Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nigerian government as ‘boko haram’

Boko haram which literally translates in Hausa language as ‘western education is a sin’ is arguably the most widely used expression in Nigeria today. The insurgent group headquartered in Borno State introduced that vocabulary into Nigeria and indeed world lexicon when it started its campaign against western education by attacking schools - abducting and killing the students - and burning down the institutions. As I write this, international appeal is still on to this terrorist group to release about 276 female students of Chibok secondary school they abducted on the night of April 14. The focus of this commentary is however not on the terrorist group but on Nigerian government who has over the decades been showing disdain for western education.

Undoubtedly, Nigerian government is boko haram. Be it at federal, state or local government levels. Our government may not be burning schools, abducting pupils as well as killing and maiming students and teachers as the terrorist group is doing; however, by refusing to fund education adequately; by failing to address the demands of striking polytechnic and colleges of education lecturers; by refusing to provide conducive learning environment; by not providing jobs for graduates of the country’s academic institutions; this government and its successors have proven beyond reasonable doubts that they are boko haram.

It’s close to a year since the academic staff union of polytechnics has been on strike. Committees have been set up, meetings have been held, yet issues have remained unresolved. As such, Nigerian polytechnics have remained under lock and key for upward of 11 months. ASUP counterparts in the country’s colleges of education have been on industrial action since December 2013 or thereabout.  Like ASUP, their demands have not been met and as such the institutions have remained shut. In the last presidential media chat, when President Jonathan was asked how and when the issues which has to do with implementation of agreement reached with federal government by the unions since 2009 will be resolved, the president glibly responded in a non-committal manner by saying that the lecturers want to get paid for the months when they are on strike which he said is illegal.   In 2013 it took six months of strike action before Federal Government resolved its issues with the Academic Staff Union of Universities.

Due to insufficient subvention from the federal and state governments, some universities owned by these two tiers have started charging exorbitant tuition fees. One of such is the Lagos State University which hiked the school’s tuition fee from about N25,000 to between N250,000 to N350,000 depending on course of study. Students of Obafemi Awolowo, Ile-Ife have also been protesting hike in their fees. The prohibitive tuition fees charged by the private academic institutions in Nigeria have further led to high school dropout or substantial lack of school enrolment.  Education is a right and not a privilege under Nigerian constitution even though it is not yet justiciable or enforceable.

The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) under Chapter II which deals with fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy stated in section  18 as follows: (1) Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. (2) Government shall promote science and technology (3) Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall as and when practicable provide (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education; (c) free university education; and (d) free adult literacy programme. It should be categorically stated here that government is not striving to eradicate illiteracy or ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities by pricing education beyond the reach of average Nigerians who though are poor but are ambitious to have western education.

It may be true that the present Nigerian government is implementing free basic education, however, how about the welfare of tutors?  It is disheartening to note that some states are yet to implement the negotiated 12.5 per cent salary increment agreed between the National Union of Teachers and the government some two years ago.  Government at the federal, state and local government levels has always claimed they don’t enough money to give to education due to dwindling resources.  For instance the education sector got N495.2bn out of the N4.964tn federal budget for 2014 at a time when defence got about a trillion Naira (N968.127bn). It’s about priorities. If the government does not want more of its citizens being out of school, it needs to find creative ways of funding education without shifting the burden on the already impoverished parents.

Some of the ways include the cutting down of wastes in government expenditure. I do not see the sense in having 10 presidential jets when two or maximum of three will do. Having more than two bullet proof cars at a time for president or governors is undesirable. Situation where humongous amount is spent to cater for the wants of our political elites has to change. Only their basic needs should be met.  Leakages within the system whether it is called corruption, misappropriation, misapplication or stealing needs to be plugged.

Government can show its encouragement for the attainment of education for all millennium development goal by increasing provision of scholarship, setting up students loans board to give credit facilities to needy students, meaningful bursary award to cushion the effect of hike in tuition fees as well as meeting the operational and welfare needs of both academic and non-academic staff of all our educational institutions be it primary, secondary or tertiary.

In addition, though government cannot provide all the job needs of Nigerians but must strive to create the enabling environment for private sector intervention. Private sector has been credited to be the engine of economic growth and development in any human society. Cost of doing business needs to be drastically reduced. Social infrastructures such as electricity, good road network, hospitals, potable water all have to do with the creation of enabling environment for private sector intervention and foreign direct investment. Good legal and policy framework, tax incentive, stress free land acquisition will all contribute to incentivizing the private sector investment.

With job opportunities available to educated graduates; family and friends of the gainfully employed will cease to see education as a sin the way they are perceiving it now when the uneducated seem to be faring better than the literates. Nigerian government at all levels needs to give prime attention to education. It is only then they will cease to be, in my reckoning, boko haram.