A reflection on ASUU and tertiary education in Nigeria BY Omoniyi Ibietan

Omoniyi Ibietan

Omoniyi Ibietan

FILE

It’s saddening, inconceivable, certainly concerning and devastating. And practically every sector is in some form of crisis. We would need a national summit on education with buy-in of all stakeholders, particularly the state actors.

But funding of education must be a product of a granite sincere alliance of all stakeholders. The contributions from the so-called big men and ‘philanthropists’ and corporations in Nigeria need to be done more strategically and mindful of our population and peculiar needs.

Let me explain further. Recently, I read a very saddening commentary alluding to ASUU demands as oriented in socialism, and the author, possibly literate but uneducated attempted to draw a poor parallel with what’s obtainable in Germany.

Our problem is prioritisation, poverty of vision, of leadership and blatant impunity. Our beloved country defeats because of many reasons but in this context misplaced priority.

I was a student in South Africa and I found that Nigeria doesn’t come close to SA in the funding of any sector, including and particularly education. The Republic of South Africa has two portfolios for education in the cabinet: Basic Education, and Higher Education. The school where I studied gave me bursary for 3 consecutive years.

The bursary was to defray my tuition fees but with extras of up to R6000 to R10,000, which I could use for anything I liked. The monies are sent to my bank account after the school fees were deducted. If I had paid the school fees, I would get total bursary sums without deductions. I am not a South African, yet I got such treatment just because I undertook a doctoral programme there.

When I finished my programme and was returning to Nigeria, ASUU was on strike, partly for reasons it embarked on strikes while I was an undergraduate. One of which was funding. Ironically, in that same year, my school in South Africa declared budget surplus for the 14th consecutive year. Just imagine!

So, sincerely, on my honour, I declare that ASUU is a body of the most patriotic Nigerians because many of them would find job easily in the academia in other countries if they choose to leave Nigeria.

I was a PRO of my University Student Union as an undergraduate in Nigeria, the same time Prof. Jega was ASUU president. I related very closely with ASUU leadership and understood the issues and troubles with education sector and ASUU’s grouses.

I mean, imagine the fact that ASUU is fighting to eradicate open defecation on Nigerian campuses and someone is calling them socialists. Look at how much Nigerian legislators who add less value to our lives earn, and our education sector is so poorly funded, ditto for health, agriculture etc.

How can we make progress and improve on human development index when key sectors of our economy are painfully bereft of basic triggers of development?

Sometimes, when I listened to some of our so-called leaders or read what they say, I feel so frustrated sharing the same geographical space with some people. It rankles and sickens listening to rubbish from people who supposedly had some form of education.

Let explicate further on funding. Government largely fund schools in South Africa and it does so earnestly and by my reckoning sincerely. For Universities, funding is through Department of Higher Education and Training, and within the framework of a development plan.

In 2021, SA government spent R43 billion on free university education. That’s just a component because it’s not all aspects that are free. There’s a percentage that goes into education and its substantial.

But beyond that, corporate organisations also fund education. The former Chancellor of my school is a mining magnate and an architect. The current, a woman, is a reputable business person. And people are brought into such positions because of value and funding.

I state this to express my aversion to our system where traditional rulers are usually appointed as Chancellors. Their impact are not even felt because of the rapid devaluation in our cultures that they supposedly oversee. Indeed, and more importantly government does not appoint Chancellors for universities in SA.

In SA, people donate big money into education without expecting anything in return, not the tokens we see here in Nigeria with strings attached. 7 years ago, South Africans contributed R1.63 billion as donations to higher education alone. 90 percent of that went to the universities.

Meanwhile, R1 was 35 naira when I was studying in SA. Imagine that sum in Naira. Also remember that there are just 26 public universities in South Africa and the population of South Africa is a quarter of Nigeria’s.

We really need to get back to the drawing board on education because education is foundational to any society’s progress.

Omoniyi Ibietan is a strategic communication and multi-stakeholder relationship management specialist.

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