Prof. Tukur Sa’ad: When ASUU bashing doesn’t add up


By Comrade Adelaja Odukoya

Despite its illogical, blatant misinformation, internal inconsistencies, contradictions, and in some instances outright concoction, Prof Sa’ad’s write-up on ASUU and the need to commercialize education has been trending on social media. A few of his main claims warrant being debunked.

“Both students and parents should contribute to education. Education cannot be free”.

This reinforces the lie by the government that university education in Nigeria is free. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Does the non-payment of tuition amount to free education? So because tuition is free, education is free? No. It is absolutely false that university education is free in Nigeria because tuition is free. It is also most uncharitable to claim that students and their parents are not contributing to university education in Nigeria when the reality is that both the students and their parents are already over-burdened. Students and their parents are responsible for books, accommodation, research cost, laboratory use, games, examinations, medicals, feeding, etc. We were not too young during the Awolowo free education era in the South West to know that a truly free education is a total package involving all the components mentioned above, in addition uniforms, writing materials and feeding. As part of the indirect payment of school fees in our public universities, many Departments and Faculties in order to survive, have devised ways of levying their students in the name of departmental and faculty levies, with fees ranging between N15,000 – N50,000 or more per session, in spite of government’s lie that university education is free in the country.

Prof Sa’ad also mentioned how they got scholarships during his days in ABU to take care of school fees.

How many states still give scholarships like in the 1970s when he was at ABU? Are the leaders in the 70s who provided scholarships for students in the universities from outer space? Rather than condemn irresponsible leaders and galvanize opinions against them, our establishment scholars are blaming the victims and those championing their cause.

We were told by Prof Sa’ad, the cost of commodities in the 70s and how easy it was to pay school fees, including farmers who.had wards in the universities. Can he in all honesty say that about the average farmer now? Are farmers still on our farms? How many Nigerians are gainfully employed now? How much were parents paying as school fees and what percentage of their earnings were the fees, compared to what obtains now, with a thirty thousand (N30,000) naira minimum wage which many states haven’t even fully implemented, and the present cost of living? How can parents on minimum wage of N30000 pay for the commercialized university education the professor is proposing?
Prof Sa’ad was quick to boast that students paid even after he increased school fees. It is unfortunate that he used the expensive secondary schools reportedly attended by many of the students as yardstick. Assuming his account is true, it still won’t account for the harrowing experiences many of the students would have gone through to pay. How many Nigerians send their children to standard private secondary schools? Much as standards have fallen through the roofs in our public secondary schools on account of government neglect, they are still the schools of choice for the majority of struggling Nigerian parents. It is also common knowledge that many Nigerian students whose parents are unable to cater for their tertiary education explore numerous means of staying afloat, including unfortunately, the resort to prostitution and other vices.

In case Prof Sa’ad is unaware, during its negotiation with ASUU, the FG team, led by Wale Babalakin proposed N1m school fees in the universities. How sustainable can this be, even for civil servants who get paid above the minimum wage? The proposal if taken, would have meant that the children of poor and middle class Nigerians can only study courses deemed as second class and unimportant. This will no doubt have aggravated class inequality as students from poor homes can only take courses like History, Yoruba, Igbo, English, Political Science, etc. Those who wish to study Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, Engineering, Architecture, and other related disciplines would have had to cough out fees that are far higher than what obtains for the earlier mentioned ones. ASUU rejected the idea because it knows it cannot work. It is instructive that we are guided by history, especially more recent experiments. Under Governor Raji Fashola, LASU school fees was jacked up from N25, 000 to between N250, 000 to N349, 000, depending on the ranking of the course. Application of new students to the university dropped by over 90 percent. Enrollment became so low to the point that some departments in the university had more Professors than the students they are to teach. No one told the university to get reasonable and faced the poverty reality country. The policy was shamefully reversed after three sessions of failed experimentation. This happened between 2011-2014. The living conditions of the average Nigerian has since gotten worse between then and now.

It is true that Britain charges foreign students in its universities so much. Even its own students who pay far lesser still pay a lot. The British university system is however not without its own crises, related to costs and renumeration, as one expects the Prof to know. More striking though, is the fact that Prof Sa’ad did not find it appealing enough to ponder on how Britain built and equipped its universities to the point that they have become attractive to foreigners. Prof Sa’ad would love to see foreigners in our universities, paying handsomely for the education they get. However, it should have been obvious to him that this can only happen if like ASUU has consistently advocated, our universities are properly funded to be globally competitive, to the point where they can attract students and scholars from all over the world. This cannot be done though, with tuitions from hapless Nigerians.

Prof Sa’ad also mentioned that British students are enjoying the fruits of their parents’ labour. Are Nigerian students enjoying the fruits of their parents’ taxes like their British counterparts? Are many of these students not the same Nigerians whose parents die on pension queues, on account of the endless pursuits of their little retirement benefits. What accrues to students and education from the revenue from oli? To Prof Sa’ad, it is okay for our common patrimony to benefit only of our oppressors and their cronies, while poor Nigerians grovel for crumbs!

