ASUU President Professor Biodun Ogunyemi

We have elected and we have chosen to elect people who do not have education. And because they are not educated, they cannot give education- Emir Sanusi Lamido, 2018

I have experienced two major strikes in my lifetime. The notable one amongst them was 10 years ago, back in 2009. It was my brother who had just gained admission. He spent 9 months at home in his sophomore year and that was the last the family had of public universities. He went on to a private school in the end. Mine was the next major experience; it was in 2013 I had my first six months strike. I was in sophomore year too. And the first three months were hell until I went out to look for something doing before the strike later ended. But that was not the first experience I had of the strike, for the remainder of four years, it was from one strike to another and then to another.

In other countries like Singapore for example, education is the best legacy you can give a child. Niyi, my very progressive friend was opportune to be there for a business idea competition for more than half of a semester in our third year in University. He told me the professors were the ones that implemented policies based on their theses. For the people of Singapore, Niyi noted, they relied so much on undergraduate theses that they consider several tons of research in rebuilding their economy. “It is actually the lecturers that build houses, transform the power sector and run the economy based on their research predictions and the Government, actually support them; giving the student that worked on that particular project the funds needed and a professor to play oversight,” Niyi said. This is a statement I have held on to since 2015 we had this conversation.

But cast your lens to Nigeria and you most probably frown and cross your legs. This is Nigeria where your thesis is sold to the akara woman down the street for say #50 or maybe a hundred naira. And if you are truly diligent enough to read that scrap of paper where your fried potato, or buns is being wrapped, you find a literature review that took someone months to write and re-write. In Nigeria, the imagery of a final year project or thesis is like that popular Facebook picture that showed tons of undergraduate bound project backs containing nothing less than 40 pages of mass intellectual work being thrown to waste by the roadside as thrash. It is the reason why someone would misplace his NYSC discharge certificate or degree certificate like I once saw on Twitter, squeezed and roughened into a ball like a scrap of paper- worthless, depicting the imagery of a failed system and a waste of valuable 4 or 5 years with the variable of an ”x” because you don’t know how many ASUU strikes will be required before your course eventually ends. 

ASUU strike can actually end today if the Government so wishes. How much are they demanding really? 1.5 trillion naira as revitalisation for all Federal Universities which should have been paid between 2009- 2011 with #472,031,575,919 for 2009; #497,531,778,701 for 2010; and #548,768,190,681 in 2011, all totalling #1, 518, 331, 545, 304. In addition to that is N3,680,018 per student for all State Owned Universities in the same 2009- 2011 period. Where #1,144,075 will be paid for 2009; #1,205,880 for 2010; and #1,330,063 in 2011. All of these totals to N3,680,018 approximated for State Universities. These amounts include Recurrent and Capital Grants, and are based mainly on the disaggregated returns from the universities. All of these facts are obtained from the detailed Federal Government and ASUU detailed agreement, dated January 2009.

You want to know the truth? Like the absolute heart piercing truth? We can pay this money. In 2018, we recovered 329 million dollars Abacha loot; add that to the 2.1 billion dollars Colonel Sambo Dasuki arms deal recovery. Do you know how enormous 329 million dollars is? Or how big 2.1 billion will be when converted to naira altogether? Wouldn’t that be enough to quell the ASUU back and forth? Not to add the numerous monies this current administration has been recovering from one politician to another. ASUU is demanding for a lot, that I know but if you read the detailed Federal Government and ASUU agreement, and you were a civil servant demanding #30,000 minimum wage, or better still a lecturer, or perhaps you by any means put yourself in their shoes just for a day, you will realise that they are not overdoing it.

Their detailed agreement cannot be surmised in one piece but I will give you a hint. It involves earned academic allowances per student over a session, a national pension scheme, insurance, car allowances, tenure-housing and a long line of well-deserved benefits. Even the bible says: “the soul that waters shall be watered.” Just like the Politicians you are clamouring for are feeding fat off your income taxes, and VATs on every commodity you buy, as well as theagberos, feeding fat on your transport fare, so should ASUU feed fat over the stress of taking several classes in a day and explaining hours after hours. They put in research in a failed system and still try to groom you, the best you can do for them is make living for them better so they can be accountable and not fall to bribery or the cheap advances of sex-for-marks and become a victim of their greed or the circumstance this country and the system has put them.

