The choice of topic creates the erroneous impression that the fault for the incessant labor strikes that have bedeviled Nigeria’s Tertiary Institutions and thus stymied the educational system is attributable to Lecturers in our Tertiary Institutions. Although that is far from the truth, the purpose of this essay is not to apportion blames but to highlight the costs and implications of these perennial disruptions to our academic calendar and proffer practical solutions that address the mitigating factors and circumstances.
Over the years, the schisms and recurrent interruptions of Nigeria’s academic calendar has taken its toll on the psyche of the youth population. It is worthy for mention that between the 14 year period of 1999 and 2013, Nigerian universities have been closed for 35 months due to strike actions. The chronology are thus; 1999 – 5 months, 2001 – 3 months, 2002 – 2 weeks, 2003 – 6 months(ended in 2004), 2005 – 3 days, 2006 – 1 week, 2007 – 3 months, 2008 – 1 week, 2009 – 4 months, 2010 – 5months and 1 week, 2011 – 3 months(ended in 2012), 2013 – 5 months and counting. The details are as frightening as they are unsettling for any well-meaning Nigerian; no country in the world has recorded progress with national school attendance statistics similar to the one listed above.
We may continue to miss the true costs of these intermittent university strikes to our nation until we recognize education as a veritable vehicle for national development. Modern civilizations have employed educational institutions as vehicles for mass development and inculcation of behaviors, values, language, institutions and orientations that elucidate history and culture, concretize and protect the present, and guarantee the future identity and independence of a nation. It is through education that deep and critical thinking is inculcated in the youth of any nation; it is within the academic environment that leadership and patriotism are imbibed and future leaders are imbued with learning and confidence before they are entrusted with the future of generations yet unborn.
Understandably, the true cause and reason for this perennial interruption of studies is the failure of our successive governments and political leaders to recognize and appropriately reward the strategic and important nature and contributions of lecturers to our nation. Teachers, including tertiary institution lecturers, are truly the unsung heroes of any nation. They are our heroes because they train, direct and nurture our children; the “future leaders.” Yet they are demotivated, poorly remunerated and are routinely denied the facilities and faculties they need to do their work effectively. Every time a profligate political administration looks for areas to cut to free more funds to embezzle, they look to the educational sector and more particular to teachers’ pay. These moulders of character and sculptors of future leaders are expected to work with poor pay and in miserly environment and with virtually no facilitative aids; their take home cannot take them home anymore.
Let us not be deceived by all the hullabaloo; the factors and influences sustaining these incessant strike actions are simple, thus: a Professor or a PhD holder that has spent over twenty years of scholastic studies and as many years in the practical world of academia is expected to demurely accept whatever miserly remuneration that politicians concede to them. They are even expected to remain mute when political leaders renege on “collectively bargained” agreements and conditions of service. It is only in Nigeria that a school dropout thug who is made a Council Chairman in a Local Government is better remunerated than a professor. It is only in Nigeria that more money is set aside as “security vote” for governors to use as their personal slush fund than is budgeted for the education of the state’s children. It is only in Nigeria that the cost of maintaining a fleet of presidential jets far outstrips the budget for the education of the children of the country. Yet we blame our unsung heroes for insisting on a fair shake. What a nation! What a pity! Rather than blame ASUU, we should question our consciences for not holding hands with our heroes on those protest matches and for not standing in solidarity with them on those picket lines.
The efforts by the Federal Government to bring stability to the education sector through increased funding are very welcome; the cocktail of programs that are aimed at enhancing access to Universal Basic Education are all reference points to the desire of government to move the sector forward. Be that as it may, these efforts have not yielded the desired result due to lack of integrity and concrete political will by successive leaders. Going forward, to banish this monster permanently, our leaders must first and foremost accept the fact that education is not a commercial activity and as such cannot be entrusted in the hands of business tycoons as has become the trend with Private Universities. We must evolve a national education strategy that recognizes our workplace skill gaps, as well as our developmental needs. The new education framework must also consider education as a public-health challenge, because the socioeconomic, cultural and political development of any nation is, in more than one way, influenced by the quality of educational accomplishment of the population.A report by the Nigeria Millennium Development Goals (2005) acknowledged that quality assurance in education in Nigeria is yet to be adequately addressed in terms of teachers, curricula, teachers support, teaching-learning materials, etc. In order to assess the quality of basic education in Nigeria, it is expedient to look at the characteristics of learners (whether healthy, motivated students?), processes (are teachers competent and using active pedagogies?), content (how relevant are the curricula?) and systems (are there good governance and equitable resource allocation?).
In addition to making the necessary adjustments to our education policy and synchronizing it across the three tiers of education, the government must, as a matter of urgency make heavy, massive investment in the education sector. The current 8.7 % of national budget being allocated to education is paltry compared to the 26% minimum recommended by UNESCO. Nigeria ranks 20th in the annual budgetary allocations of 20 World Bank sampled countries to education (World Bank, 2012), behind Ghana – 31%, Code D Ívoire – 30%, Uganda – 27%, Morocco – 26.4, South Africa -25.8, etc. Little wonder no Nigerian university ranks among the topmost 6000 universities in the world (Shanghai Ranking Consultancy 2012). Proper funding of the educational sector will guarantee adequate remuneration and motivation of teachers, who are the main implementers of education curriculum and policies. Learning infrastructure like classroom blocks, libraries, laboratories, office and residential accommodation, portable water and ICT facilities will also be provided to aid knowledge management. Beyond funds allocation, full and timely release of allocated funds must always be guaranteed. All stakeholders in the education process (teachers, students, parents, regulators, government, etc.) must be adequately engaged and informed about their roles and responsibilities in implementing each segment of the education roadmap.
National development is a deliberate activity that is anchored on qualitative and massive education of its citizens; the roadmap must be painstakingly articulated and conscientiously implemented. Until we, as a nation, muster the political will to thread this narrow path, Nigeria shall remain perpetually a developing nation. Our leaders must implement the minimum 26% national budget allocation to education recommended by UNESCO; if other less endowed African countries can afford it, Nigeria can. We just need to get our priorities right.
National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity)
Lagos, December 2013