THIS GOVERNMENT HATES EDUCATION

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

“The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” —Dr. Seuss;

“Education is one thing no one can take away from you.” —Elin Nordegren;

As a kid growing up in the 80’s in the rustic town of Kafanchan in North Western Nigeria, the idea of a government in my tabula rasa of a brain was that of a bunch of very lovely, caring and faithful elders that sleeps, wakes up and go about their daily chores working out and implementing far reaching measures to build the enabling environment for higher productivity and economic prosperity of the collective, set up strong enough infrastructures and facilities for sound learning and the education and continuous education of the young, not so young and the old because education has no age limitations.

The idea of government I had then was a body of governors who put measures on the pipelines and into functionality to compel citizens to comply totally with the laws of the Country and to punish or reform offenders. It was unthinkable to believe that indeed there are officials embedded in government that harbours acidic hatred for the mass education of the masses. This was because we were educated that government is in place to better the lot of the people in such a way that the satisfaction and the attainment of the greater good of the greatest numbers of the citizens was the objective and the underlying or fundamental principle setting up the superstructure called government.

You may wonder why I grew up with this very positive mindset and a well defined and formidably constructive idea of what government should be, then your wondering should end because I’m going to state it very categorically that the reason was because so much of the education that I and my contemporaries received in the then North Western State was given to us absolutely free of charge.

Then, in the public secondary school ateast, the school buildings were in their finer and refined shapes just as other educational amenities like the furniture, the teaching materials and incentives and salaries for teachers were not at all bad or poor but commensurate to their productivity just as teachers had free accommodations and other fringe benefits including large expanse of lands for their individual farming activities to supplement their incomes.

This was in the early and late 1980’s. It was unthinkable that University or college teachers would embark on industrial action. Then the government at the centre ensured that the officials who had specific duties were not found wanting and if they are guilty of dereliction of duty, they are fired from their jobs, named and shamed.

Although, I must confess that prior to 1982 when I enlisted into the Teachers College Kafanchan just before I could barely finish my elementary school, the primary school that yours Faithfully attended which was then known as Aduwan one LEA Primary School formerly known as Saint Peters Clevers Primary school in Kafanchan was deficient in basic infrastructural facilities and the toilets were in very horrible state without any deliberate efforts on the part of the Local government education authority to fix the broken down infrastructures in that school.

However, the secondary educational system was better funded and efficiently administered then. The Universities which were majorly public institutions were in high state even as these tertiary institutions wasn’t lacking in facilities and good teaching faculties.

However, all these ideas about government have evaporated with the passage of time when it became glaring that part of the bunch of persons who get into public offices became and are actively selfish, self centred, corrupt and evil in their intentions substantially. For most government officials, it is all about what public resources that they can corner to their private offshore accounts and the greater good of the collective is not really what they are in position of authority to actualize. Nigerian governance standards have gone from bad to precarious under the watch of one of the most primitive, hate filled, backward-minded and ethnic affiliated administration of all times.

Fastforward to the present President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration which has beaten every records as the most incompetent, lawless and ruthlessly rudderless government in the history of Nigeris. Corruption has become a hydraheaded monster in this administration and it is clear that the President is not in any way abreast of the things that go on in his government to such a ridiculous extent that Yesterday he made a comical statement that some of his officers are looting public resources and when the Islamists invaded and destroyed the Kuje prison due to sabotage, the President also blamed what he calls the failure of intelligence in the prisons for the successful attack at the Kuje Prison. The worst show of shame is that whereas Buhari’s Accountant General of the Federation allegedly stole #180 billion from public till as charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the same Nigeria’s Accountant General frustrated all efforts to stop an impending industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Public universities (ASUU) by not acceding to the demands of the teachers to accept a more transparent payment system for public school teachers but the Accountant General of the Federation insisted on the use of his own software which the teachers say is opaque and open to corruption.

The intransigence of the Accountant General of the Federation to agree with the ASUU negotiating team coupled with the pure hatred of public educational system by the current federal government as shown by the reckless tendencies of the minister of education Adamu Adamu, led to the indefinite strike action by ASUU thereby crippling the public universities for four months now.

By the way, Adamu Adamu’s is one of those appointments that were made by President Muhammadu Buhari based on pedestrian, mundane factor of nepotism because he is a round peg put in a square hole. Adamu Adamu came from the background of a journalist but was railroaded into a position of minister of Education for seven years now when it is as clear as the daylight that he is unfit for such a specifically professionalised office which should have been assigned to someone with formidable background of academics and administration.