This is an agreement that dates as far back as 1992. It is not a new agreement. It is a struggle that took late Professor Festus Iyayi’s life, an agreement that has been remodelled since 1992, till 2001, 2009, 2012, 2013 and finally 2017. This is the fun part. In 2017, after signing series of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to no avail, they followed the change mantra of the APC Government and hoped that changing the name of their agreement will probably make the government listen to their pleas of taking ASUU to the Next Level. So they opted for a Memorandum of Action (MoA), which is the same agreement but a semantic change of name to pressure the government. This is ironic and hilarious, noting that APC (All Progressive Congress) was once Action Congress (AC) before now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) which APC replaced as (All Progressive Congress). But like a rock, unwilling to be moved, the Buhari led Government turned a deaf ear to all their pleas, refusing to fulfil their own part and for 27 years, the past Governments have successfully deceived and dribbled the grey haired ASUU men.

Someone would ask why ASUU demands for a revitalisation would gulp many funds. Here is why:

(i) The key to the survival of our country in the 21st Century lies in its ability to produce applied and theoretical knowledge in science, technology and the humanities; and (ii) The task of revitalizing and accelerating the development of the Nigerian University system to become internationally competitive can no longer be delayed, more so if Nigeria is to become a leading economy in the world within the next ten years or so as desired by the Government. (Federal Government and ASUU detailed agreement, 2009.)

We know our education system is bad, worse even and that is why the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) did their due diligence, ran an in-depth research on how much will be needed to serve as a quick fix to the ailing academic system, and dearth of equipment that will enhance education for our teeming under-16 year olds suddenly passing JAMB and making their way to school. Okay, say 1.5 trillion naira is too much for the Federal Universities, Tade Oludayo, a Vanguardcolumnist in his article ASUU strike, issues in contentionpleaded for a modest revitalisation at most. One that will gulp 1.3 trillion naira at the very least! The analogy is that if they can pay 220 billion in five years from 2013, we should have gotten nothing less than 1.3 trillion naira to quell the ASUU strike. But the Government is unperturbed that they lied in 2017 to have released 20 billion naira to ASUU when in actual fact, they released nothing.

It is saddening that in the 21stcentury and in 2019 for that matter, more than 2 decades down the line, we still experience strikes in the education based on the Government’s insincerity. ASUU has proven one thing- they are consistent, consistently revamping a 27 old agreement that means well for the progress of the country where the Government cannot see potential in education and continues to allocate 7% to education- less than 500 billion naira to an ever dynamic population that is youth driven and even powerful enough to decide the polls come February 2019. INEC data shows youths between 18-35 a strong 51.11% and the student population 26.5%, numbering 22.3 million, close to doubling the farmers population which stands at 16. 23% - a staggering 13.6 million. Yet the government has continually fallen low of UNESCO standards who suggest a modest allocation of 26% of the total budget to education as the best legacy any child could have. 

Neighbouring African Nations like Ghana give a modest 15.3% of their budget to Education with Botswana exceeding the UNESCO’s quota by offering 28.8% of their budget to Education. The future they say belongs to the youths, who should not be deprived education as a sustainable legacy. How then do we hope to solve our numerous problems if not through research?

Maybe Emir Lamido Sanusi is right. Not many people are like Niyi who was opportune to go to Singapore to see things for himself and appreciate the quality of education. We have elected and have chosen to elect people who do not have education and we will pay dearly for it. You can’t give what you don’t have and you won’t necessarily understand the value of education if your ascension to office as President is an ordinary WAEC certificate that is fraught by allegations, counter-claims, deceit, and maybe fraud. Yet some graduates are still roaming the streets with a Master degree but no job! We may also need to check the grades of the President closely and see how well he did in those subjects while questioning his grin when the Military finally released his certificate. Then, we should juxtapose these things with his cabinet and score card over the past three years to know if truly if, he deserves to be elected for second term or he was just fulfilling a boy hood dream to rule Nigeria in the present, past and future. 

