In Nigeria, neither much nor anything positive can be said about the state of public education. As a result, the fragile unity of Nigeria is threatened by the decline in education.
At the primary, post-primary and tertiary levels, education is in turmoil. The severe cut back in public financing of education, the crisis in the classrooms, the tear-gassing of Benin women protesting increased school fees and the rough official response to striking teachers demanding better conditions of services pale the pomp and pageantry of the country’s universities’ convocation ceremonies.
This year’s six month strike action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) marred the education sector, but the problems go deeper. The worst calamity that befell the sector is the killings of about 45 students of College of Agriculture that were were killed in their sleep by gunmen who invaded their hostels on September 30th.
The carefree attitude of the state is to blame for not providing sufficient funding for education, such that students are made to live in unsecured off campus situations. Additionally, the lack of commitment on the part of the Federal and Government to the 26% UNESCO benchmark for funding education was greatly exposed by analysis of the budgetary allocation to the sector this year. Statistics indicate the contrary despite government officials constantly stating 2013’s provision was the highest allocation to education in history. In comparison even poorer African countries in the funding provided for education, Nigeria is performing dismally. According to CBN statistics, 1997 was the year the education sector had the highest allocation with 17.59%. 2013’s allocation was 8.70% according to Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) source.
Nonetheless, as Tayo Lewis of Tribune writes, one of the bases for this year’s teachers strike was the budget allocation. The union strike that started on 1st July 2013 and ended on 17th December 2013 took a whole 6 months of the academic calendar. In an attempt to end the strike action, the President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan had on November 4 held a 13 hour meeting with the executive of ASUU.
During the 13-hour meeting between the President and ASUU, the Union requested “that Your Excellency facilitates the resolution of the issues as a way of concretizing the understanding of the agreed positions. That the N200 billion agreed upon as 2013 Revitalization Fund for public universities shall be deposited with CBN and disbursed to the benefiting universities within two weeks. That the renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement in 2014 be included in the final document as agreed at the discussion with Your Excellency. That a non-victimization clause which is normally captured in all interactions of this nature be included in the final document and that a new Memorandum of Understanding shall be validly endorsed, signed by a representative of government, preferably the Attorney General of the Federation and a representation of ASUU, with President of the Nigeria Labour Congress as a witness.”
In the presence of five Vice chancellors, the Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Abdulwaheed Omar as witness. However, during the strike period, ASUU had become battle weary having lost one of its beacons Prof. Festus Iyayi while on an official trip to Kano for an ASUU NEC meeting on November 12, 2013. Additionally, ASUU lost much of its public support and the length of the strike action had also opened the flanks of the union to an imminent break up.
As the New Year (2014) begins, one can only hope for the best for Nigeria’s troubled education sector.