By Dayo Adesulu
Against the calls of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Staff Unions like the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) as well as the numerous protests, demonstrations and agitations by stakeholders in the education sector for the government to increase funding to education up to UNESCO recommended standard of 26% as a step towards the provision of a free and functional education at all levels, President Jonathan and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) have prepared a budget that totally relegates education to the background while allocating a larger unmerited chunk to the Presidency and the National Assembly.

According to the press statement from ERC  National Coordinator, Mr Hassan Taiwo Soweto,” the 2011 appropriation bill of about N4.226 trillion, only a meager sum of N35 billion is being proposed for capital projects in the education sector compared to huge sums of N39 billion proposed for the Presidency and over N350 billion for the National Assembly is an absolute rip-off of Nigerians”

He based his argument on the allocations for refreshment and meals for the office of the president that is N312 million,  N12 million allocated for refreshment and meals for the Senate and N47 million for honorarium and sitting allowance saying that why would the House of Representatives get about N8.1 million and N55 million respectively for refreshment and meals, honorarium and sitting allowance when our education sector is in shamble.

The ERC, says Soweto, considered the 2011 appropriation as a breach of the October 2009 FG-ASUU agreement and the recent judgment of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice sitting in Abuja which upheld the right of every Nigerian child to free and compulsory education noting that the breach of the judgment of the ECOWAS Court of justice is all the more scandalous considering the fact that President Jonathan is the Chairman of the ECOWAS.

“It is an embarrassment that Nigeria which wants to be seen as the giant of Africa is failing to implement the court judgment of ECOWAS – a regional body whose chairman happen to be the President of Nigeria. How effective and respected will ECOWAS be in the eyes of the world and in the West Africa sub-region,” he said. Contrary to President Jonathan claim, he said with this, Nigeria cannot become one of the 20 most advanced economies by year 2020.

Soweto pointed out that the state of education in Nigeria has gone from bad to worse as the year 2010 witnessed meteoric rise in fees in tertiary institutions across the country stressing that  no Nigerian University can be found among the first 5000 in the world and the first 50 in Africa and over 12 million children of school age are out of school. “Last year, there were 98% and 74% mass failure in the 2009 National Examination Council (NECO) November/December SSCE examination and 2010 May/June WAEC examination respectively,” he noted.

These statistics, said Soweto, are enough frightening signals and warnings for any serious government to begin to address these problems by improving funding of the education sector, providing adequate lecture theatres, hostel facilities, ICT facilities, equipped laboratories and libraries, enhancement of wages and working conditions of staff in order to attract the best brain to the teaching profession at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education.

However, none of these will be achieved unless the government jettison all IMF/World Bank-inspired neo-liberal policies of privatization and place the commanding heights of the economy under public ownership and management. Only this can ensure the full mobilization of the huge amount of money needed by government to invest in education, job creation and social services.
In the light of the foregoing, ERC, according to Soweto recommended the following:

Calling on the National Assembly to increase allocation to education in the 2011 appropriation bill up to 26% of the budget otherwise the ERC will not hesitate to lead Nigerian students and youths on a protest march to the National Assembly.

Request the immediate setting up of budget monitoring committees by Governing Councils of all Universities in accordance with 2009 FG-ASUU agreement. These budget monitoring committees must comprise elected representatives of students and staff unions with the sole purpose of monitoring government allocations tertiary institutions and ensuring judicious use of resources.

Downward review of the salaries and allowances of public office holders, payment of living wage to workers and placement of all public office holders on the same wage of civil servants and professional workers.

Cancellation of the illegal and unconstitutional practice of constituency projects of members of the National Assembly as projects are the duties of the executive arm of government.

Payment of N40, 000 Cost of Study Allowance (COSA) to students of tertiary institutions to offset the cost of books, accommodation, transportation etc.

Reversal of all fee increments especially the atrocious fee increases at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU). We call on the Vice Chancellor of (OAU) to immediately reverse the proposed increase of acceptance fee for fresh students from N2, 000 to N20, 000 and introduction of a health insurance fee of N1, 600 or face mass protest and demonstrations of students.

Public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under the control and management of the working people.

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