If only Nigerians are fully aware of the damage being done to the nation’s tertiary education sector, especially its universities, with this impasse in negotiations between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, perhaps there would have been a concerted approach to resolving the problem.
Right now, Nigerian public universities are in a very delicate shape and require careful handling so that they don’t crumble into pieces. In fact, this current stalemate may usher in the total demise of our public university system if nothing is done, and urgently too. For those that can still remember the grace to grass history of our public primary school system, it started exactly like this. The public primary school system ran averagely well until the early 1990s when incessant strikes by teachers to protest being paid by local governments, signalled its death knell. Of course, state governments later found a way around the problem as they opened an account jointly controlled by states and local governments for teachers’ salaries, but the solution came rather too late. The very foundation for the development of sound primary education system as laid down by the Ashby recommendations of 1960 had been totally destroyed while these incessant strikes lasted.
Now, primary school teachers’ salaries are removed and put into a special account before allocation from the federation account is disbursed to the LGs. That is why there seems to be a semblance of sanity in our public primary schools now. Never mind that constitutionally, the local governments are empowered to run primary schools. But any attempt to implement this provision of the law to the letter will lead to another wave of agitation. One can hardly blame the teachers. The local governments have been highly irresponsible; they never met their obligations to the teachers in terms of salary and other welfare packages.
Nevertheless, Nigeria’s lack of commitment to the development and preservation of its primary school system led to the emergence of mushroom private primary schools that we see all around us today. The private sector has taken over the responsibility of providing basic primary education to Nigerian children. Unfortunately, since many of these school owners cannot hire trained teachers, they make do with what they can afford. So, we end up compromising the quality of education that Nigeria’s future leaders should be having right from the primary school level. This nation may never recover from this terrible damage done to its children.
As it is, getting sound education at the primary and secondary school level has become the preserve of the children of the rich. And since every good parent would like to leave an inheritance for their children, they also struggle to get money anyhow and by any means to fulfil this desire. That’s why you can hardly get anything done in Nigeria without being forced to pay a bribe. These people need all the money they can get to fix their children in good schools. Am I justifying graft? not at all! The point being made is that people are desperate to raise money via illegal means because there is no responsible government in charge. Citizens whose governments provide basic amenities and access to good health, education and housing are likely to be less desperate. As we speak, public school teachers are being owed in many states; the learning environment in many public schools is nothing to write home about; teachers’ commitment and dedication to duty is zero in many instances. Yet, our leaders are not ashamed to tell us that they value sound education.
Now, the big problem is that unlike primary and secondary education that could easily be provided by private enterprises even if substandard, private university education cannot be provided by just anybody. The cost of running private universities is huge; hence many Nigerians may never smell the four walls of a university if we allow these public universities to die. For example, one of the criteria for establishing a private university, according to the National Universities Commission, is bank guarantee of funds to the tune of N200m from a reputable bank and a minimum land area of 100 hectares. Not only that, but sponsors are also expected to put in place the required infrastructures including access roads, power, water, laboratories, workshops, libraries etc, not to now talk of assembling the faculty that must include senior lecturers and professors and all of that. How many private businesses can afford to do that? And for those who are able to scale the NUC 14-step to starting a university, how many are sure of getting candidates to enrol and for how long are they going to wait to start getting the money required to run the university effectively, embark on research, etc.? How many Nigerians would be able to send their children to such universities? Aside faith-based universities in Nigeria which naturally enjoy patronage from members, a lot of private universities set up by individuals are really struggling. Where are the students? Not so many parents can afford to send their children there.
If we allow our public universities to die like the public primary and secondary schools, some private institutions may be forced to lower their quality in order to make the cost affordable. Imagine a nation with substandard primary, secondary and university education! Some private universities are probably doing that now. We are gradually getting to the point of collapsed public universities. I shuddered at the sight of pictures circulated in the social media of toilet facilities at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The condition was terrible! If the public university system totally crumbles, good private universities will become extremely expensive and unaffordable. Mushroom varsities will grow like the mushroom primary and secondary schools that are everywhere now. Is this what Nigerians want?
