FG’s Defiance as Attack on Education

Justine John Dyikuk

Justine John Dyikuk

The recent disclosure by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) through its Communication Specialist, Samuel Kaalu that over 11,500 schools have been closed in Nigeria since 2020 with approximately 1.3 million children out of school in the 2020/21 academic year calls for a declaration of state of emergency on education in the country. To every sane person, the conclusion that every five of the world’s out-of-school children are Nigerian is sickening. In a world where the teen-Pakistani, Malala Yousafzai made a name for herself as a teen education advocate, her counterparts in Nigeria have become victims of a failed system. To say the least, this is shameful.

To make matters worse, in January this year, UNICEF declared that: “10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, which is the highest rate in the world. The figure indicates that one-third of Nigerian children are not in school.” The organisation further disclosed that although it is difficult to know the exact number of Almajiri children in Nigeria, some estimates put it at about 10 million, or about 81 percent of the more than 10 million out-of-school children in the country.

No thanks to the Almajiri system, the almajiris across northern states have become unfortunate victims of culture and religion. They are made up of kids and teenagers who depend on food handouts, without descent clothing or accommodation – left at the mercy of the elements. Experts have criticized the Almajiri system “for promoting youth poverty and delinquency, for failing to teach young boys vocational skills and thus making them unequipped for the workforce, and for radicalizing boys and making them perfect recruits for gangs.” This government did not have the presence of mind to reconsider the N 1.5b Almijiri schools legacy left by the Goodluck Jonathan administration to address this anomaly.

On October 27, 2021, Premium Times reported that although the allocation to education in the 2022 budget proposal shows President Muhammadu Buhari took some steps towards fulfilling his pledge to increase expenditure on education by 50 percent between 2022 and 2023, since assumption of office, the President’s highest allocation to the education sector is 7.9 percent of the total budget. This is nowhere near UNESCO’s 26 percent benchmark of national budget and 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) for funding education.

While the nation’s education sector hemorrhages, the Buhari-led administration, like Father-Christmas, donated a whooping sum of $1 million to the Humanitarian Trust Fund for Afghanistan. Compare that to ASUU’s demand of N110 billion – that is, 50 percent of a tranche of N220 billion. It is worrisome that government has been unable to address head-on, the current strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions (NASU).

What are the demands of ASUU? Based on the 2009 and 2013 agreements, the Federal Government (FG) promised to inject N1.3 trillion into public universities, both state and federal. These monies were supposed to be paid in six tranches, starting from 2013, after the union decried the deplorable state of higher institutions across the country. Government only released the first tranche and stopped. However, in 2017, it released N20 billion. ASUU wants the FG to squarely address the following issues – Funding for revitalisation of tertiary institutions, payment of outstanding Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) and renegotiation of 2009 agreements.

Other unresolved issues between FG and ASUU are, review of NUC 2004 Act to tackle the proliferation of universities, 26 percent budgetary allocation to education sector, implementation of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), constitution of visitation panels, withheld salaries and non-remittance of check-off dues of unions and salary shortfall. Of particular concerned is the problem of poor infrastructure and reneging on the 2009 conditions of service which included a separate salary structure for university lecturers namely, “Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure.”

In his opinion article titled “ASUU has spent 1 in every 4 days on strike in the last 6 years” which was published on February 17, 2022, Olanrewaju Oyedeji noted that “out of 1825 days in the five years under review (the five years excludes 2022), 395 have been spent on strike, more days than a full calendar year and representing one out of every four days.”  He contended that students are at the receiving end of these incessant strikes. Parents, guardians and nay, the Nigerian public are also affected as in the long run, these actions have their toll on the economy.

“There is a direct connection between economic development and educational growth. The monetary cost of any lost working day to the current ASUU strike is huge as it runs into billions of Naira, both in term salaries and wages, as well as lost productivity” wrote Shafiu Ibrahim Abdullahi in his article entitled “ASUU strike and its detrimental effect on our national economy.” He argued that it pushes more people into poverty just as it is creates uncertainty for lecturers, students and parents/guardians. Like snake-bite, the venom of these industrial actions attacks the heart of the nation. In all these, the FG is behaving like a grandmother who looks the other way while her children (government-functionaries) are trying to sniff life out of her grandchildren (the Nigerian masses).

Unless the Nigerian government has declared war on education, it must stop playing the ostrich. It must come out clean to embrace the union’s recommendation of looking towards value added tax and stamp duties as veritable ways of generating the money ASUU is demanding. Any government that does not take education seriously opens the window for criminality. In a modern society where other children are experimenting with the world of robotics, ours are left at the mercy of criminals.

In conclusion, the Triple Helix Model requires the desired synergy amongst government, industry and the academia as veritable ways of entrenching sustainable economic development across board. The magic to ending brain-drain is assuring Nigerians at home and abroad that henceforth, funding digital education would be a top priority. Anything short of this is a declaring of war on education and we must all pay the price!

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria. Email: justinejohndyikuk@gmail.com

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