By DAYO ADESULU
Legal luminary and one of Nigeria’s foremost human rights activists, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) has stated that the present ASUU strike is of great concern to him. According to him; “the Federal Government has over the years consistently neglected to adequately our universities. We are involved in the present ASUU strike because ASUU is trying to re-build the universities, force the people in power to fund our universities.”
Falana who traced neglect in funding of the sector to frivolous spending on the part of our leaders said; “Money that should be spent on education is allocated yearly to sponsor people to Mecca and Jerusalem. And many parents are happy that they are part of that delegation going to Mecca to be Alhaji or Alhaja. ‘Alhaji’ (means a stranger). Show me in the holy Quran or Bible where it is stated that a government must sponsor citizens to Mecca or Jerusalem?
”I have read the Bible in detentions not less than five times (the only book left to read in prison), I have not come across anywhere it is stated that a christian shall perform any pilgrimage in Jerusalem. That speaks volumes of the reasons they say no money to fund education, because we waste money on frivolous things.”
According to him, the injunction on pilgrimage trip is that if you are able and you are physically sound and have the fund, you can go once a year. “Some people who have looted the wealth of our country go to Mecca every Friday to pray,” he added.
Recalling what was obtainable in the university system years ago, Falana noted that there was massive investment in education, aided by religious institutions and communities. In 1976, he said, fees that were charged in secondary schools were easily affordable as tuitions were abolished in the universities.
He said; “When I entered university in1977, to pay for our accommodations and feeding, we were getting loans and bursaries from the Nigerian state. Loans from Federal Government and bursaries from state governments.
”What we were paid then was enough to sustain us while on campus. Our feeding allowance was 50k per day in 1977. 10k was spent on breakfast, 20k for lunch and 20k for dinner.”
He explained that for your 10k, a student was sure of eight slices of bread that you eat to your satisfaction. Besides, undergraduates were also fed with rice and chicken twice a week – on Sundays and Wednesdays as a full chicken was served for four students including ice cream and other beverages. We had laundry department that took care of our cleaning.
“Falana who urged stakeholders to jettison claims that no government can fund education alone, rhetorically asked, “what will the government fund if not education.? The only thing being funded by our government is poverty,” he posited.
Talking to The Nation’s campus journalists drawn from across tertiary institutions in Nigeria at a two-day seminar organised by NBC in Lagos, Falana said; “When we had good educational structure, students were sure of jobs as undergraduates. In our final year, we had employers of labour coming to interview us for job.
“And while you are undergoing your NYSC year, you also have another set of employers waiting to employ you. So, when you are leaving the camp, you would have gotten two or three jobs that you will have to select from and consider the one that will probably give you car loan or house loan. Also, as undergraduates, we had vacation jobs in the ministry and in other sectors.
“At that time, even as a secondary school leaver, all you need do in Ikeja, Lagos was for the Ministry of Labour to register you. Any time there was vacancy in the industry, you are sure to be called upon through functional post offices. That was the situation up to 1980.”
Falana who maintained that when you destroy the university system, you have ruined the country, pointed out that in those days, knowledge was truly impacted to students unlike today when we have brain drain.
On UK education which has become the safe haven for many people, he stated, “to go to London as an undergraduate, you needed about N200. Some who went did because they were getting loans and bursaries from the state.
”You will be termed as a mad man if you say you want to stay there in the UK after a visit or after graduation. Stay there to do what?
”In those days, those who went abroad for studies were those who did not have five credits to access Nigerian universities. The day you completed your studies overseas, your parents have already arranged how you will come back to Nigeria.”
Going down memory lane, the SAN said, “coming out of law school as a lawyer, if you needed a car, all you need do is to go to an auto company with your certificate, you will get a car loan and arrange how you will gradually pay back because your certificate serves as a collateral for the loan.”
The human rights activist however, lamented that due to the gross mismanagement of the economy by our leaders in the early 80s, all the dreams of our youths have been shattered; we then began to have graduate unemployment.
He reiterated that because the Nigerian ruling class was short-sighted, selfish and irresponsible, they mismanaged the economy of Nigeria and the whole thing collapsed on our head.
His words; “For the past 14 years, unemployment has resumed in an unprecedented dimension in our country, peace and stability of our country have been sacrificed. We have never witnessed the level of grand corruption that blossoms now.
I am not saying this for you to say, ‘oh the good old days’. If your parents talked about those good old days, ask them; why are those days good? You must not analyse a situation in vacuum. All analyses must be on objective reality.