Published On: Mon, Aug 21st, 2017

Nigeria: ASUU’s foreboding prognosis

Again, the nation is sitting on the edge as its universities are under lock and key. This musical chair between the academic staff union and government has become so perennial and protractedly irresolvable that few people are bothered except for its irritable nuisance. There is no other country in the world where the universities are more on forced recess as a result of one disagreement or other than Nigeria.
But the interesting thing about this current impasse in the universities is the publication of a report by ASUU on the deplorable state of university education in the country. The report is a clear verdict on the future of the nation and a pointer to the fact that Nigeria is not yet a candidate for economic development and may for a long time remain a potential to greatness. It is a timely warning that this country is sitting on a keg of gun powder, which may explode on our faces sooner or later, because this is a breeding ground for social revolution.
Beside cases such as Kano State University having only a professor to student having no toilet facilities and bathing in the open, the report points to the degeneration of universities into tribal fiefdoms, where employment of academic and non academic staff is based on indigeneship of the locality. Even the appointment of vice chancellors has become a subject of such demand. Universities are built on the principles of academic freedom, excellence and merit but where these are jettisoned or compromised as we have so blatantly done in favour other mundane considerations, the future cannot be assured.
The social decay in the universities, according to ASUU, will require, based on the funding plan agreed with government about N1.3 trillion to fix. Where would such amount of money come from and can government afford to put such amount only in the varsities with other contending needs abandoned? The simple truth is that we have lost the varsity system and the best thing to do now is to look for new strategies; the old way is no way at all.
Throughout modern history and particularly since the industrial revolution, varsity education has become the critical element in achieving development because of its focus on research, science and technology. There is no nation of note in the world today that does not place premium on education; not just any education but science and technology education. Possession of natural resources is no longer a prerequisite for development; it the ability and knowledge required to transform such resources useful products that is indispensable for development.
Countries such as Japan, South Korea, India, Taiwan, Switzerland etc are not naturally endowed with resources but today they are the dominant players in global economy. The difference between Nigeria’s huge natural resource endowment including oil and its disappointing development experience is deficient curriculum and orientation, as well as neglect of education resulting in the dearth of required human capacity. Hostile working environment has also led huge brain drains.
Essentially, government remains the main culprit in this national malaise. Political leadership is important to the progress of society because it sets out development agenda and vision for the future. Nigeria’s situation was compounded by the long presence of the military in government, an institution that does not understand nor value the relevance of education to overall societal wellness.
However, the succeeding political class has not acquitted themselves better with their focus on power and material aggrandizement and again lacking the understanding of the linkage between education and development. A major challenge emerged with the political policy of citing a university in every state when government could not conveniently and satisfactorily fund existing ones. Since 1983, when Gen. Mohammadu Buhari came to power, university funding has been declining in inverse proportion with the growing number of universities.
This is further compounded by governors who cannot pay salary of civil servants establishing varsities. Worse still, insisting on running the varsities on charity basis removes any seriousness from government and responsibility from parents. Providing free varsity education is a misplacement of priority. Nigeria’s varsity education is primarily liberal arts and social sciences in nature and no society has achieved economic greatness on the basis of these courses; it is physical and applied science and technology that hold the key to development.
With free access to liberal education which is generally for mere certification, we are inadvertently contributing to the threatening problem of unemployment and remove focus and incentive from the critical areas necessary for improving society. This also has the effect of denying attention to other educational sectors, such as teachers’ training, technical and vocational education germane for developing skill sets supportive of industrialization.
ASUU is also part of the problem. By insisting on eating their cake and still have, they have not only become a cog in the wheel of progress but have denied themselves the moral authority to be part of the solution. ASUU has perfected the instrument of blackmail and is holding the nation to ransom. It is undeniably unrealistic and impracticable to continue to demand free varsity education in a country that borrow to pay civil servants.
It is a vestige of the old welfarist ideology and has no relevance in today’s world. No society has developed on entitlement mentality but on merit, performance and productivity. By holding tenaciously to this culture in varsity education ASUU must realize that they are making a resolution of the problem impossible because the issue is no longer just funding but about the principle and purpose of varsity education. Those aspiring for varsity education must know why they want it, what will be their contribution in it and how it will help them and society.
By allowing the universities to fall into such agonizing parch our political leaders have voted with their feet concerning the future of the nation. ASUU’s strike is self-motivated and can never provide solution to the problem. There is the urgent need to redefine and redesign the university system to ensure its relevance through a synergy with society. Government should return to the 2007 University Education summit convened by former president Obasanjo to address this problem. We can’t be doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

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