By Sulaiman Maijama’a
If not because of the dogged determination and great perseverance of 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 a dilapidated condition with poor infrastructure, poor remuneration of staff.
Moreover, the universities would have been stocked with unqualified teachers, just like what is happening to our public primary and secondary schools or perhaps worse than that. Those who misconceive ASUU, for its 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; products of public universities in Nigeria can show a trick or two to their counterparts who are produced by private institutions. This is to the credit of the ASUU.
The Union, despite the meagre resources it receives and the poor funding the universities suffer, is able to produce professionals who are rising and shining in respective disciplines globally. Notwithstanding this feat, the union has been pushed over the years to go into industrial action at the detriment of students and the action by the ASUU is always greeted with criticisms from the public domain.
As a university student, the fact that our academic pursuit is being elongated owing to strikes is paining, and so, I agree wholeheartedly that strikes embarked upon by the ASUU almost annually are not the best solution and not the best way to put pressure on the government to meet its demands but, to crucify the union for its doggedness is not fair at all. If we ever dug deep to understand how much education costs in the countries across the globe and compared it to the demands of the striking ASUU members that are yet to be met for over a decade, for which they have always protested, we would discover that education in Nigeria is as worthless as a waste dump.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommendation, for any nation that wants to adequately meet the demands of education, 15 to 20 per cent of its annual budget should be earmarked for the sector. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s budget for education has always fallen below the recommended benchmark.
Despite the daunting tasks and the challenges that are posing threat to the sector and the need for additional funding, President Buhari’s 2021 budget share for education is the lowest in ten (10) years. Out of N13.08 trillion budgeted for the year, only N742.5 billion, which is equivalent to 5.6 per cent, was allocated to education, which is the lowest allocation since 2011. This is about half of what President 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 total 2013 budget. It was 10.5 per cent in the 2014 budget, and the same President Jonathan earmarked 10.7 per cent of the 2015 budget, which happened to be the highest in the last decade.
However, when President Muhammadu Buhari came on board, in his first budget in 2016, the education share was cut short drastically to 7.9 per cent of the total budget, and 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, and 5.6 and 7.9 in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
While former President Jonathan had every year increased the budget share for education throughout his stay as president from 9.3 per cent in 2011 to the highest 10.7 in 2015, President Buhari has been drastically reducing the budget from 7.9 in 2016 to the lowest 5.6 in the 2021 budget.
In any case, the Buhari/APC-led administration’s lackadaisical approach toward education is indisputably disastrous to the lofty dreams of young Nigerians to attain global recognition academically. How could a serious government that values education give only 5 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 2020, but yet to be implemented. How on earth could you expect the ASUU not to be aggrieved?
And now, the Minister of Education is further fuelling the disagreement by telling the ASUU members that their six months denied salaries during which they were on strike would not be paid, making reference to the “no work, no pay policy”. I don’t know the provision of law on this, but my concern is, how can you come to meet with a union of intellectuals like ASUU and dare to tell them that this is the final government’s offer and that there is no need for negotiation; it is either they accept or reject it? This is highly ridiculous.
In my view, education is a treasure. Whatever huge amount of money is invested in it, it will definitely pay off eventually. A member of the Senate Chamber, whether or not they raise a motion, whether or not they contribute to a debate, earn a whopping thirty 30 million or thereabout monthly. This is minus all other illegal earnings which are obtained through leakages and corruption. In comparison to academics, a professor who spends his life sacrificing his time and pleasure doing research to contribute to knowledge does not earn a mere five hundred thousand a month, with all the inflation.
I don’t want to dwell much on making comparisons with the fortune allocated to the National Assembly. But, if such an amount of Naira notes which is beyond imagination, would be given to the National Assembly, why can’t the Federal Government meet all the demands of the ASUU to proffer a lasting solution to this lingering strike that is jeopardizing the future of the Nigerian youth, wreaking havoc on the economy and threatening the fabric of our social structure?
It is evident during the EndSARS protest in 2020, when students were on strike, that the strike was a contributing factor that fueled the agitation, which later turned tragic. Had it been the youth who were mostly the ones at the forefront of the demonstration who were on campuses, busy coping with their academic activities, the move would not have been accepted to such an extent, and therefore, the government would have easily controlled it.
As the saying goes, “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop”. Now, the 2023 forthcoming elections are fast approaching, and the youth are bored doing nothing and, therefore, can indulge in anything that comes their way. Who knows what could possibly be the next trend if the youth remain idle?
The Federal Government must understand and appreciate the value and power of education, respect all agreements reached with the ASUU and invest more resources in the sector in order to save the future of young Nigerians. This is because, without education, man is like an animal.
The ASUU, on the other hand, needs to understand that strike is nothing but a calamity to education. They should adopt amicable and diplomatic ways of engaging the government. “When two elephants fight, grasses suffer the most”.
Maijama’a is a student at the Faculty of Communication, Bayero University, kano. He can be reached via email@example.com.