December 10, 2022

Dissenting voices as House of Reps continues quest to end incessant ASUU strikes

Levinus Nwabughiogu,

Jolted by the lingered recent strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities,  ASUU, the House of Representatives penultimate week held a two day education summit to find solutions.

The summit was sort of an emergency, prompted by a daring circumstance. It was a means to an end-the protracted ASUU strike. 

Recall that from February 14 to October 14, 2022, the Nigerian public universities were shut down and the academic activities completely paralysed. Then, ensued the negotiations. The bone of contention was chiefly the non implementation of an agreement between ASUU and the federal government which included the provision of requisite infrastructure for learning on campuses. And then, the lecturers’ payment system. While the government insisted on Integrated Personnel Payment Information System (IPPIS), ASUU pitched tent with University Transparency Accountability System (UTAS). 

When it appeared there was no headway in the talks between ASUU and the federal government led by both the ministries of education and the labour in their negotiations, the House of Representatives intervened.

At the instance of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, the House launched a multifaceted meeting with the stakeholders that commenced on September 20 and dragged on till October 14, 2022. 

The good news, however, is that academic activities had since resumed. 

But to permanently cure the malady in the education system, the House convened a National Summit on Tertiary Education Reform with the theme “Reimagining Tertiary Education in Nigeria: Issues, Challenges and Solutions”.

Gbajabiamila whose office organized the summit assembled an array of scholars from the ivory towers across the Nigerian hemispheres. Amongst them were Professors Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, Hillary Edeoga and Hamman Sa’ad,  former vice chancellors of university of Lagos, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in Abia and Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State. They were in Abuja for the two days summit that held at the main auditorium of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between Tuesday, November 22 and Wednesday, November 23, 2022.

Others were Olusegun Adeniyi, Rep. Aisha Dukku, Prof. Conrad Omonhinmin of Covenant University; Oluwole Adeosun, President Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers; Dr. Idowu Chiazor, Centre Director, Brightpath International Academy;  Dr Dasuki Arabi, a paper presenter and Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun, SAN.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was also invited to the event. The Minister of State for Education, Goodluck Nana Opia was also available to make his presentation. ASUU delegation led by its President, Professor Emmanuel Osedeke was also present. And of course, many other figures and personalities.

The Speaker in his address said “This National Summit on Tertiary Education Reform (NSTER) is the manifestation of our commitment in the 9th House of Representatives to engender a national conversation to consider bold ideas and radical innovations to restructure and reform public tertiary education in Nigeria.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his remarks at a panel stressed the need for the country to look for the 20 million out-of-school children or risk another era of Boko Haram.

He also endorsed the proposed students loan scheme bill by the House but cautioned against corruption.

He said: “Can we do anything about it? I believe we can. Those 20 million children that are out of school, we can get them back to school. If we do not get them back to school, we are preparing for Boko Haram of tomorrow. It will happen as sure as daylight. What can we do? Where are these 20 million children? Where are they located? Can we have schools in the morning and afternoon to get them in at least for six years.

“Any Nigerian child should never be derived of the right of education for lack of means. Hon. Speaker said to us that he has initiated a bill for loan. I believe it is very important. The point is that can we run it without corruption? Can we bring integrity into it? Can we really make sure that only those who deserve it get the loan? Now, my own children should not go to university and be asking for loan. 

I believe that we cannot say at the university level everything should be free. There will have to be certain amount of money to be paid. If they do it in private universities why not in government universities? And if you don’t have money, there has to be loan that at the end of the educational process, you can start paying back”.

Similarly, Professor Ogundipe stated that government alone cannot fun education.

“Like the former president said, it is not only the government that should be involved in the funding of tertiary education and the lower level of education in Nigeria. The community will need to be involved, the Mosques, the Churches, the leaders we have to be involved and also the companies that we have in Nigeria we need to involved. 

Students loan scheme to be or not!

In its presentation, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) said it will not support the loan scheme.

“ASUU would never support the issue of education bank because the poor would not benefit from it. The best solution is adequate funding for Universities,” ASUU President, Professor Emmanuel Osedeke said.

Similarly, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) opposed the proposed students loan scheme.

Their position was conveyed by the NANS president, Usman Barambu at the summit. “This issue of students loan is like bringing another tuition through the back door because today if you increase school fees, I’m telling you, quote me anywhere, I’m speaking on behalf of  over 40.1 million Nigerian students, what happened during the EndSARS would be just 1%.

“Yesterday we were not here because we had our own meeting and I’m saying because of what we discussed yesterday. We don’t want it, we will not accept it, and we are going to address Nigerians on Monday and we will go against this student loans”, he said.

But on his part, the speaker of the House and sponsor of the bill, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila said the student loan scheme was safe.

“Another feature of the students loan Bill is that it requires two guarantors, whereby one could be a civil servant with twelve years standing, a lawyer of ten years standing or a judicial officer,” he said.