| By Olu Ojewale |
UNIVERSITY education in Nigeria is in a serious crisis. For three months, both university students and lecturers have been at home because of the strike embarked upon by the lecturers over the unpalatable situation in the university system. To worsen the matter, there appears to be no end in sight as both the government and university teachers have firmly held on to their positions. All entreaties from concerned Nigerians have fallen on deaf ears. The impasse has led to several protests marches by students in Lagos, Abuja and other big cities in the country, but to no avail. Who will break the impasse? That is a million dollar question for which no one can hazard a guess. Since the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, started its strike on June 30, it has held meetings with federal government representatives for more than 10 times, but without any concrete resolution.
The bone of contention is that the federal government must honour the agreement it reached with the union in 2009. According to the agreement, all federal universities would require a total of N1.5 trillion spread over three years, that is, from 2009 to 2011, to address the rot and decay in the universities. But, in the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, signed between the ASUU and the government in 2012, the latter decided to extend the gesture to include both federal and state universities. At the January 2012 review, it was agreed that instead of N1.5 trillion, government would inject a total sum of N1.3 trillion into the universities over a four-year period. But about four years down the line, the government has yet to honour its decision on the agreement.
Rather than negotiating its way out of the cul-de-sac, the government responded by summoning a meeting with pro-chancellors and vice-chancellors of universities and offered them N130billion and told them to go back to the classrooms immediately. But the ASUU would not have any of it. Instead, the union is insisting that the government has repudiated the 2009 agreement it entered freely with the ASUU that N1.3 trillion for which it signed the 2012 MoU must be honoured to the letter. But government officials claimed that injecting N1.3 trillion into universities at this period would down the country. The union has rejected that argument, pointing to wastages in the government which should have saved the nation money for education. According to the union, the government which could keep 10 aircraft in the presidential fleet, spend billions of Naira on centenary celebrations, pay huge salaries and allowances to federal legislators and other political office holders, forfeit billions of naira to oil subsidy thieves, and pay militants bogus amnesty cheques and award phantom contracts to bunker the nation’s crude oil should not complain about lack of money. It said what this has amounted to is that there is no money for law abiding Nigerian students who go to the university to have education in order to be responsible citizens and make a living.
Asafon Sunday, director of action and mobilisation, National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, South-West, alleged that between 2000 and 2011, the Nigerian government earned about N48.48 trillion from the sale of oil alone, against N3.10 trillion earned between 1979 and 1999. This, he said, was apart from the N5.12 trillion raked in from taxes by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, in the 2012 financial year alone. The association, therefore, submitted that the excuse that the country could not afford to fund public universities was untenable. “Government cannot claim it has no money to fulfill this agreement in a country with 109 senators earning about N19.6 billion a year, while N51.8 billion is spent on members of the House of Representatives for the same period, totalling N71.4 billion. This sum, N71.4 billion, represents 17.8 percent of the N400 billion yearly intervention fund recommended by the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities. Surely, our lecturers and universities where they were trained deserve more,” Theophilus Ilevbare, a columnist said recently.
The insensitivity of the government to the need of Nigerians was further enunciated recently when Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of education, disclosed that Nigerian legislators and the government spent about one trillion naira since 2005. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, had earlier said almost the same thing when he disclosed that 25 percent of the nation’s budget was being spent on the federal legislators, apparently at the expense of basic social infrastructure like education. According to a study, less than 10 percent of the nation’s budget is usually spent on education whereas the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, says any country that wishes to become part of the 21st century should devote 30 to 40 percent of its total annual budget to education.
But the rot in the Nigerian education system did not start overnight. Nigerian governments and ASUU have been on face-off over lack of funding for a long time. In fact, the ASUU strikes date back to 1988 when the union’s officials started a protest over wage increases. This led to the suspension of the union and then reinstated in 1990. Following another strike in 1992, the ASUU was, again, hammered by the military government and restored yet again, after an agreement was reached with the government. In the mid-1990s, two more strikes hindered university education in Nigeria once more. Fast-forward to 2003, when the union again, went on strike over the manner in which the government handled education. As usual, there were accusations and counter-accusations over why public universities in Nigeria were not living up to expectations. There was a three-month strike in 2007 on mistrust when the union’s demands were not met.
