By Haruna Y Saeed
Nigeria has seen it all: the good, the bad and the ugly, more in the education sector. There was a time when our graduates from the university were ranked high, mostly above those of our peers and comparable to those from universities ranked top in the world. Students came from countries across the African Continent and beyond to receive education from our universities. It was so good and sweet. We were then a proud nation.
Then things began to go bad. Lecturers began to abandon classrooms for banks and companies, during financial booms, and for government offices, during oil boom. Corruption became the rule and wealth became god and honor became scarce. Certificate was needed at all costs for the holder to fit into the society and obtain class and wealth. Students and their parents bribed teachers to obtain good grades because class of degree mattered. In the end, the holders lost the ability to demonstrate the value of their certificates. Things really went really bad for the system as the society was loosing confidence in products of the system.
We are now faced with an ugly situation where parents of limited means starve themselves in order to send their children abroad for basic and university education. This class of parents includes even the university lecturers and their relatives. There is so much disregard for what our universities produce. Content creators even make a mockery of our graduates inside NYSC camps, sometimes asking them silly questions as to the meaning the abbreviations of the degrees they obtained, such as B.Ed, B.Sc, etc, and including the meaning of time, like what “Fifteen past Six means.” The sad thing is that nearly all those asked hardly knew the answers. This ugly situation is brought about by many factors, major amongst them, the incessant ASUU strikes.
ASUU strikes have changed so much the education system, including the life and behavior of students and their parents. The strikes do not only delay when students graduate but also when they join job seeking populace and when they marry and many more. Of course, they tell so much on the quality of the graduates, above all. The students loose quality contact hours.
Many questions come to mind regarding the situation. Do we want to reverse this decend before we reach the bottom? Already, many hold the opinion that our graduates are not employable. Do we possess the ability to return to the good old days? The environment is still there and economy is no longer able to absorb the lecturers desirous of leaving the universities, thus limiting the exodus. Is it time to embark on such an exercise? It’s already too expensive to send students abroad to study and countries are locking other citizens out, especially Nigerians. See events in UAE and USA. We simply have no other choice.
Funding, pay rise, software for salary payment, payment of earned academic allowances, checkmating proliferation of public universities were issues raised by ASUU which formed the basis for the strike. Addressing all these, to me, will not return the lost glory to the standard of education. Nonetheless, solving them is critical to the success on the journey.
The approach to solving ASUU demands has many dimensions, some of them painful. However, they may not be so different from the ASUU prescription. The difference, though, will majorly be in approach. ASUU believes that the solutions lie with the government, alone. I believe otherwise. The solutions are both within the confines of individual universities and with the government. However, I see them more within the confines of individual universities.
Although university education in public schools is free, students are changed for everything, from registration to examinations, from laboratory chemicals to computer lab data, name it. So funding is already there. What is needed is determining the right mix and discipline. Even capital projects can be embarked upon. For example, new hostels can be built and managed from payments received for hostel accommodation. Where monies collected for specific purposes go now, only the visitation panels can tell us, another issue under ASUU list. So, while the government enhances and pays salaries and earned allowances using any software of its choice, the collections from the students will meet special needs and should be so dedicated. Thus, while no full autonomy can be achieved anywhere, relative autonomy that can guarantee independence with accountability for the success of the university system can be achieved.
With the foregoing, three other things are necessary to achieve the desired outcome: absence of strikes; harmonized school calendar and discipline/selfless service will see us through.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has called off its 8 month old strike, almost a full academic session. What is worrisome however, is that, while on the strike, all the member universities were unison and totally united, so also when the suspension was agreed upon. However, the resumption seems to be left at the mercy of the individual member institutions. For example, while ASUU expected return to full academic activities by the 14th October, 2022, ABU has chosen to keep students, still, away from their classes until next year.
One would have thought that, sound arrangements would be put in place to ensure that academic activities resume in unison in all the member institutions with proper milestones to ensure that the nation’s academic calendar is not made elastic with different instructions modeling its own. It is hoped that now that ASUU is back to full academic activities, it will remain on active service for certainty to return in the minds of students, parents and all other stakeholders.
To avoid the confusion outlined above, the leadership of ASUU should step into damage control mode to ensure that the member institutions fall into an acceptable academic calendar, even if hitherto, the institutions had uneven edges.
The situation now should create an opportunity to streamline the academic programs across the nation. This will create more confidence in the system and competition among the universities. This will, also, help JAMB admission process and reduce the backlog often created by many universities, including in deployment of copers for NYSC to the dismay of prospective students, graduates and their parents.
Getting the buy-in of the lecturers for the needed discipline and selfless service delivery that will change the narrative of the system is the most difficult task. The stories about lecturers fulfilling their emotions regarding their financial, sexual lust and social infractions are abound. It will require every stakeholder in the education system to key in and demand uprightness from the guilty lecturers. The academic staff need to understand that their ability to impact the students positively as regards their character, skill and capacity is as important as publication needed for their promotions.
It should now be a good moment for the government and the universities, along with the unions, got together for a new partnership and friendship such that strikes are locked out of our university system and the school calendar is respected and lecturers take their responsibilities with honor for the sake of education in the country that has suffered a huge setback overtime.
I strongly believe that we can get something positive out of the lost time the strike action has occasioned. This, however, can not happen without deliberate efforts to make the right outcome possible.
Haruna Yunusa Saeed was an Appointment General, Kaduna State; the pioneer Executive Secretary, NEITI; two times Governorship Candidate and now PDP Director for Presidential and Governorship campaigns, Kaduna State.
Kaduna, October, 2022.