If one may ask, why is it impossible to tax the rich to fund education to make education free as obtains in the Scandinavian countries mentioned by the Prof? Is it not common knowledge that the rich here are rich because they have stolen our commonwealth and they are artful, criminal tax dodgers?) Yes, nothing is truly free, because someone is paying. But why can’t the rich pay here like we have in those countries? If the informal sector is not paying tax, thereby limiting what government earns as revenue, who should be held responsible? is it ASUU? Why is it convenient for Prof Sa’ad to excuse state inefficiencies? Did it occur to him that governments across levels find it difficult to ask Nigerians to pay more than they are already doing because they have so little to show for the resources at their disposal? Has Professor Sa’ad conducted any research on the informal, unremitted levies paid by many workers in the informal sector? Into whose purse does all the money go? Why is there a reluctance to formalize such opaque levies and taxes?
A few more questions for the Prof:
1. What is the cost of governance in Nigeria and why must it remain on the mountain top when we cannot fund education?

2. What was Nigeria’s poverty profile in the glorious 1960s and 1970s in reference compare to the situation now?

3. Is education a public good or private good? Can Nigeria develop without serious and deliberate investment in tertiary, and in particular university education?

4. Chief Afe Babalola who hitherto travel yearly on medical tourism has stopped since he established a first class Teaching Hospital in his university in Ado-Ekiti; that is an individual. Is our inability to establish just one such medical facility over the decades, and especially since 1999, (23years ago) because we don’t have the money, or a result of greed and wrong priorities?

On DTLC – First, putting the record straight, this was not struggled for by ASUU. On the contrary it was the initiative of the National Assembly to make money available to Departments, outside of funds that are mismanaged by the Administration in the university. Contrary to his assertion that the money was used for estacode, the administration of the fund was very strict. What is more, the DTLC stopped over 10 years ago.

The most unfortunate part of Prof Sa’ad’s write up is his claim on the appointment of ASUU officials as Directors and Heads of units – so only non-ASUU members like himself are good enough for VCship, Directors and Head of Departments? ASUU should be the one fighting the battles while reactionary elements and careerists should be the ones appointed to positions, even when the so-called ASUU people are their intellectual superiors in many respect. With my knowledge of ASUU, l will say categorically that the allegation is blatantly false. Yes, there have been situations where ASUU people are in positions in ABU and elsewhere. But in most of the cases such appointments are strictly based on merit. What is the conflict of interest in ASUU members contributing to the growth of their universities based on their expertise and experience? Does an ASUU member or official who is also an HOD for instance, automatically suffer from a conflict of interests? Does conflict of interest not arise only when such an appointee is required to violate the University laws and the ethics of the Union in pursuance of the illegal ends of those in authority? Does being an ASUU person mean you are no longer an academic? Are there no rules to deal with corruption again in the universities, where anyone is found wanting? . This point by the Professor is most spurious, and betrays his disappointment that ASUU members insist that reactionary forces who are permanent roamers on the corridors of power do not deserve to have an open field, to the detriment of the system.

Professor Sa’ad also suggests, laughably that Vice-Chancellors push ASUU to trouble the government. This is a display of terrible and unpardonable ignorance about ASUU. I dare say, nobody has the capacity to manipulate ASUU. That statement is most uncharitable and an insult to Nigerian academics, of which Prof Sa’ad purports to be one. It shows how unknowledgeable he is about ASUU, as well as his contempt for fellow academics. The truth is that many Vice-Chancellors who berate and persecute ASUU members because of their struggles, privately hope that the Union succeeds in its agitations for increased funding. This is because among other reasons, many contemporary Vice-Chancellors see themselves as political appointees who should not confront the government over its neglect of the universities. Many, if not most of the projects they execute while in office come from resources attracted by ASUU struggles. Professor Sa’ad himself isn’t an exception from the list of Vice-Chancellors who benefited from ASUU struggles. His question on why ASUU and not Vice Chancellors are fighting against IPPIS is also most ridiculous. The interest of ASUU members and Vice-Chancellors differs. Vice-Chancellors are political appointees on an average of N1.8m salary per month, while a Professor at bar who is an ASUU member is on an average of N416,000.00 per month. How can the former defend the interest of the latter?

Though Prof Saad claimed that as VC he never had “serious problems” with either the students or ASUU “…all the same Prof Sa’ad admitted he had problems with both students and ASUU. In his estimation though, those were no serious problems. The truth is that he had serious problems with ASUU which warranted ASUU’s National Leadership to send a visitation team, and also initiate a NEC intervention. He was not a popular VC, contrary to the picture he tries to paint. He is remembered more as the VC who leveraged on his relationship with President Obasanjo in many negative ways.

Finally, truth is that, as long as we have self-opinionated and mercenary intellectuals and scholars with World Bank and neoliberalist orientation as adviser to retrogressive governments fixated with ideas that negate sustainable development (eg SAP, Privatization and commercialization of education) packaged as gospel truth, this country and its education is headed towards doom.

Comrade Adelaja Odukoya
Zonal Coordinator
ASUU, Lagos Zone.

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