Without education, this nation is doomed. In fact, we are where we are today because many of our so-called leaders had dysfunctional education. Imagine someone getting admission to a unity school with a score of 7 over 300; getting university admission with less than 150 over 400 and getting employed above other better-qualified people all in the name of federal character and quota system. These are the people taking critical decisions on behalf of the rest of us and we are still wondering why the country is in a mess. The truth is good governance is predicated on sound leadership. And any nation that thinks that leadership positions should be the preserve of some people born to rule will end up being ruled by nonentities.
In countries where things work, leaders are groomed. These leaders are not just educated, they schooled in the best of schools. The first female chancellor of Germany and one of the architects of the European Union, Angela Merkel, studied Physics at the University of Leipzig, earning a doctorate degree; President Donald Trump of the US attended Fordham University for two years and got a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. President of Finland, Sauli Vainamo Niinisto, is a lawyer by profession, Boris Johnson is a product of both Eton College, often described as “the chief nurse of England’s statesmen,” having educated 20 prime ministers; and Balliol College, Oxford. I can go on and on. None of these leaders had questionable certificates and their academic qualifications were never subjects of controversy. No wonder, they approach governance with a sense of purpose and deliver quality services. People can only give what they have.
If there are truly lovers of education in this country, this is the time to speak in unison and demand an end to the impasse between ASUU and the Federal Government. I am afraid that if we all keep quiet, this situation will continue and the university system will crumble totally. If the pronouncements by the national body of ASUU are anything to go by, the union is not likely to call off its seven-month strike unless government attends to its requests, chief among which is the reversal of the Integrated Payment Platform System (IPPS) and implementation of past agreements on funding and enhanced salaries. And if I can read this administration correctly, I doubt if it is going to bend over backward to meet ASUU’s demands. Looking at its antecedents, this government appears deaf and dumb. Is there anything that Nigerians spoke against that has ever been reversed by this administration? Nigerians complained about hike in fuel price and what they got in return was further increase; there are general complaints about poor living condition, high cost of food items and so many other things, has anything changed? This government has consistently displayed contempt, impunity and disdain for the concerns, fears and the will of the Nigerian people.
If ASUU remains adamant and the Federal government sticks to its guns, is this how we will all watch until these public institutions totally collapse? I pity Nigerian youths. The only thing they are probably enjoying in Nigeria today is this free university education, although I don’t know how sustainable this can be if we are really serious about good university education. But that is a topic for another day. For now, suffice it to say that we keep what we have before it slips away. No one needs a soothsayer to predict what will become of Nigeria in another decade if we allow these universities to die. It’s time for whoever cares about the present and future of this country to call on both ASUU and the Federal Government to sheathe their sword. Both parties should reach a workable agreement for the sake of Nigeria’s future. This impasse is becoming too expensive to ignore.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the editor-in-chief, franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: It’s time to run Nigeria’s tertiary institutions as business ventures
I am happy you are getting the round to what we have shouted forever as a union.
Please let me add that if you are in the sciences, you have to spend from your meagre salary to make it possible for project students, especially undergraduates, complete their projects. I had to buy a generator a while back to make this possible for my students and fuel it too.
I am sure if the same subject of your write-up had been accused of sexual harassment, it would have been a hot topic on the floor of the National Assembly, popular with CSOs/NGOs and talk shows (especially female talk shows) on TV and radio.
Why is this sacrifice-financed invention not attracting same delightful attention?
I laughed at the title of your write-up because Nigerians, especially parents, have no idea what we sacrifice to keep the system running. Many of us are no longer willing to continue with such sacrifices. I am confused why parents who paid hundreds of thousand per term at primary and secondary schools will assume paying 25,000.00 service charge per session (since tertiary school in Nigeria are tuition-free), will provide Harvard standard University education. Talk of inverted logic. I wonder how much UI will pay monthly now, with the new energy charge.