The minister of education does not give a damn even if all the public universities remain perpetually shut down provided his own kids are all schooling overseas. By the way, the Director General of the Nigerian University Commission attended a graduation ceremony for his son in the UK just when the public universities in Nigeria were on strike for months. Governors, ministers, Senators all have their kids schooling in some of the best Universities abroad but they are neglecting the public educational system in the Country thus showing a high dosage of hatred for education. After few Months of the strike by the University teachers, the minister of education showed just why he hates education for poor Nigerian youths. He called for a meeting of the students who have been at home for months to assuage their angst and stop their threats to stage nation-wide protests to fruition. But the following is a narration of what happened at that meeting that turned into a spectacle of arrogance of power on the part of the convener.

The media reported that there was tension at the Federal Secretariat as the meeting between the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, and protesting Nigerian students ended in deadlock as the minister walked out on them.

The meeting at the instance of the Minister was an impromptu arrangement to placate the protesting students who had barricaded the entrance of the Federal Ministry of Education, demanding immediate resolution of the crisis involving the Federal Government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

The brief meeting had the Registrar of Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Is-haq Oloyede and the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Abubakar Rasheed.

But Adamu who was visibly angry with the emotive presentation of the National President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Comrade Sunday Asefon, walked out of the meeting.

Asefon asked the minister to close down his office since he could not resolve the crisis between ASUU while lamenting the failure of the government to resolve the ASUU strike after several years.

He lamented that “ASUU strike is killing education more and more. This strike has been affecting our lives since 1999 and Nigerian students want to be part of the discussion between the federal government and ASUU dialogues to find a lasting solution to the matter.

“We want the federal government and ASUU to as a matter of urgency call off this strike while negotiation continues. We want to go back to classes, if not this will be more than #EndSars protest,” he said.

Trouble, the media reported, however, exploded when in the course of the meeting, the students leadership questioned the minister for abandoning the education sector in a mess while sending their children to study abroad.

Adamu who was not happy over the attack on his person said he was “Disappointed with their comments” and stepped out of the conference room.

The leadership of NANS had staged a nationwide protest calling the Federal Government to immediately negotiate to end the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Union Staff (ASUU).

The protesters led by NANS, Comrade Sunday Asefon, barricaded the entrance of the Federal Ministry of Education, preventing both workers and visitors from going in and coming out of the offices housed at the Ministry of Education building.

The students wielded placards with various inscriptions, urging the Federal Government to heed the cries of the students and reach an agreement with ASUU. Nigerian Tribune gathered that the protest is currently going on across the 36 states of the federation.

ASUU embarked on a one-month warning stike on the 14th of February 2022, over government unfaithfulness in the implementation of the Memorandum of Action it signed. ASUU then extended the strike by another three months.

Some of ASUU’s demands include adequate funding for revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowances, Universities Transparency Accountability Solutions (UTAS), promotion arrears, renegotiation of 2009 ASUU/FG agreement and the inconsistencies in Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System Payment (IPPIS).

The failure of the government to resolve the tussle between it abd the Academic Staff Union of Universities forced the students who are frustrated that the strike has imperiled their educational future had started protests and these protests lasted for some few weeks

NANS President, Comrade Sunday Asefon, in his speech during the protest, said the leaders in the country had enjoyed free quality education in the past but want to punish the current generation with disruption in the sector.

He said, “It is disheartening to note that the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) has gone on strike more than four years cumulatively since 1999. The consequences of this development are grave on the part of the students who are the victim of these incessant industrial actions embarked upon by ASUU as a result of labour disagreement with the Federal Government. The resultant effect of these incessant strikes is inconsistency in scholarship, research, and learning output.

“At the end of every strike action, ASUU members get their salary, government officials and politicians get their pay, Ministers in charge of the Ministry of Education and his counterpart in the Ministry of Labour gets their pay and allowances for unproductive meetings with ASUU, but the students get nothing than the inability to get mobilized for NYSC as a result of age limitation, limited job opportunities as a result of age limitation, untimely death of students traversing the poor Nigerian roads unnecessarily, all as a result of incessant ASUU strike.

