By Olabisi Deji-Folutile
Nigerian students on Tuesday marked their 100 days of staying at home courtesy of the striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Some of them took to Twitter to share their experiences. A particularly striking one was the lamentation of a lady that claimed to have spent two years on 100 Level. According to her, she wasted one year during Covid and now this strike. As of today, these students have spent 104 days out of about 270 days in a session, which include semester breaks. The days are still counting as ASUU has insisted on continuing with the strike with no serious step being taken by the Federal Government to end it.
In a normal clime, this would have sounded the death knell for the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) especially in a pre-election year. But this is Nigeria. The party is moving on as if all is well. It is focused on retaining power in 2023 and it is more concerned about resolving party intrigues than some bunch of students whiling away their time in their parents’ homes.
What’s more, Nigerians appear to be generally tired. Those in government are not feeling any heat. The complaints from the few people that still have the energy to talk are too feeble to generate pressure. The students have been scared into silence. That was easily achieved as soldiers shot at them in Akure some days back.
In the midst of this, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) announced to Nigerians that no public school student from Sokoto and Zamfara states is sitting for the ongoing West African Senior School Examination (WASSCE). While the exam body accuses Zamfara of owing a backlog of N1.6 billion in unpaid fees for 2019, 2020 and 2021exams, it said Sokoto State failed to abide by its rules. As a result of this, over 50,000 SS3 students across the two states have been denied participation in the examination.
None of the governors of these states seem to see anything wrong with this. As a matter of fact, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal has been moving around the country in pursuit of his presidential ambition. On the other hand, his counterpart in Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle prefers to do other things with the state money than paying the exam fees of pupils. Last month, precisely, 7th April this year, the governor bought exotic cars for the traditional rulers in the state as their reward for maintaining peace. In the same month, 20th April, he sponsored 97 clerics to Saudi Arabia to pray for peace in the state.
Meanwhile, Zamfara is banditry ravaged and reputed to have a high level out of school children. Fifty-one per cent of the population of school age children in the state are out of school. Another report says the state has 422,214 out-of-school children while its neighbour, Sokoto has about 436,570 children in that bracket representing 37 percent of its 1,170,040 school children.
Apparently, these figures mean nothing to these governors. Tambuwal is a lawyer while Matawalle used to be a teacher. Should we say that Matawalle with all his education and experience at both Thames Valley University in London and Yaba College of Technology where he schooled cannot see the correlation between banditry and out-of-school children population. Or is it just a case of lack of concern? Does the governor truly believe that prayer will stop banditry even if the state keeps breeding an army of out-of-school children or is he just being hypocritical?
Afterall, his colleague in Katsina State, Governor Aminu Masari has at least spoken about the horrors locked in the Northern Forest, where anyone could get hundreds of armed men almost for free. He has revealed to us that the children abandoned in the forest across the North are now coming back to fight the society as bandits. He didn’t stop there. He warned that unless the education of these children is addressed, the situation might become worse in future. To him, “We have problems now with the forest people because they have no education of any kind. They do not have Islamic education and they do not have western education because they have been abandoned in the forest and forgotten. So these are the kind of children who have come up today, fighting us, fighting the society…. since the children are not educated, they only know one pleasure – the pleasure of the flesh, so they keep on producing children in large numbers.”
At least Matawalle could have taken a cue from his colleague’s analysis.
I saw a video of the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and a former emir of Kano, Mallam Lamido Sanusi, where he lamented the poor education indices and poverty rate in the northern part of the country. He revealed in that video that only 24 pupils in Zamfara State had 5 credit passes including English and Maths in 2017 WASSCE. One would have expected that the governor would be more interested in reversing such an ugly trend. But he has chosen to send clerics to Saudi Arabia to pray for peace and refused to enrol the pupils for an internationally recognised exam. Someone said this is the most ridiculous thing he has ever heard in his life. I can understand. This is not only ridiculous, it is diversionary, pretentious, wicked and senseless.
It is a typical case of fighting ringworm and leaving leprosy. Our public universities are gradually going the way of public primary and secondary schools and we don’t seem to be bothered. We have witnessed the demise of public primary and secondary schools. Now, it is the turn of our public universities.
Unfortunately, unlike primary and secondary education, higher education is too capital intensive and handing it over to the private sector will be very disastrous for us as a nation. Aside the problem of reduced access which is bound to happen due to lack of affordability, the public good that higher education offers would be impossible if it is solely left in the hands of the private sector.
That is why it is imperative for stakeholders to find a lasting solution to the problem of funding the system. Over 15 years ago, a student of Obafemi Awolowo University abandoned the university after spending seven years for a four-year course without hope of graduation because of ASUU strike. She travelled to the US and got her degree without stress. Simply put, ASUU strike will continue until we cure the foundation of the problem responsible for incessant strikes in our universities.
The Central Bank of Nigeria in a report released in March, 2022 said Nigerian parents and guardians spent a whopping $28.65 billion on their children and wards studying abroad between 2010 and 2020. Both education and medical tourism gulped a total of $39.66bn within the period. This is almost equivalent to the value of Nigeria’s foreign reserves which stood at $39.51bn in March.
This huge resource spent on schooling abroad has debilitating effects on the other sectors of our economy. According to the CBN report, the high cost has drastically increased the demand for foreign exchange and put strain on the value of the Naira to the dollar. So, manufacturers will find it difficult to have access to dollar at the official exchange rate, they will go to the black market where the price is higher resulting in a vicious circle of poverty for many in the land.
It is in Nigeria’s best interest to develop a funding system that will guarantee the sustenance of its higher education. Universities should begin to look outside the government for funding if we must rescue Nigeria’s higher education system. Let’s emulate what works in other countries. Nigerian higher institutions can explore potential revenue streams and resources through collaboration with their alumni, private sector, and other donor institutions. Doing this is in line with global best practices. The solution to our problems is clear, let’s stop beating about the bush.
LinkedIn: Olabisi Deji-Folutile