Madam, I am so sorry, but we are not ready to have, honest conversation about University education in Nigeria. We are more interested in crucifying and insulting a union, not made up of saints but of people, willing to make more sacrifices if only the school owners, who in actual fact are parents, through the government, will just pay attention to their decaying and disappearing investments, i.e. decaying and disappearing future of Nigeria.
Akindayo A. Sowunmi, Ph.D
Hydrobiology and Fisheries Unit,
Department of Zoology,
University of Ibadan, Ibadan. Nigeria.
I read your well-informed opinion on Nigerian universities in Sahara Reporters today. I am so much impressed.
May God bless you as you continue to impact our society. More power to your elbow.
Department of Educational Foundations,
Faculty of Education,
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
I have read this article and tried sending my comment but the POST on my device was not active. Madam has been in the forefront fighting what I will describe as a guerrilla war with her penchant for academic orientation in digitization of teaching and learning. Many times I differ from her in opinion and sometimes I agree with her.
In this regard, it was obvious that she made a complaint and also proffered the necessary answers. Why should anybody think that the academicians are reluctant in carrying out research? Did you expect them to expend their salaries on research? All over the world, including the USA, UK where she has mentioned, no individual lecturer spend his or her money on research; it is the sole responsibility of the government to fund research.
Today, Rwanda was not mentioned as an indicator, but I like to tell you that the salary of a Tutorial Assistant (Graduate Assistant) in University of Rwanda is equivalent to that of Lecturer 1 in Nigeria, ditto at the Sweden University of agriculture (Those are Places I have worked and can give you first hand information) with other incentives. There is no country in the world where University manufacture brands or do mass production of equipment or product. What they do is to produce prototype and manufacturing companies take over through synergy and cooperation supported by government. But that synergy does not exist in Nigeria if at all the manufacturing companies are also there. Therefore, all the blames should go to the government rather than seeing the hapless University lecturers as warrigals.
Several universities including ABU, Zaria have in the past launched one thing or the other. Department of Mechanical engineering, ABU manufactured a complete made in Nigeria car not too long ago; nobody is taking it from them. A young engineer in Jos manufactured a prototype ventilator after he had repaired three at the Jos University Hospital; he gave the estimate of the amount that will construct a complete functional ventilator, till today nobody, not even the governor of Plateau State talked about it. How do we develop with this attitude? Why should all the blames always go to the lecturers? Today, TETFUND is withholding billions of research fund on account of technicality, but when you apply for research funding from TETFUND, it will take two or three years before you can get approval and another several months before a fractional part of the fund is released. How do you expect the researcher to keep following a single research for two or more years?
Before I left Nigeria, as an agriculturist I have carried out research on the causes of mass destruction of Irish Potatoes in 2012 – 2013 in Plateau State. Many farmers suffered severe loss due to the outbreak of what we later discovered to be late blight. I discovered that the blight is virus infection, and to control it, one has to eject a new seed in to the market. I applied to TETFUND for Potato seed production as a research. During the interview, the chairman of the panel was a known academic foe and a public administrator; his questions were not scientific with no direct bearing on the study. He questioned the modality and possibility of what I was about to do. He did not allow the research to scale through the first stage of scrutiny let alone the financial committee.
In conclusion, I hope the fight or probably the struggle will continue but for effective and successful winning, it must be directed to the appropriate channels.
Professor Durotimi Folutile JOHN
Department of Irrigation and Drainage,
School of Agricultural Engineering,
University of Rwanda
This is a detailed and constructive evaluation of the subject. You kept wondering in this write-up why we prefer to go for the products manufactured by others to those developed by us. Very simple and obvious answer: attitude.
Average Nigerian, irrespective of status or religious mentality is selfish, corrupt, and appreciates imported things to home-made things. Is it not cheaper to fund home-based 0.3M naira project than to import robots at several millions of Naira? But if such is done, will there be any room to inflate contract and steal several millions of Naira? Nigerians need aggressive orientation. But who will lead the exercise? It is well. Have a great day.
University of Uyo,
Akwa Ibom State.