By Wole Olaoye
First, let’s slake our thirst at the fountain of Mandela’s wisdom: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another”.
In other words, a society that doesn’t prioritise education as the oxygen of development is doomed to spread the virus of ignorance.
It appears that our leaders either don’t understand the implications of consigning education to the back burner, or they are simply myopic and selfish because they have access to the public till to take care of their own immediate families. We have systemic problems with the way we run our primary and secondary education. The situation has become so bad that most parents would rather send their children to private schools if they can afford the fees. Public education is begging for rejuvenation.
The school curriculum is in tatters as there is no recognisable philosophy behind its programming. Our penchant for chasing self-invented shadows made the military government of yore cancel History as a course of study. Little wonder, Nigeria is today being troubled by wayward children-turned-adults who have no clue about where they are coming from and where they are going. The situation got so scandalous that Nigeria’s premier university at Ibadan was going to close down its History department for lack of students and teachers, but for the heroic intervention of Prof Tekena Tamuno, its one-time vice-chancellor.
Departments of Philosophy in several universities were almost going to suffer the same fate. Those who design our educational system don’t seem to understand that Philosophy is the mother subject controlling human thought and worldview. How can a society which treats History and Philosophy with such contempt ever make progress?
Even with the squint-eyed curriculum that we run, are the institutions of higher learning open for business? I don’t know of any other country where the gates of public universities and polytechnics are more shut than open on account of strikes by the various unions while the government feigns helplessness.
A 2009 Agreement reached between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the federal government is at the centre of the perennial downing of tools. ASUU wants the Memorandum of Action (MoA) on funding for the revitalisation of both states and Federal universities implemented. The union wants to renegotiate the 2009 Agreement. It also advocates the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) platform which it developed instead of the government’s preferred Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS).
Among the other issues being negotiated are earned academic allowances, state universities, promotion arrears, withheld salaries and non-remittance of third-party deductions. The Federal Government reportedly remitted a fraction of the expected funds last year but it fell short of the agreement reached with ASUU.Thus, we are back to square one.
So far, the government’s negotiating team has failed spectacularly in reaching any kind of agreement with the union. The sheer arrogance of the government representatives, exhibited on national television, suggests that we are suffering from the usual Nigerian problem of square pegs in round holes.
In the midst of all the lies and counter-lies, showboating and blame trading, I find the intervention of Prof Frank Ugiomoh, a concerned academic, quite elucidating.
“It is important to note that IPPIS has never been subjected to integrity test, except lately when the president asked that both systems be subjected to integrity test. At the latest test it scored 99.3%… ASUU did not, on its own, design UTAS. UTAS came to be when the difficulties of capturing the peculiarities of the university labour structures in IPPIS failed. With the eulogies of IPPIS, many academics across universities are being owed as much as 22-24 months of salaries. I have been a victim of owed salaries since January 2020…”
As our tertiary education students languish in enforced idleness, politicians are plotting how to renew their mandates. Billions of Naira have been committed to the purchase of nomination forms and the ‘purchase’ of delegates. At the same time, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has made some public disclosures against some high government officials. The vibrant Nigerian commentariat on social media, after the usual irreverent and riotous debate on the matter, are unanimous that Nigerian politicians can, if they so wish, contribute the amount needed to resolve the current ASUU crisis.
There is so much unearned quantum of Naira in circulation that the exchange rate itself has been doing a yo-yo in obedience to the laws of demand and supply. Politicians are buying up dollars to facilitate their buying and selling of allegiances and alliances. The Naira has taken a beating under the distracted Governor of the Central Bank who lately tried to change location from the spectators’ gallery to the field of play. It always gets curiouser and curiouser!
But, wait a minute, with all the hundreds of billions reportedly pinched from various government coffers, one wonders how much any sane human being needs to live comfortably. Ordinary Nigerians in cybersphere have been analysing the arithmetic of fraud to demonstrate that those who steal billions probably need psychiatric help.
“If someone steals N1 Billion and he is asked to spend N1 million every month” argues one anonymous arithmetician, “it will take him 83 years & 4 months to exhaust his cache of funds: 12 Months = 12M; 10 Years = 120M; 20 Years = 240M; 40 Years = 480M; 80 Years = 960M. How many more years does a 60-year-old man who steals scores of billions have to live?”
The closure of universities has also had adverse economic impact on their host communities, as demonstrated by Prof. Muhammad Waziri of Geography Dept. University of Maiduguri who made the following calculation:
“If 20,000 students make a trip to the campus by public transport with an average of N200 daily, that’s N4m. If 20,000 students eat lunch at school at N200 daily, that’s another N4m. If 20,000 students photocopy 20 pages of documents at N10 each daily, that’s another N4m. By this, just 20,000 students inject N12m daily to the local economy…”
Imagine how much has been lost by all the communities hosting universities all over the country!
The longer our undergraduates roam the streets instead of being in school, the worse for the country. Already, university the calendar exists only in name in Nigeria. Teaching, research and learning are also bound to be negatively impacted. Outside the country, our certificates are no longer respected. Anyone interested in studying the subject of what some of our youths have been up to since the closure should visit local watering holes and other places where they spend their day doing Yahoo-Yahoo or shooting drugs into their system. The Devil, they say, finds work for idle hands.
Already the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Southwest Zone D, has threatened to shut down all international airports over the lingering closure of universities. If those in government treat that threat with their characteristic contempt, we may one day wake up to international embarrassment in the aviation sector. Anyone who knows anything about the power of mobilisation at the command of Nigerian students will not dare them, especially in this era of multiple frustrations when the vast majority of the people are on short fuse.
Can Nigeria afford to fund its universities? My answer is a big YES. It all depends on our priorities. If we can afford to pay our legislators the sinful haul they take home every month, aside from the gravy they cream off several agencies in exercise of their oversight duties; if we can afford the princely lifestyle of prominent politicians; if we can tolerate the kinds of shenanigans that went on in the name of palliatives during the COVID scourge; if we can establish more universities as we have been doing over the last 10 years; if we can allow so many loopholes in the system through which top officials routinely dribble billions into their private pockets— it is my humble submission that we can afford to fund our universities properly.
Anyone in doubt should check out how much accrues to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) annually. If the body is sanitised and made to remit funds directly to universities in line with an agreed formula to augment the usual provision by the government, most of the problems associated with funding of our tertiary institutions will disappear. Isn’t it said that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest?
But is anyone listening?
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