ASUU explodes over Education Minister: Your family must stay in Nigeria’s university system

ASUU explodes over Education Minister: Your family must stay in Nigeria’s university system

Professor Emmanuel Osodeke is the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). In this interview, Osodeke says Nigeria’s education sector was catastrophic under the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari, warning on the new Minister of Education, Professor Tahir Mamman: “Such a minister should be somebody who knows what a university is and who knows what education is.

Two, he should be somebody who has the interest of Nigerian pupils, young boys and girls, at heart. Three, the person should be somebody who has his family in the Nigerian university system, secondary and primary schools, not somebody whose children are outside the country studying”.

He speaks on other issues in the polity. Mamman, 69, was sworn in as Minister of Education on Monday. Born on July 7, 1954, Mamman graduated from Ahmadu Bello University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Laws degree. He bagged his MSc and PhD degrees from the University of Warwick, England. The Minister is the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Adamawa State and a recipient of the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger.

He ran for Adamawa State governorship election in 2014 under the platform of the All Progressives Congress. Mamman was until his appointment into President Bola Tinubu’s cabinet the Vice Chancellor of Baze University, Abuja, a private tertiary institution founded in 2011 by Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed.

He served as the Director General of the Nigerian Law School from 2005-2013. Recall that universities in the country were shut for about six months at the twilight of the Buhari administration as lecturers downed tools over unmet demands including poor funding of the institutions.

The lecturers were forced back to work after a court ordered them to do so. They are still battling issues related to the strike especially backlog of unpaid salaries. Excerpts of Osodeke’s

interview:

Let’s start from the state of education in Nigeria today. How do you see it?

Most of the past leaders have really not given attention to the education system for growth and that is why we have problems especially on the issue of funding. If you check, in West Africa, Ghana, Cameroon, even South Africa, no country gives less than 15 percent of their budget to education, but, last year, we got 5.3 percent and it has never gone beyond 10 percent in the last ten years. So that’s the critical issue.

In the early 60s and 70s, Western Region was giving 30 percent to education. Do you know why our leaders don’t give education attention? Because the children of those who should ensure that it is done are not studying in the country. In the first six months of last year, Nigerians paid 600 million US dollars to American and UK universities as tuition fee. If you multiply that, it is more than two hundred billion naira.

That is what we have been saying, give education attention every year to revamp it but they are not interested. Those who run the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, all their children are studying abroad. So, they don’t care what is happening here and the implication is very clear.

While our lecturers are rushing out of the country, no lecturer from anywhere, even West Africa, wants to come to Nigeria. When I was a student in Rivers State University of Science and Technology then, there were lecturers from five countries teaching in my Department.

We had lecturers from Sri Lanka, Philippine, Poland, Ghana and Nigeria teaching in my Department, but, today, you don’t see any foreign lecturer. To now compound the bad situation, they are trying to push the Nigerian system into the bureaucratic system which does not happen anywhere in the world. The university has a law and that law states how a university should be run. Thank God that the National Industrial Court gave a judgment that IPPIS should not apply to university.

When you go round these universities today, there are many of our colleagues who have not earned salary from three to 30 months because of IPPIS. There are some people whose consequential adjustment of 2019, the arrears that were paid two years ago have not been paid. They just paid some and left the rest, the money has been swindled. So, our advice to this regime is to allow universities to run on their own and provide funds that should come from government; funds from TETFund should be well managed as, today, it’s being managed by politicians.

The funds should be restructured in such a way that it should be well managed that every university gets what is due to it. And parents and students are still contributing. When you put these three together and government gives at least 15 to 17 percent of the budget to education, we will have all issues gone.

How do you rate the Buhari’s administration in terms of funding of education?

It was catastrophic, that was the worst thing that even happened to this country. There is no regime ever that gave five percent to education, but it did and even that five percent was not monitored. Under that regime, University of Lagos, University of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo University and ABU got just N11 million per month for overhead cost.

Meanwhile, my university (Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike) spent more than N20 million on diesel a month, UNILAG should spend not less than N50 million to N100 million on diesel a month but government just gave N10 million, here they gave N5 million and it was hardly released. The take-home of one senator is more than, if you combine Ibadan and Ife together, what you have in those universities as overhead cost.

What kind of Minister of Education would suggest for President Tinubu?

Such a minister should be somebody who knows what a university is and who knows what education is. Two, he should be somebody who has the interest of Nigerian pupils, young boys and girls, at heart.

Three, the person should be somebody who has his family in the Nigerian university system, secondary and primary schools, not somebody whose children are outside the country studying. These are some of the qualities the next Minister of Education should have. He must be a person who believes in Nigeria and not those who believe that Nigeria does not exist and he and his family must go abroad. You have headache you go abroad, a President had toothache and he ran abroad for treatment.

What’s the reason behind rivalry amongst university based unions and why can’t they unite and pursue their struggles together?

For us in ASUU, we don’t have problems with any union. When you check, we have never talked down on any union. It is other unions that talk down on ASUU, we don’t. We will start an action, they will abandon it, they will leave us, you can also check.

Even the last strike, we all started together but one day we woke up and heard they had called off the strike and left us alone. So, we don’t have problems with any union, we don’t talk down on any union, we don’t abuse any union, we don’t even do comparative analysis with any union.

We don’t talk down on any union even polytechnics and colleges of education. We believe that the problem in the Nigerian universities has nothing to do with inter-union but with how to deal with the government and we expect that all unions should go and fight for what is due to their members, don’t say “give me what you gave ASUU”. The problem is not the union, the problem is the government and the management of the university system.

But there is the impression that sharing formula among the four university-based unions is the bone of contention. ASUU has been accused of hijacking Earned Allowances and taking a bigger chunk of it…

Union A doesn’t negotiate for Union B. Every union negotiates for its members; so if you go for negotiation and get something, other unions should not accuse you of hijacking anything but you can also go to government and ask for something different, you can even ask for more than what they gave to ASUU. ASUU cannot go and fight and towards the end receives one hundred million naira for its members then you come and say that ASUU hijacked everything, go and fight for your members, don’t look at ASUU. We don’t take people’s things, we meet with government; we reach agreement on what should come to our members.

It’s your duty, if you know that what is given to your members is too small, go and tell them you “reject what your are giving to us”, it is not “what you give ASUU, give us our own”. You should not be fighting as if you are fighting ASUU.

How do you look at some of those appointed by government in the University Governing Boards?

Well, what we are seeing in Nigeria is that it has been politicized. Rather than appoint competent people, past Vice Chancellors, past Registrars, and past Bursars into Council, you are appointing politicians. And for politicians, it’s a juicy job so they are going to look for something, that’s the problem.

So we do hope that this regime should… we are not saying that Councils have been dissolved because we have a law. But in future when you want to appoint Council members, you should do it in such a way that those who are appointed are people who should have an impact on the system, who can bring money to the system and not come to collect money from the system, that’s the role of Council. Source for funds for the system and not to come and collect the little you have in the system.

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