By Abdelghaffar Amoka Abddelmalik PhD
I recall in the year 2003 during my MSc program when I bought my first computer system. I first bought the system unit (the one we erroneously used to refer to as CPU then) and bought the computer monitor 3 months later.
It was a dream come true and a huge achievement at least among my contemporaries then. When eventually I started using the computer and I discovered in no distance time that it was somehow misbehaving, I was like this my precious computer that I have saved for a long time to purchase must not die this fast.
Then I was told of Emma, a computer technician, whom I called and he showed up the next day. He said the computer had malfunctioned and needed to be restored to the last date it worked perfectly. He restored the computer back to normal life with so much joy.
Just like my computer, our public universities, I dire say, need to be restored to their earlier state of 80s when it last functioned properly, if we are to enjoy our universities system again.
When the first generation universities were established in Nigeria, they ranked among the best in the world. They attracted the finest scholars from around the world.
One thing led to another and successive administrations began to misplaced their priorities hence attentions was made to shift from the vantage position our education enjoyed then to cosmetics and other ephemerals. Our public schools did not only leave the priority list but began to deteriorate and were inadvertently allowed to decay.
The first victims were primary and secondary schools education before it began to catch up with the universities. The NANS that use to champion the course of affordable and quality education for all gradually ran out of focus. ASUU then became the lone voice for the adequate funding of education and the fight to save the soul of public universities.
Over the years, ASUU has fought with FG towards creating a conducive research, teaching, and learning environment in public universities. Meanwhile, in the midst of these struggles, the Federal and state government were rather on reduplication spree of public universities without the attendant commitment and zeal to fund or sustain them.
Suffice to say that establishment of a university in Nigeria has become a thing of mere sentimentality of scoring cheap and narrow political popularity of haven established a university with little or no concern at all as to how they will measure up with the world minimum laid down standards.
Two issues that have dominated the ASUU’s struggles over the years have been improved welfare for university workers as well as proper funding to train better skilled graduates that can compete favourably anywhere around the world for national development.
Somebody may be tempted to ask: Why is ASUU so bothered about the welfare of University Lecturers? Yes! Universities, unlike the ministry, is a universal system that is meant to attract international scholars and be able to keep their best brains and protect the system from brain drain.
Nigerian Universities staff earned relatively competitive salaries with the rest of the world universities up till the early 80s. That was why we had several international scholars across the universities in Nigeria then. The international outlook of a university contributes to its global ranking of world best universities.
During my PhD in the UK, my monthly stipend was about 1,133 GBP. My sponsor pay the least stipend to PhDs in the UK and yet I earned a stipend higher than the salary of most of our Professors today.
How do you intend to attract a scholar from the UK to Nigeria, where an average Professor earns less than the stipend that their PhD students earn overseas? It can be recalled that most of the Lecturers that travelled abroad for study fellowship between 60s and early 80s returned willingly and happily because their system was relatively comparable to what we had.
The case is different now. Rather than attracting bright scholars from universities abroad, we are losing our bright Lecturers that travelled abroad for study fellowship. They got offers with salaries that are several times better than their Nigerian university salary and decided to stay back. Some came back, got frustrated and went back. Brain drain!
I have a Senior Lecturer from a UK university as a partner in a project I am currently working on as the PI. I am still finding it difficult to let the UK partner know that his allowance per month is ridiculously as low as less than 100 GBP (it actually N40k per month, equivalent to about 79 GBP when converted based on the current official exchange rate). That is how far apart we are with the rest of the world.
Ironically, Nigerians in diaspora would prefer to return home from UK or US to lobby and contest elections in Nigeria because it is juicier and more “profitable”. Invitation for political appointments are readily acceptable to Nigerians abroad because politics is no doubt more sumptuous in Nigeria than any other place in the world.
But not for any Professor to agree to come and teach in our universities because Academic job in Nigeria is for poor people. If education is really considered as the key to national development as our politicians would continue to pay lip-services to; and our universities considered as the engine room; then giving the required priority is the only way to go. Professors from top universities in the US, Europe, etc should be encouraged and enlisted to come and carry out researches in our universities.
Another issue that also take the front yet top burner of ASUU struggle is funding. Just like my computer that was restored back to the earlier date that it last worked perfectly well, ASUU has equally identified that the only way to return the universities to their glorious days is to restore the university operational system back to the state our universities were known to have worked perfectly last.
From ASUU’s background assessment of the on the ground facilities of Nigerian public universities, they came up with a proposal in 2009 of 1.1 trillion naira that is required to revitalize all the public universities. ASUU went as far as taking videos of the pathetic state of students hostels, Lecture halls/room, offices, etc to convince FG of the state of the facilities and the urgent need to fix the public universities.
After a lot of pressure from ASUU, the government of Goodluck Jonathan set up the committee on NEEDS Assessment of public universities in 2012 under the Chairmanship of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the then Executive Secretary of TETFund and the current Chairman of INEC.
The committee assessed more than half of the federal and state universities across the country. I saw the pictures of Danfodio Hall in ABU Zaria in their report. The committee found it hard to believe what they uncovered.
They described the students hostels as not suitable for humans habitation. Most of the state universities were referred to as “TETFUND Universities” because the only visible structures are TETFund structures. What the Governors do now is to convert an existing primary school structure to a university for TETFund to fund. Most states have at least two (2) state universities now.
As against the 1.1 trillion naira suggested by ASUU in 2009 for the revitalization of public universities, the NEEDS Assessment committee on the report presented to the Federal Economic Council in 2012 at the Villa, recommended 1.3 trillion naira to revitalize public universities and spread over 6 years (2013 to 2018). Goodluck Jonathan led government released the first tranche of 200 billion naira to the universities for 2013 before he was voted out of power.
