Last week we featured the intervention of the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, on the lingering crisis between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government, which began on 14 February this year. As an insider, Ogunbodede, fresh from leading OAU for five years (2017 – 2022), spoke truth to power while also not sparing ASUU.
It is an open secret that Nigerian governments have failed to give the pride of place to education. Year-in, year-out, it falls miserably short of the UNESCO recommended threshold for the funding of education. A bad situation has grown worse under the Muhammadu Buhari administration. An economy tottering on the verge of collapse, no thanks to Buhari’s inept, corrupt and nepotistic administration, has meant that even if the government is willing to do something, the capacity to do so is lacking.
The country’s debt overhang, which keeps ballooning by the day, has meant that water don pass garri. Printing money to get by, mopping the Central Bank dry to pay salaries, and searching everywhere for additional loans to maintain a semblance of governance, the country faces imminent collapse. The World Bank has joined the growing list of those warning of the looming catastrophe.
We thought Goodluck Jonathan was bad but Buhari has turned out to be the very definition of evil. Nigeria was sick under Jonathan and we beckoned on Doctor Buhari to nurse her back to good health, not knowing that Buhari is both quack and fake! We asked a goat to help watch over our yams; we committed our fresh meat into the custody of a thievish cat. Today, the outcome all over the land is akin to Kanye West’s “weeping and moaning and mourning and gnashing of teeth”.
Buhari junkets all over the place while our youths waste one academic session at home. Pray, what happened to the two weeks’ ultimatum he gave for the issues surrounding the ASUU strike to be resolved? This is one way you know a feckless, ineffectual, incompetent and uninformed leader! I am certain those involved laughed when Buhari issued his tall-order ultimatum! Tell me, who are his advisers? Or who did he want to impress at this late hour? Na today day break? Now that they have made a laughing stock of him – or he was the one who made a laughing stock of himself – what next?
Ogunbodede had hinted that Buhari’s two-week ultimatum would elapse without the crisis being resolved not because resolving the crisis was rocket science but because the parties involved would continue to be economical with the truth. They would act the ostrich and play the blame game instead of facing up to and speaking the truth. What are these truths? From my own point of view, the truth, which is not hidden, is that the Buhari administration has priorities that are different from education and while it is true that the country is broke, this administration still pumps whatever is left of our common patrimony into the president’s pet projects. Sadly, education is not one of them!
If only Buhari would fight corruption in the rank and file of his appointees, hangers-on and cronies, money so saved would fund education many times over! If only Buhari would ensure that monies reportedly recovered from looters are not re-looted but are pumped into education, the education sector would be appropriately funded! If the barrels of crude oil reportedly stolen on a daily basis are reined in and the humongous amount ferried out as fuel subsidy is, at least, moderated, there would be more than enough funds to meet the demands of ASUU and lots more!
So, if the country is broke, it is because an incompetent, corrupt and clueless administration ran it down. If truly there is no money to fund education, it is because the available resources are being stolen and diverted elsewhere. And Buhari bears responsibility for these! The controversy between the Federal Government and ASUU over the Integrated Payroll and Personnel information System/University Transparency and Accountability Solution (IPPIS/UTAS) payment platforms serves two purposes. One is that it is merely a diversionary tactic on the part of the government to keep the lingering crisis on. The other is that it is a window of opportunity for smart government officials to loot the coffers!
It is amazing that even after the revelations of how much has allegedly been stolen under the auspices of IPPIS; the Presidency has not dropped the idea like hot coal or apologised to ASUU! It speaks volumes about the hidden intention behind the payment platform. And it was not as if the government was not aware of the loopholes deliberately (?) created into IPPIS since ASUU ceaselessly drew its attention to them.
Now, to the other side of the coin: Ogunbodede was of the opinion that it is unrealistic for ASUU to continue to insist that university education be free. Students, he said, should now be made to pay graduated fees with special provisions made for indigent students to also have access to tertiary education. Hostel accommodation on campus was another area where the former VC said the fees paid by students was ridiculous.
The loathsome state of hostel accommodation on campus was one reason I took OAU, my alma mater, to the cleaners not long ago, despite that Ogunbodede, the VC at the time, is my bosom friend. Readers of my columns will attest to that. It is kobo wise and Naira foolish to continue to insist on the payment of the same N90 bed space fee that was paid in the 1970s in 2022 only for parents, as a result of the dearth of hostel accommodation on campus, to resort to off-campus hostel accommodation costing as much as N400,000 in some instances. In addition, the students incur transportation costs as they shuttle from home to school and back. This is not to consider the risks and inconveniences involved.
In this session that has been virtually wasted, I paid about N200,000 for my boys’ off-campus accommodation and another about N250,000 for the girls. Nothing concerns the Ife shylock landlords that ASUU had been on strike; at the dot of one year, another payment has to be made! I visited my boys in one of those off-campus hotels and I saw students smoking marijuana in broad daylight and girls, half-naked, shamelessly displaying their nudity all over the place! Tell me, are we not breeding monsters? To think that these are the so-called leaders of tomorrow! If more hostels are provided on campus and parents are asked to pay between N50,000 and N100,000, it makes more sense to me.
Now, to the vexed issue of school fees: Ogunbodede averred that ASUU maintains a rigid anti-school fees posture, which he thinks should be reviewed in view of prevailing circumstances. Even where parents are able – and willing – to pay, ASUU keeps insisting that it is the responsibility of the government to provide free education to its citizens. Interestingly, I agree with both ASUU and Ogunbodede!
I am an aluta person, if you know what I mean. On the same OAU campus as a student activist, I imbibed the Socialist/Marxist idea that it is the responsibility of the government to provide not just free education to its youths but also the other necessities of life such as free medical services, basic infrastructure, job opportunities, security of life and property, among others. I still believe so. In fact, our Constitution also clearly states so in the fundamental objectives of state policy – but, unfortunately, it also makes this provision unenforceable in the law court.
Therefore, in a situation where the government is patently irresponsible, as we have had; and the courts afford us no relief, what do we do? I have then come to the conclusion that only a responsible government can provide its youths with free and qualitative education, among others. To expect such services from an irresponsible government will amount to waiting for Godot.
The second side of the coin is that many parents are already paying humongous fees of between N600,000 and N3 million in private and state universities – and in private primary and secondary schools as well. Such parents will be willing to pay between the N200,000 and N600,000 recommended by Ogunbodede in a federal university. From the fees paid, provisions can be made to accommodate indigent students.
At the risk of anyone thinking that Bolawole has turned coat, let me say that it is only when it comes to paying school fees that some parents feign poverty; not when they must buy aso-ebi, host lavish owambe to bury the dead or celebrate birthdays ! One Monday morning in my Form Three at Owo High School (1972), the principal, Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin came into the classroom and asked Fadamullah to stand up, pack his books and go home. Ajasin said: “Your father is yet to pay your school fees and those of your siblings. But yesterday, he was celebrating ero (age-grade festival). The gold on his neck was touching the ground and people were eating and drinking at his place. Tell him to sell the gold and pay your school fees”!
Need I say more!
Former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of PUNCH newspapers, also Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Westerner newsmagazine, Bolawole maintains columns in the Sunday Tribune and New Telegraph newspapers. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television. He can be reached by email on firstname.lastname@example.org and +2347052631058