“It is more worrisome that most of the industrial actions could have been avoided if the government has been responsible enough to fulfil promises/agreements freely entered with ASUU over the years and fulfil their part of the bargain. A public tertiary institution in Nigeria has taken a downward slope in recent years and there is an urgent need to fix the system. Many students no longer trust the education outcome of our tertiary institutions as a result of the incessant strike and infrastructural neglect from the government.

“These developments account for the high level of migration of Nigerian students abroad in search of stable and quality education. Many of our students are currently trapped in war-ravaged Ukraine as a result of the incessant strike in our universities and lack of adequate infrastructural development. ”

He said the students are, therefore, compelled to take the following positions:

“That the Federal Government must as a matter of urgency honour every agreement freely entered with ASUU and renegotiate areas that need renegotiation in good faith with ASUU while we call on ASUU to be open-minded, progressive, and be realistic in their terms.

“Federal Government must do all it takes to convince ASUU to suspend its strike and return to the classroom immediately to ensure continuity in our academic calendar.”

They called on Federal Government to consider immediate and urgent investment in revitalizing public tertiary institutions in Nigeria to accommodate our growing population and the emerging needs of this century.

“We demand that Nigerian students who are the victim of the incessant ASUU strike must be represented in all negotiations between the Federal Government and ASUU.

“We also demand that government representatives and ASUU representatives at the negotiations must show proof that their children attended or attending a public university in Nigeria.

“We, therefore, plead with ASUU to call off the strike while they devise new means of holding the government accountable without necessarily going on strike,” he added.

But for Adamu Adamu, minister of education, he says the one-month industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is “surprising”.

He said it is not the federal government’s fault if there has been no agreement after several negotiations between both parties.

The minister spoke while briefing state house correspondents after the federal executive council (FEC) meeting presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.

Adamu said ASUU’s decision to embark on strike came abruptly amidst ongoing negotiations.

“ASUU, unfortunately, they have gone on strike and I am looking for them because all the issues are being addressed,” he said.

“The last thing that happened was that our committee looked at their demands but there are renegotiations going on. They submitted a draft agreement which the ministry is looking at.

“A committee is looking at it. Immediately it finishes, the government is meant to announce what it had accepted. Then suddenly, I heard them going on strike.”

On allegations from ASUU about his absence from meetings, he said: “ASUU will never say that. I always call the meeting myself. The meetings I didn’t attend were those that happened when I was in hospital in Germany.

“We want a peaceful resolution. The federal government is ready to meet them on all issues they have raised and if there are so many meetings and the gap is not closing, then I think it’s not the fault of the government.

“There is a solution to this. The negotiations are the solution and that is why I have said that I am surprised that ASUU has gone on strike.”

Speaking on the time frame for reaching an agreement, the minister added: “I can’t give you time. I am ready to reach an agreement with ASUU now but since I’m not the only one, I can’t give you time but certainly, we are going to reach an agreement very soon.”

Whilst on one hand the education and Labour ministers have not shown any commitments to end the strike, the minister of education raised the hopes of the students that the strike would be called off about two Months ago but as we can see, the strike is still on as at July 10th 2022.

The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu had around May said the prolonged strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would be called off then but it was mere sweet talking methodological tricks.

Adamu who said this in Abuja, made the assertion while speaking with the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFund.
The minister was quoted as stating that the executive arm of the government had begun schemes to make sure the demands of the 2009 ASUU-FGN agreement are met.

Responding, the Chairman of the Senate Committee, Jibrin Barau was comically quoted as having lauded the Minister of Education for his efforts in restoring peace between the federal government and ASUU and ensuring the industrial action is brought to an end. Which efforts if one may ask?

The attitudes of the minister of education towards finding a resolution of the disagreement between government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities shows that the current government is definitely made up of haters of education. What should be done is to work out ways of operationalising tertiary education without the involvement entirely of the Federal government to eliminate the possibility of these regular strikes that is so devastating to the educational standards in Nigeria. The Universities should adopt the same pattern of running similar institutions as they do in such jurisdictions and places such as Europe, America and Canada or even Ghana where you won’t read about tertiary Academic institutions going on strike and by these strikes the students are shortchanged. The Students too are full of surprises because they have not manifested resilience and the will to power and the will to overpower their adversaries by constantly embarking on Civil protests until this useless, wicked and lawless strike is called off. I saw lawless not because ASUU went on strike but because government officials criminally neglected their duties which necessitated the industrial action.

*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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