By Adesina Wahab
According to Webometrics, a respected authority in the ranking of universities globally, no Nigerian university is in the top 1,000 in the world. In fact, the highest ranked Nigerian university, the University of Ibadan, is placed 1,258 globally and number 18 on the continent of Africa, far behind universities from South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. This is not a compliment for a country touted as the giant of Africa and the enormous resources it has been endowed with.
To say the Nigerian education sector is suffering and gasping for breath is saying the obvious. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 really exposed how terrible the situation in the sector is. While many countries found means of averting a total shut down of the sector, Nigeria is still groping in the dark. The primary and secondary levels are a bit better off in one aspect – they don’t experience incessant strikes that plague the higher education sector.
While the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, recommended that between 16-25 per cent of the budgets of developing nations like Nigeria be devoted to education, federal allocations to education in Nigeria rarely go beyond 6 per cent, a far cry from internationally recommended standard. In the 2021 Budget proposal dropped last week by President Muhammadu Buhari at the National Assembly, a mere N197 billion was earmarked for education out of a budget estimate of over N13 trillion. The breakdown shows that education generally would get N127 billion and the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, would get N70 billion. With such paltry sum, how would facilities and other things be provided in the universities?
Inadequate cum obsolete facilities and equipment
Starting from lecture rooms to accommodation for staff and students and basic facilities for teaching and learning in a conducive atmosphere, the nation’s universities are deeply in want. For instance, at the University of Lagos, UNILAG, there are 8,000 bed spaces for a student population of over 40,000. While preparing for the botched graduation ceremony early this year, the Vice-Chancellor (now asked to recuse himself of official duties), Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, said at a media parley that even less than 30 per cent of staff have accommodation on campus.
Similarly, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, recalled that while on assessment tour of some universities some years back, his team was stunned to see how dilapidated the laboratories of a university were.
Corruption in the system
Corruption is not only a monster, it is becoming the norm and part of the culture in this part of the world. Despite the fact that meager resources are allocated to the sector, they are mostly not judiciously used. It was in the bid to stem the tide that the government introduced the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System, IPPIS, but it is like creating a bigger monster while trying to tame a small one. Not minding university workers’ reservations that the platform does not take into account the peculiarities of the university system, the hiccups trailing it are too many. Workers cannot say this is what they earn as salaries. A worker may be paid N5 this month and get N2 as salary the next month. Mismanagement of scarce resources is at unimaginable level.
In the 1960s to early 1980s, a number of foreigners were in the nation’s universities as teachers and students, now the story is different. Recently, the Minister of State for Education, Chief Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said the bulk of government’s finance in education is used to pay about 10,200 lecturers in federal universities. Is the figure even adequate for the universities? Because of dearth of teachers, a number of courses have been cancelled or not accredited. The few lecturers available are always transiting between their primary places of assignment and some private universities where they work part time. For foreign students, Nigeria is no longer a player in that market that generates over $200 billion annually. Who will send his ward to a place where the academic calendar is never stable.
With the gradual reopening of the education sector after nearly six months of closure due to the outbreak of COVID-19, students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, especially those owned by the Federal Government, may still spend some time at home doing nothing, no thanks to ongoing strike and threats of strike by different staff unions.
Strike is a great hindrance militating against the provision of unhindered quality higher education in the country.
For instance, the ongoing strike by ASUU would have been on for 215 days by October 15, 2020, but the closure of schools because of COVID-19 has not made its impact felt as expected. The strike is the longest in the history of the union.
Already, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities, NASU, are on a 14-day warning strike. They also said they would commence an indefinite one if their demands are not met. This is just as the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics, SSANIP, have also issued strike notices.
Solutions to problems
According to the National Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, Mike Ene, it is just a matter of priority. “From cradle to death, life is full of struggles and if you structure your life, you will find out that in the face of scarce resources, some ambitions are better forgotten. That will lead to giving priority to some areas. If we want the best for ourselves and country, education is a top priority.
“No nation can rise above the level of its education and if we don’t want to be left behind, we must begin to fix the sector, as the future of the country is at stake,” Ene opined.
For the National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, government and its policies on education are to blame. “ Look at the amount allocated to education in next year’s budget, as usual, it is below expectations. For years now, the government has not allocated more than 6 percent of the budget to education and that doesn’t show us as a serious nation. Even the slight increase in the figure pales to nothing when you consider the value of the naira.
“What the government seems not to understand is that if adequate funding is given to the sector and attention focused on it, it can be a great source of revenue to the country. Foreign students would come and pay in foreign exchange and that is what can be used to finance the education of locals. That is what other nations do when they attract foreign students.
“ On strikes, government is fond of making promises it cannot fulfil. They will promise something now and renege on it. Everything boils down to lack of seriousness and we are just toying with our future,” he said.
The South-West Coordinator of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Kappo Samuel Olawale, urged the government to be serious about education and called on the workers to be considerate too. “The government should do the needful by giving the necessary attention and support for the sector. We must know that our youths are going to compete in the global market and whatever we did not inculcate in them, they cannot show it.
“ As students, we are appealing to workers in the sector to also be considerate and be ready to make sacrifices and shift ground where necessary. Corporate bodies too should help fix the sector. Interventionist agencies such as TETFUND must be supported to discharge their obligations” he noted.
A parent, Johnson Adeleke, said it is unacceptable for the nation’s leaders to live in affluence and send their wards to foreign universities, while local ones are bleeding to death. “ Let political office holders help the nation by reducing their salaries and allowances. If we commit half of what is spent on them on education, we will be having a better story. Gone are the days when our universities can rate better than some foreign ones, now the reverse is the case,” he said.