By Dons Eze, PhD
The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are currently locked in battle of wits over the state of affairs in public universities in the country. None of the two sides is prepared to shift ground to enable public universities, closed since March this year, to reopen. And when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
The Nigerian education system is in serious jeopardy. It has entered into the hands of those who do not know the value of education, and those who lack the milk of human kindness. Gone are the days when government gives priority to education, and the era of humanitarian services, when the “reward of the teacher is in heaven”. Everything is cash and carry, and it must be here and now.
Over the years, particularly under the present administration, the federal government has not proved itself sufficiently interested in funding the education sector. The United Nations Education, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), puts the budgetary benchmark for education for every country, at 26 percent. But in Nigeria, the annual budgetary allocation for education is nowhere near this UNESCO benchmark.
According to a recent publication by the Vanguard Newspapers, the budgetary allocations for education in Nigeria, in percentages, for the ten-year period, from 2011 to 2021 are as follows: 2011 = 9.3%, 2012 = 9.86%, 2013 = 10.1%, 2014 = 10.5%, 2015 = 10.7%, 2016 = 7.9%, 2017 = 7.4%, 2018 = 7.04%, 2019 = 7.05%, 2020 = 6.7%, and 2021 = 5.6%.
From the above presentation, it is clear that since 2016 when the present administration started preparing its own budget, the budgetary allocations for the education sector have been on the downward trend. Worse still, the 5.6% allocation to education in next year’s (2021) budget proposal, is the lowest in ten years. The implication is that the present government is unrepentant in its disdain for education.
When therefore, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in March, this year, declared that it was going on strike in protest over poor funding of the education sector by the federal government, most critical and objective minds agreed with them. They however wished that the contending issues between the university teachers and the federal government would be quickly resolved, so that students could return to their classrooms. But this has not been the case.
It is now going to nine months since ASUU members have downed tools, and there is still no hope in sight as to when the university classrooms would be opened for students to begin to receive their lectures. Both the federal government and ASUU have continued to keep separate turfs, and none is prepared to shift ground, with thousands of university students wasting or rusting at home.
For top members of the federal government, they have nothing to worry about as a result of the long closure of the universities, after all, their own children and wards are comfortably studying overseas, or are in various private universities in the country, whose lecturers are not part of the ASUU strike.
Again, why would the government be in a hurry to get the universities reopen, since these institutions would be turning out graduates who would be swelling the ranks of unemployed graduates, when millions of those who already had graduated have no jobs? To yield ground to ASUU demands and have the universities reopen, would therefore mean turning out more graduates that would flood the already saturated labour market.
When, however, members of ASUU are pressing for their welfare, or when they are accusing the federal government of not equipping the university system, which were responsible for the current fall in standard of education, they fail to realize the harm their long absence from the classrooms is equally doing to the quality of students they produce.
In the past four decades there was hardly any academic session that ASUU members did not go on strike to the extent that some people have started to see ASUU as synonymous with strike. Sometimes the strike would last for as long as six months or more, and the students would be rusting or wasting at home or even joined some bad gangs.
When eventually the strike was called off and academic activities resumed, the lecturers would embark on “crash” programmes to try to cover lost grounds, and meet up with the university academic calendar. This often had resulted to ASUU members producing what some people would refer to as “half-baked” graduates, who hardly could hold their grounds among their peers in the academic world.
In the present instant, it may not be out of place to suggest that ASUU members should spare some thoughts on the plight of the students who have been entrusted into their care, but who now are languishing at home. To continue to stick to their guns and insist that they will not call off the strike unless the government meets all their demands, will make ASUU members as culpable as the federal government, which many people believe does not value education, and cares little about providing enabling environment for educating its citizenry.
It was William Shakespeare who once said that “when punishment exceeds its bound, the offender’s scourge is weighed and never the offence”. In our local saying, if you are bathing in a stream and a mad man came and collected your clothes, you do not have to go after the mad man naked, otherwise both of you would be termed mad.
Everybody knows the low value the present administration places on education. Should ASUU members remain intrasigent and refuse to budge, they would be classified the same way as the federal government: people with low value for education. At the moment, what most people know is that ASUU is on strike, and what they have been made to believe is that ASUU members are fighting for increase in their salaries and allowances. As such, a lot of people are not happy with ASUU, and its strike.