IF not for the dogged determination and perseverance by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, in defence of education in Nigeria over the years, public universities in the country would have since been in dilapidated condition with poor infrastructure, poor remuneration of staff.
The universities would have been stocked with unqualified teachers, just like what is happening to our public primary and secondary school or perhaps worse than that. Those who misconcieve the ASUU struggles, as being selfish know nothing about what education takes to be efficient.
It is common knowledge that people who had the luxury of attending private primary and secondary schools in Nigeria earn more prestige than those who attended public ones. This is so, because the quality of education in public schools at the basic level has since been diminished. But the reverse is the case at the university level, as products of public universities in Nigeria can show a trick or two to their counterparts who are produced by pivate institutions.
This is explicitly to the credit of the ASUU. Despite the meagre resources and the poor funding universities suffer, public universities are able to produce professionals who are rising and shining in respective disciplines globally. Notwithstanding this feat that is worthy of motivation by the government, the Union has been pushed over the years to go on industrial action at the detriment of students. The action by the ASUU is always greeted with criticisms from the public domain.
As a university student, the fact that our academic career is being elongated, owing to strike is painful and so, I agree that strike actions embarked upon by the ASUU almost annually do not represent the best solution or the best way to put pressure on the government to meet its demands.
However, to crucify the Union for its doggedness is not fair. If we dig deep to understand how much education costs in countries across the globe and compare same to the demands of the striking ASUU members that are yet to be met for over a decade, it will be found that education in Nigeria is as worthless as waste dump.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, recommendation, any nation that wants to meet the demands of education should earmark 15 to 20 per cent of its annual budget to the sector. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s budget for education has always fallen below the recommended benchmark.
Despite the daunting tasks and challenges in the sector, President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2021 proposed budget for education is the lowest in ten years. Out of N13.08 trillion budgeted for next year, only N742.5 billion, which is equivalent to 5.6 per cent was allocated to education, the lowest allocation since 2011. This is about half of what President Goodluck Jonathan earmarked for education in the 2015 budget.
In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan allocated 9.3 per cent of the total budget to education. It was further increased to 9.86 per cent in the 2012 budget; elevated to 10.1 per cent of the 2013 budget. It was 10.5 per cent in the 2014 budget with President Jonathan earmarking 10.7 per cent of the 2015 budget, which happened to be the highest, since the last decade.
However, when President Muhammadu Buhari came on board, in his first budget in 2016, the education share was cut drastically to 7.9 per cent of the total budget. In 2017, it was reduced to 7.4 per cent of the total budget; in 2018 it was 7.04 per cent while 7.05 per cent of the 2019 budget was allocated to the sector and in 2020 it was 6.7 per cent.
While former President Jonathan had increased the budget share for education every year throughout his tenure as President from 9.3 per cent in 2011 to the highest 10. 7 in 2015, President Buhari has been drastically reduced the budget from 7.9 in 2016 to the lowest 5.6 in the proposed 2021 budget. Who knows how much he will allocate next year?
In any case the Buhari/APC led administration’s lackadaisical approach towards education is, indisputably disastrous to the dreams of young Nigerians to attain global recognition academically. How can a serious government that values education give only five per cent of its annual budget to the most sensitive sector like education?
This is beside the series of outstanding memoranda of understanding the government signed with the ASUU in 2009, 2013 and 2017 as well as the Memorandum of Action (MoA) of 2019, and yet refuse to implement them. How on earth can you expect the ASUU not to be aggrieved?
In my view, education is a treasure. However, huge amount of money is invested in it, definitely it will pay-off eventually. A member of the Senate Chamber earns several millions of naira a month, whether he contributes to debates or not. In comparison to academics, a professor who spends his life, sacrifices his time and pleasure doing research to contribute to knowledge does not earn N1 million a month. Why is it impossible for the Federal Government to meet the demands of ASUU to find a lasting solution to this lingering strike that is jeopardising the future of the Nigerian youth?
This was evident during the recent #endsars protest which showed that the current eight months strike was a contributing factor that fueled the agitation which later turned tragic. Had the youth who were mostly the ones at the forefront of the demonstration been on campuses, and engaged in their academic activities, the move would not have been accepted to that extent.
The government would have easily controlled it. As the saying goes “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop”. The youth are bored as they are currently doing nothing and can, therefore, indulge in anything that comes to their way. Who knows what could possibly be the next trend if the youth remain idle?
The Federal Government must understand the value and power of education, respect all agreements reach with the ASUU and invest more resources in the sector in order to save the future of young Nigerians. The ASUU, on the other hand, needs to understand that strike is nothing but a calamity to education. The union should adopt amicable and diplomatic ways of engaging the government. “When two elephants fight, grasses suffer the most”.
Maijama’a is of the Faculty of Communication, BUK, and wrote via email@example.com