Even though the value of naira has depreciated by more than half of what it was when the agreement was reached, ASUU has been struggling with Buhari’s government since 2015 to release the remain of the funds in the agreed tranches of 220 billion naira per year to fix the public universities.
All they have successfully done since 2015 that the Buhari’s government took over was to give an endless excuses until they grudgingly release a commitment of 25 billion naira like they are doing at the moment and that is the end of the commitment till when ASUU deemed it fit for another strike. These universities are called public universities because they are meant to be funded with public funds to make them affordable to the general public.
While public universities are not on their priority list to fund, educating their kids in universities abroad is on their priority list.
Despite this exposition which is in the public domain for everyone to know, most people find it convenient to pretend that all is well with Nigerian universities, including our journalists that are the product of our ailing public universities.
They did not find it necessary to make the reporting of the pathetic state of the universities an issue to focus on. But on Fridays, you find them hanging around the venues of the FG-ASUU meeting to break the breaking news on strike at the middle of the night. They would be struggling and outdoing each other with misleading captions as: ASUU Agrees to Suspend Strike and all sort of captions.
The other time, Senate passes sexual harassment bill to protect students from Lecturers but they did not find it necessary to pass a bill to save the Universities from poor funding so that the same student they are protecting can acquire qualitative education. The fight for proper funding was left to the Lecturers. What a Two-faced Legislation.
Why is ASUU so passionate about revitalization? As stated in one of my recent publications, the University is synonymous to a vehicle for innovation and national development. FG is the owner of the vehicle, students are the passenger and ASUU is the driver.
The vehicle owner which in this case is the FG is only interested in hearing that the vehicle is moving, the passengers, ie students, are only interested in getting to their destination, but a GOOD DRIVER pays attention to the healthy condition of the vehicle who will stop it (even when it is still driveable) for necessary repairs and maintenance, regardless of the grumblings and murmurings from the owner and the passenger alike, not to just continue driving till the vehicle knocks to a stop or crash due to multiple faults.
No matter the amount the driver is paid by the owner, a good driver cannot have job satisfaction if the vehicle is in a terrible state and performing below expectations. Revitalization of the university will give the Lecturer job satisfaction and will produce quality university graduates that can compete favourably with the very best anywhere in the world for our nation-building.
What do we stand to benefit if our universities are well funded? The UK government estimates an income of over £5 billion excluding tuition fees from international students every year, International students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, and International students were reported to contribute an average of RM7.2bn (£1.4bn) to Malaysia per year via tuition fees and other living expenses.
How much are we making from international students at the moment, if there is any? is it an abomination to have universities that can generate billions of naira in revenue from international students for the country? A government with foresight would have keyed into that.
Diversification of the economy is not limited to Agricultural sector alone, education can equally be made the mainstay of Nigeria economy if given the necessary impetus.
If we are waiting to revitalize our universities whenever there are no other challenges, we need to realize that there is no country in the world without any challenge at any point in time. Nigeria will always have a problem to solve or the other.
But if the education is on the priority list, we can always find the fund to reposition them irrespective of other challenges. It is time for the other stakeholders to come out and lend their voice for the revitalization of public universities for national development. It is time to restore the universities to the state as at the time when the public universities last function properly in Nigeria.
Like Mall Adamu Adamu acknowledged in 2013 before he was appointed as the Education Minister; “Instead of hectoring ASUU to call off its strike, the nation should be praying for more of its kind in other sectors of the economy.
Since the government has shown itself incapable of doing the right thing until it is forced, the nation should be thinking of organising the association of Nigerian farmers to go on strike to force the government to do for agriculture what ASUU has been struggling to make it do for education”. It’s regrettable that we either forgot too soon or change too swiftly in line with the weather.
ASUU has been the lone force fighting for education and the survival of public universities in Nigeria and have been called several names for a struggle that the union considered to be in the interest of the nation. The struggle brought TETFund, NEEDS Assessment, among other things to the universities.
They do this while successive government starved them of their legitimate earning. The starving have never made them give up aside the few weaklings among us. Just close your eyes and imagine what Nigerian universities would have looked like today without TETFund. It is up to you to decide if you still think ASUU is PATRIOTIC or SELFISH.
To the patriots in ASUU, you need to look at these issues properly before you vote in the next congress meeting at your branch on the suspension of the current strike.
(1) The Renegotiation of 2009 Agreement top the list of the demands of ASUU. This exercise has been dragged by this administration since 2017 and salary stagnated for 11 years. We can’t afford this issue to cause another strike a few months after this strike. The renegotiation should be concluded and captured in 2021 budget for implementation with effect from January 2021 before the suspension of the strike. Nigerian university Lecturers deserve a decent salary.
(2) The amount offered as commitment for the revitalization of the about 90 public universities is ridiculous. If the government insist they can’t offer more than that at the moment, a realistic timeline should be agreed upon for the proper implementation of the revitalization and how the fund will be sourced. But can you trust their words after these trust experiences with them?
(3) The withheld salaries and the amount offered for EAA must be released and the remaining years mainstream into 2021 budget before the strike can be suspended.
It will make no economic sense to agree on offers we know will lead to another strike before 2023 or anytime soon.
Meanwhile, let me congratulate Mr Ahmed Idris, the Accountant General of the Federation of Nigeria as he clocked the retirement age of 60 years on Wednesday, 25th November 2020. I guess he may have been retired by IPPIS on Wednesday.
Education at all levels can be funded properly if we redefine our priorities.
My name is Amoka. I am an Academic and a concern Nigerian in support of ASUU’s stance that public universities need to be restored for economic growth and national development.
Abdelghaffar Amoka Abddelmalik writes from Department of Physics Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and can be reached via :email@example.com