In all of these things, the number of people writing JAMB is constantly on the rise. In 2018, 1.6 million Nigerian students registered for JAMB with 94% of that population opting for public schools and a meagre 6% choosing to stake their choices with Private Universities. A quick look through the top ten most wanted schools are Universities of repute ranging from UNILORIN, to University of Ibadan, UNILAG, Ahamadu Bello University, UNIBEN, Obafemi Awolowo University, Bayero University and UNIJOS. It is obvious our poor masses cannot afford the tuition a private school offers however, the choices for choosing a Public University ranges from desire, to high ethical standards, quality education and a smooth academic calendar, no wonder Obafemi Awolowo University has suddenly fallen off that list as a favourite institution in the top three.

To be very candid, the joys of going to a Federal University because of low tuition abounds no more. The last time I spoke to Abiodun, a Final Year Student of Obafemi Awolowo University, I told him my fear was for my brother who was still stuck in the University and my sister would also go through this tumultuous system. The latest now is that the cost of education has taken a huge spike. Though, this claim is still highly probable. Last year, the news we heard was tertiary education will now range between #350,000 to #500,000 (though ASUU blatantly rejected it then). I still remember that Ambode won his Governorship ticket to Lagos State in 2015 by reversing the school fee to the original standard of #25,000 for LASU Students which was still a huge struggle for a couple of parents to afford.

I paid the sum of #20,050 in the last three years I spent at school. Add that to the #40,000 I paid as a freshman. Altogether, I didn’t pay above the sum of #150,000 as a graduate of Great Ife. Yet as small as that amount was, many parents still struggled to pay their children fees and the Government once planned to throw the masses into more penury by insisting on an increment of tertiary university fees when they can’t even pay #30,000 minimum wage. Tell me how the masses will cope if they cannot effectively pay #20,050 how much more #350,000? Liberia now has free education for tertiary institutions. Liberia as a people, a country, a nation or even as regards the revenue they might be producing are not anywhere close Nigeria but they have free tertiary education now and our Government cannot sign a simple agreement and keep to it.

Let me tell you what that makes us. It makes us a country of half-baked graduates. I spent five years in school for a course that would have taken just three and a half years. No four year course finishes exactly four years, some people even spend three years plus, some just three years and no more. But the more you delay a particular course with strike, the students will get tired and the zeal to chase academic relevance will be no more, this is why Nigeria students have gone into vices like prostitution, runs, fraud and most especially Yahoo Plus. Now they use girls undies to enhance their cyber businesses so they can buy Benz. Would you blame them really? No you shouldn’t. Nigeria has shown us that education no longer pays and so, even after bagging a Ph.D., you might not still make headway. That is why depression, anxiety and fear have become the order of the day with the students doing all sorts of ventures because they have seen that the labour market no longer favours them. 

If you can’t graduate and serve before 26 in Nigeria, you might never truly get that job of your dreams again but ASUU will continually strike. And it is not like the quality of education of Nigeria is good. Most of the theories are old, antique and anachronistic, so even when you struggle to serve and apply for that job, you may have to be retrained. The Nigerian system does not allow for work study or high level internship and exchanges. If you must become a professional, you have to beg for it. 

The school should provide a bridge between school life and real life by working on partnerships with firms and other affiliate bodies but this is Nigeria, the system is a failed system and the grim realities will always linger. ASUU may win this fight and be victorious in the end, or they may not but this numerous strikes are no fault of theirs. Just like you can’t blame Labour for demanding a pay raise; ASUU are fighting for their right which is necessary and important. 

That is why there is a NANS- A National Association of Nigerian Students fighting for the students rights. Unlike the vibrant NANS of yesteryears, the current leadership would rather shake hands with president, collect a few thousands and say the issue is still in the works. Customise their cars with NANS plate number and lavish the funds for the generality of Nigerian students wantonly. 

Let me tell you what will happen when ASUU strike is over. Girls will throw engagement parties and brandish the lavender sent of wedding invites to lecture halls, some would have done introductions, others pregnant, a few of them already married, the young men would have wasted the break doing nothing tangible with their lives and the next few years, in the future, history will repeat itself. Then, you would turn and ask yourself, “God when will all these be finally over?”


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