Nigerian Government's Flippant Stance On Education And ASUU Strike By Dele Omojuyigbe - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Thursday, December 10, 2020

Nigerian Government's Flippant Stance On Education And ASUU Strike By Dele Omojuyigbe

If almighty ASUU, in their majesties, are asked to give account of their stewardship to Nigerians this year, what will they say? Will they justifiably explain away their one-year paralysis of the university system with adequate rationality? Can they confidently wave their kingly scepters to the public and declare by the authority of their crowns that they shunned the class because the Federal Government was unyielding?  Will they tell their students that they were fighting their cause to preserve their tomorrow? It is doubtful if those reasons can fly. No student-victim of the on-going strike will listen.

To my mind, ASUU’s inflexibility is the issue. They lost their good grounds to it long ago. Negotiating while at work would have been it. The Union has an untold history of strikes but the present edition lost its steam even before it began. COVID 19 was enough strike when ASUU decided to visit us yet with their anger. Strategy ought to have changed from ASUU’s end to show class. Strike shouldn’t be the only way to press down demands. Can’t they bring something to the table to encourage easy negotiation? Partnership with the government in running varsities may be the long-term solution. We could take a cue from other lands as Dr Bunmi Aborisade once suggested.

 “Our universities should be given the autonomy to generate money to run our universities. They should be allowed to charge school fees to pay teachers and run the universities. Government can give grants, scholarships and guarantee bank loans for students to fund their education. The government can also give annual subvention to complement whatever the universities generate from school fees, fundraising and business ventures. To achieve this, we may have to reconsider who heads our universities. It should be reserved for those with business and administrative capabilities and not necessarily academics. Education is very expensive in the US, this model has greatly helped its educational system”, Aborisade had said.
Tragically, all the Nigerian governments in the last couple of years have been flippant about education. They seem to have baffling disdain for tertiary education. That is the reason ASUU can scream on mountaintops about their concerns and they won’t care. But this wasn’t so before. The FG was enthusiastic about funding university education in the beginning. For that reason, no state government was allowed to own a university.

General Yakubu Gowon had argued as head of state that it was inexpedient to grant permission to states to establish their own universities. They would not be able to bear the financial responsibilities, he had said. Thus, he advocated a national scheme for university development, so that standard would not drop to an extent that the degrees and diplomas awarded by Nigerian universities would be worthless. 

The National Universities Commission was established early to promote quality higher education in the country. That was when Nigeria had just five universities, called first generation universities, all owned by the Federal government. The Commission was expected to advise Executive on the financial needs of the universities and additional ones to be established in the future; coordinate the development of universities in Nigeria; allocate and disburse federal grants and external aids to universities; and advise Executive on topics relating to higher education development in the country. It is pointless asking if the government cares anymore about these issues. The answer is obvious. Adequate funding of universities stopped many years ago and so brain drain became inevitable.

Academic staff deserted the campuses to seek jobs with better conditions abroad. They are still leaving. Interestingly, this can only bother a country which cares; not a country whose presidents habitually seek medical attention abroad; and whose children study there! If ASUU strike runs non-stop for five years, it won’t concern ministers whose children are not in any Nigerian university? 

Education budget is consistently low yearly. A paltry sum of N55 billion was, for example, allocated to 14 state universities by their state governments in 12 states in 2018. The amount comprised both the recurrent and capital expenditure of the universities. In comparison, the State of Missouri in the United States budgeted N83.2 billion ($229.4million) to four high schools in Columbia District in the same year, as disclosed by the National Center of Statistics. The amount was higher than the combined budgets of the 14 state universities in Nigeria. Meanwhile, the benchmark recommended for education by UNESCO is 15 – 20 per cent of the annual budget. It is a serious problem. But the problem cuts across all sectors. ASUU’s predicament is not peculiar. So, they cannot afford to walk alone. Keeping students at home for almost a year because of a general problem is indefensible. Should we all stay at home because our demands are not met by the government?

•Dr. Dele Omojuyigbe is Deputy Provost, Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Ogba, Lagos

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