(By Tayo Demola)
“It beats one’s imagination that matters regarding education are handled with utmost levity by the government. Yet we cannot develop if education is relegated to the background in the scheme of things. There is no equality in a system where a local government councilor earns three or four times the salary of a university lecturer. Any system that relegates teachers’ welfare to the background will definitely produce half-baked graduates and graduates who cannot prove their mettle in the labour market.“
THE essence of education to the growth and development of any nation cannot be over emphasised. Education is so crucial to economic growth that any nation that genuinely hopes to develop must vehemently and consistently appropriate a large chunk of its budget to developing its educational sector. This is because without education, no nation would attain meaningful economic and socio-political development. .
Now when we talk of our leaders being responsible, what we are saying is that they should stop paying lip service to the educational sector. There is no doubt that the best legacy any parent can give to his children is quality education, so our leaders should realise that there is an urgent need to overhaul the comatose educational sector in Nigeria because we cannot develop if we as a nation do not have a sound educational system. The fact is that there is hardly any segment of our educational system that does not require urgent attention. From the primary, secondary to the tertiary education in Nigeria, the same story of neglect abounds. But this time around, we are tired of promises, so we want action on the part of the government.
Two months into the nationwide strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has now embarked on an indefinite nationwide strike over the failure of the Federal Government to implement a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with ASUU with respect to paying lecturers ‘‘EARN’’ allowance of N12,500 per month. While several moves had been made on the part of ASUU to ensure that the government implements the agreement, these had yielded no results over the years hence their decision to embark on an indefinite nationwide strike as a last resort. The Nigerian education sector is at present in a state of rot and perennial neglect by successive governments and one wonders how we can attain the vision 20:2020 if education is not given utmost priority in the scheme of things.
ASUU on their part had reduced the ‘‘EARN’’ allowance, which is the bone of contention, to 80 per cent but the Federal Government agreed to pay 50 per cent. The issue here is why would a government legally enter into agreements and renege on such agreements? It beats one’s imagination that matters regarding education are handled with utmost levity by the government. Yet we cannot develop if education is relegated to the background in the scheme of things. There is no equality in a system where a local government councilor earns three or four times the salary of a university lecturer. Any system that relegates teachers’ welfare to the background will definitely produce half-baked graduates and graduates who cannot prove their mettle in the labour market. Why would the government wait until lecturers embark on strike before taking action? Does it mean that strike is the only language the Nigerian government understands? When are we going to get to a time when lecturers will no longer embark on strikes in Nigeria?
It is evident that strikes are really paralysing the already comatose education sector. With the current insecurity in Nigeria, why would a government allow our tertiary institution students to waste their talents at home or roam the streets when they can be meaningfully engaged in the classroom? Some of these students who are now idle hands could be tempted to engage in nefarious activities or join criminal gangs to perpetrate crimes. An idle mind is definitely the devil’s workshop so the government must as a matter of urgency act to ensure it resolves the issues with the polytechnic and university lecturers so that these students can go back to school. The strike will not do anyone any good; it will only end up crippling an already ailing education sector. We were recently told by the Federal Ministry of Education that only about 500,000 applicants will eventually get admission into our tertiary institutions in 2013 out of about 1.7 million that sat for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) last April. Many eligible applicants are denied admission placements due to shortage of space in our institutions and there is shortage of space because these institutions lack the requisite facilities to accommodate them.
One of the reasons why the education sector has degenerated to this sorry state is that the government keeps paying lip service to it with no proactive steps to forestall it. I think declaring a state of emergency in the education sector is long overdue to forestall a total collapse of the sector. A lot of reforms are urgently required in the sector. The government can do this if it is really serious in addressing the problems there. We are a country where so many talented people abound. But one sure way to discover and tap them for the benefit of the nation is when people have sound education.
The Federal Government should urgently call ASUP and ASUU to a roundtable and iron out the issues with them so that they can call off the strike as soon as possible to avoid the negative consequences of these avoidable strikes. We want action now from the government and not unending but empty promises. It is high time we discouraged strike as the only tool that can coerce the government into action on matters of public concern.
• Demola is Public Affairs analyst and director, Book Editors Nigeria, Lagos.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”