In May 2008, the ASUU went on strike for a week in order to send a message to the authorities that they deserved higher salaries and wanted the return of lecturers who had been sacked. In June 2009, there was another spat with the federal government on terms agreed to in 2007, which led to a three-month strike. It was the strike that gave birth to the MoU, which was eventually signed with the government in 2012.
The frequent interruptions in the university education in the country must have encouraged Nigerians to send their children and wards abroad. Another leeway was created for parents by the government by licensing individuals and corporate organisations to found private universities. There are no less than 30 private universities in the country today. Yet, unlike before when the nation used to attract foreign students to the nation’s universities, such luxury has been reversed. It is Nigerians that are now going abroad, even to the neighbouring countries in search of education.
This, prompted Wale Babalakin, chairman, Committee of pro-chancellors of Nigeria, to cry out in September, last year, that there was a high cash flight of about N160bn from Nigeria to Ghana annually to fund university education of about 75,000 Nigerian students schooling in the country. Babalakin stated that Nigerians also spend huge amounts for the education of their children or wards in other countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Malaysia. He stated that Nigeria’s budget for education in 2011 was not up to N160 billion meaning that Nigerians spent more in Ghanaian universities in 2011 than the federal government spent on education the same year.
Speaking during the first Leading Light award presentation of the University of Ilorin Alumni Association in Ilorin, on Friday, September 7, Babalakin said: “Let us show that we love Nigeria. Let us reform education substantially. If we have an educated society, most of the ills of the society will reduce dramatically. It has been shown that there is a direct relationship between the quality of education and the welfare of the society. If you create a well-educated society, you end up creating a lovely society and you end up creating a society of great value.”
Jerry Agada, former mister of state for education, said poor funding of education was responsible for the current poor standard of education in the country with multiplying effects on poor facilities and lack of quality teachers. Agada said: “UNESCO said that in every country’s annual budget, at least 25 per cent of that budget should be expended on education, so that there will be a chunk of money for educational matters. Do we do that in Nigeria? Sometimes when you hear that 11 percent of the annual budget is spent on the education, you will say that they have tried, but at the end of the day, do they release that money? At the end of the budgetary year, you will discover that not all that was allocated that actually got released for the sector. Therefore, you will see that things continue to go bad instead of improving. If you go to the universities that we talk about, some of them are like glorified secondary schools. You need standard laboratories, standard libraries; do we have them in our universities? It is not just enough to have a building with a sign board that says university of this or that and you enter it and come out then you say you are a graduate.”
Oyewale Tomori, a professor and pioneer vice-chancellor, Redeemer’s University, Mowe, Ogun State, is also blaming poor funding on the rot in the nation’s university system. “The state of the Nigerian education sector is not much different from that of other neglected and abandoned sectors of our national life – health, security, agriculture, etc. Indeed, the education sector is in a worse state than those of the other sectors of our national life, having been maltreated by successive governments since independence; each government surpassing its predecessor in abusing our education. Today, our education is nearing its worst state. If the standard of our education falls lower than this, it will become the national cesspool.”
Tomori, who is now president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, said there was no way the current standard of education in the country could deliver the quality education most Nigerians yearn for. “Nigerians yearn for quality education, but are not prepared to work for it; we are not ready to make the required sacrifice, or feed the education system with the necessary input – funding, high class teachers, committed and hardworking students, and parents who cherish honour, and live a life of integrity and uprightness. Therefore Nigeria is deservedly reaping the quality of education it deserves – a dysfunctional education for a dissolute society. We are reaping out of our education the corruption, dishonesty, exploitation, fraudulence, treachery, apathy, carelessness, and malpractices that we have entrenched in the system. And we are reaping with compound interest!” he said.
