BY EMEKA EJERE
Immediate past Pro-Chancellor of the Governing Council of Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Chief Lawson Imokhodion, has called for the reestablishment of the Nigerian Student Loans Board, stressing that only a federal loan scheme can bring a lasting solution to the recurring industrial actions by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
ASUU on Friday suspended an eight-month-old industrial action it started on February 14, to push for better funding of universities as well as improved welfare for its members based on several deals reached with the government.
In a statement by the president of the union Emmanuel Osodeke, ASUU said the decision followed a series of appeals by Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the intervention of the Speaker of the House of Representative Femi Gbajabiamila.
However, speaking in an exclusive interview with Business Hallmark, Omokhodion said any solution without the federal loan scheme and allowing the council do its work according to the law and the rules and regulations governing the university can only be temporary.
According to him, the way forward is to bring back the board, so as to give loans to the students to be able to pay fees charged by the universities, and then the universities will pay the lecturers, leaving government out.
The former Managing Director of the defunct Liberty Bank stressed the need for university council to take its position properly and be allowed to do its work according to the law and the rules and regulations governing the university.
His words: “But more importantly was the fact that I was actively canvassing the reestablishment of the Nigerian Student Loans Board, which we had in 1974.
“The board would give loans to students; universities would charge their tuition fees, the students had money to pay. And then the universities would pay their lecturers and leave government out. And then, for me, grant autonomy to the universities.
“We still give a role to government, the owners – federal and states, but those who should manage the university should be council. Because average university has a law, and that makes administering a university very easy, because the law tells you the dos and the don’ts. But government will never follow the law. In fact, government will compromise the law.
“So, the only solution to ASUU crisis is a federal loan scheme, the type they have in Canada, in the U.K, in America, in Sweden, in Norway. In South Korea, in South Africa, that’s what we need. We had it in 1974, but things never get better in Nigeria.
“The past is always better. They simply allowed it to die. But a few years ago they said they wanted education bank, okay, create it. But they played with it.
He wondered why government is not interested in enforcing the law granting university autonomy.
“A few years ago, Federal Government said university autonomy would be granted. There’s a law granting university autonomy, put it into action. Nobody is interested. But this ASUU strike that has taken so many months to resolve and they’re still trying to resolve it should drive us to a point where we can have a permanent solution.
“Because if ASUU says now we’ve agreed and government continues to pay them the way they’re doing, how can a professor in Kebbi State University earn what a professor in University of Lagos earns or a professor in University of Ibadan earning what a professor in Bauchi State University earns? It doesn’t make sense.
“The university council must take its position properly and be allowed to do its work according to the law and the rules and regulations governing the university.”.
On the option of public universities charging commercial fees, Omokhodion said, “If a private university charges N1 million per session, a state university should not charge more than N200, 000 or N250, 000. But you will get quality education.”
He observed that there are many avenues for universities to generate funds, but warned that the funds must be monitored so it does not end up in the private pockets of the Vice-Chancellors and their cronies.
“So, there’re opportunities that can generate funds, but if they (universities) generate funds and they’re not monitored, the management – Vice-Chancellors and their men, they’ll eat the money.
“The richest people in Nigeria, individuals in government, they are Vice-Chancellors; they’re richer than senators.”