWR: What kind of graduate would you like to see emerging from the Dominican University in Nigeria?

Father Akinwale: A developed polity is an aggregate of citizens of actualized potential and fulfilled aspirations. For this reason, I would like a graduate of the Dominican University to be a man or woman who would use the competence acquired in the university to actualize his or her potential by working for the actualization of our collective potential, a man or woman who would seek his or her fulfilment by working for our collective fulfilment. I dream of a graduate who would be a citizen of the world, one who is inspired and enabled to collaborate with others in building a civilization of love. That is how we can effectively confront the triple menace of corruption, poverty, and insecurity.

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About Allen Ottaro 32 Articles
Allen Ottaro lives in Nairobi, Kenya, where he is a parishioner at St. Paul’s Catholic University Chapel in the Archdiocese of Nairobi. He is a co-founder of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, and is the former national coordinator of MAGIS Kenya.