The former VC would not blame the government alone for the rot; he accused the civil society of adopting an uncaring and irresponsible attitude towards education. He said every Nigerian has decided to find a solution to the problems of education as it affects him/her instead of using collective means of tackling the situation. This, perhaps, informs why there is so much lax in the university system where corruption is a common place as in any government organisation in the country. Apart from the issue of selling handouts to students, students have also adopted what is known as ‘sorting’ whereby lecturers are bribed to pass their courses. While female students are expected to sleep with their lecturers to pass, male students are expected to bring generous bribes and gifts to get marks. Some of the students would like to justify their actions on lack of motivation and good pay for their lecturers. Besides, according to students who are currently at home while the strike lasts, they are cramped in overcrowded hostels and lecture rooms. Besides, they are made to use dilapidated infrastructure like libraries with no new books and no new subscription to world-class journals. All these prompted Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, French and African studies in Canada, to say: “Given the conditions in which the Nigerian student is instructed, to sign up for university education is to sign up to be half-baked.” Apart from that, analysts say with the number students in the classrooms, there is pressure on lecturers to take more than they can actually cope. “There is the issue of eye contact and person-to-person interaction between the students and the lecturers, and because of this large intake, the ratio of teacher to student is becoming weakened. That is one area. So, when you have a large number of students relative to the teachers, it’s difficult to monitor them. It’s difficult to assess them properly and that is what is contributing to the falling quality,” said an analyst.
The problem of Nigerian universities started a long time ago. Before independence in 1960, Nigeria had only one university, University College, Ibadan, which then was an appendage of the University of London. This, the colonial masters and Nigerian nationalists reasoned, would not be adequate for the country which was going to be independent and would require high-level manpower to build and sustain its economic and infrastructural needs. It thus, set up the Sir Eric Ashby Commission in 1959, to identify the high-level manpower needs of the country for the future. The Ashby report recommended that education was, indeed, the bedrock for the nation’s national economic expansion and the social emancipation of the individual. Towards this end, it recommended the establishment of four federal universities in the country, and prescribed some vital courses for them to undertake. Eventually, five were universities established as follows: University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1960), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1962), University of lfe, lle-ife (1962), University of Lagos, Lagos (1962), and University of lbadan, first established as University College, lbadan, in 1948. In 1972, the University of Benin was established. By 1999, Nigeria had 41 universities made up of 25 federal, 12 states and four privately-owned. Since then, the number of universities has been increasing according to the whims and caprices of Nigerian politicians who want to impress their communities by siting universities in their domains. Thus, almost every state in Nigeria now has a federal university. State governors have been trying to outdo themselves by citing state universities in their villages. The federal government has not also stopped granting licenses to corporate and religious organisations as well as individuals to establish universities. As such, there are more than 100 universities in the country today.
In effect, both federal and state universities are suffering because of the budgetary constraints of governments. Hence, there is no adequate infrastructure resulting in the death of research laboratories and materials. According to a study by the National Universities Commission, NUC, in 2002, only about “30 percent of Nigerian student population has adequate access to classrooms, lecture theatres, laboratories, workshops and libraries.” The fact that students need to have access to the basic infrastructure and conducive environment to active learning cannot be overemphasised. The financial restrictions over the years have thus, created problems that are now obstructing academic work and causing friction between the universities and the government, and thus further eroding the standard of university education in the country.
At the twilight of its tenure, the Olusegun Obasanjo government took a number of far-reaching measures aimed at redirecting the course of university education in the country. The reform also provided for merger of polytechnics with universities and by so doing ending the discrimination against the Higher National Diploma, HND, awarded by polytechnics. But the reform was undermined and eventually thrown away. Speaking recently at a function, Ezekwesili, minister of education in the Obasanjo government, said she met a dysfunctional education sector, which prompted her to initiate more than 300 reforms but got abandoned by the successive governments. She said if the reforms had been pushed through after she left office, the present face-off between the government and ASUU would not have been necessary, “because parts of the agitations of the union had been captured by the reforms.”
According Tomori, it is too late to do anything now for the Nigerian universities’ to improve in ranking. “We can begin our 10-year plan for better ranking. If we do it genuinely, sincerely and devotedly, may be by 2020, the year our vision is set to materialise, we will see a trickle of Nigeria’s universities emerging at the 200-300 ranking positions,” he said. But with the ongoing strike, when will Nigeria settle down to improve on its education? That is a matter for conjecture.
— Oct. 7, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT