2018: Ending in Disputes, Strikes

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As 2018 draws to a close amidst the disagreement between the federal government and academic staff unions of universities and polytechnics in the country, among other issues, Funmi Ogundare writes that the country’s education sector still leaves much to be desired

One of the major challenges that seem to be confronting the country’s education sector is inadequate funding, which has been identified as the major reason for the rot in the sector. The Ministry of Education received N541.2 billion for both capital and recurrent expenditure, up from the N496.9 billion proposed by the president. This is said to be meagre considering the crucial role education plays in the development of any nation.

As a result of poor funding, especially of tertiary institutions, the outgoing year witnessed frequent strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and their polytechnic counterpart (ASUP). On November 5, ASUU had embarked on strike over demands of improved funding of public universities based on the agreement it reached with the federal government in 2009. Some of the demands by the union are that the federal government should nominate another chairman of the government renegotiating team of the 2009 ASUU/Federal Government Agreement to replace Dr. Wale Babalakin. The union also lamented the non-payment of Earned Academic Allowance (EAA); revitalisation of Nigerian universities; implementation of needs assessment report; poor funding of state universities, among others.

Last week, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige had said at a reconciliation meeting with the union that the federal government has reached a partial agreement with the union. He said the parties touched some areas of understanding in implementation from the memorandum of action agreed in 2017.

Perhaps not considering the numerous problems confronting the tertiary institutions, the House of Representatives Committee on Tertiary Education and Services is considering bills for the establishment of more tertiary institutions across the country, just as the lawmakers move to amend the acts establishing six existing ones.

The proposed tertiary institutions are Federal Polytechnic, Dukku, Gombe State; Federal Polytechnic, Shendam, Plateau State; Federal Polytechnic, Abriba Abita, Federal University, Birnin-Kebbi, Kebbi State; Federal University of Agriculture, Taraba; Federal College of Education, Akwette, Abia State; Federal University of Technology, Kaduna; Federal College of Education, Monguno, Borno; and National Institute for Education Planning and Administration, Nigeria.

The universities whose acts are billed for amendment are Usman Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto; University of Lagos; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; University of Maiduguri; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi; and National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN).

Speaking at a public hearing in Abuja, the Chairman of the Committee, Suleiman Aminu stated: “We deemed it expedient to subject these bills to public scrutiny and elicit inputs from the general public. You will agree with me that easy access to quality tertiary education is not only desirable but also inevitable.

“However, the tertiary institutions in the country cannot adequately accommodate the quests for admissions by Nigerians, which calls for more to address the protracted problem.”

Reacting to the proposed establishment of new higher institutions, the President of ASUU, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi had expressed concern over the state of tertiary education in the country saying, “my heart is heavy that we want to establish new universities when nothing is being done about the existing ones. The federal government is considering the imposition of tuition fees when most Nigerians cannot afford three meals a day, and you are talking of new universities.”

A PDP stalwart, representing Abia, Mr. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta countered ASUU, insisting that the federal character demands that all states should be entitled to a federal polytechnic and shutting some states out of it would amount to abuse of equity.

“Federal character entitles every state to a polytechnic. Let us establish them first after which the issue of funding would be addressed.”

Nkem-Abonta’s position was also shared by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and the National Board for Technical Education (NABTEB), whose officials lauded the move for new tertiary institutions.

“NABTEB is fully in support and even canvass that every state in Nigeria should have a federal polytechnic to enhance technical education, industrial dev and employment generation,” a NABTEB official said.

On the outcome of the public hearing, the chairman promised that the committee would be thorough, fair and objective.

“A number of factors will guide our action. But we promise to be thorough, fair and objective; above all, necessity and the co-operation of host states would be the deciding factors.

In the outgoing year, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) released the 2018 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) result for school candidates recording at least 50 per cent pass rate in the number of candidates that obtained credits and above in a minimum of five subjects and above, including English Language and Mathematics.

The Head, National Office of the council, Mr. Olu Adenipekun, who addressed journalists in Lagos, said a total of 786,016 candidates of the 1,572,396 that wrote the examination had five credits and above including English Language and Mathematics.

He said statistics of the results showed 1,213,244 candidates representing 76.84 per cent obtained credits and above in a minimum of any five subjects with or without English Language and or Mathematics.

“858,424 candidates representing 54.59 per cent obtained credits and above Inna minimum of five subjects including English language but without Mathematics.”

Unfortunately, in its November\December diet for private candidates, the council recorded 60 per cent failure.

Adenipekun, who announced the results in Calabar, said 39,557 candidates obtained credits and above in a minimum of five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics.
He said the figure represents 35.99 per cent of 109,902 candidates that sat the examination, adding that 63,037 candidates representing 57.36 per cent obtained credit and above in a minimum of any five subjects (i.e. with or without English Language and/or Mathematics.

The council boss noted that the WASSCE for private candidates 2018-second series took place in the five member countries from August 14, 2018 to October 4, 2018, adding that a total of 112,567 candidates registered for the examination in the country, out of which 109,902 sat the examination.
On a cheery note, the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) recorded many achievements in the outgoing year under the management of Professor Is-haq Oloyede appointed by the Buhari administration in 2016.

The board received accolades for taking a number of measures and initiatives driven by technology to restore confidence in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and reduce the time gap between the conduct of the examination and release of result so as to protect its sanctity; remitted N7.8 billion to the coffers of the federal government, a staggering distance from the N51 million remitted by the board under the last administration between 2010 and 2016; as well as transforming the staff of the board to experts in virtually everything that was hitherto done by service providers from registration to examination.

Oloyede had told THISDAY in an exclusive interview while giving his score card in the past two years that: “It is my desire that JAMB becomes a world class agency and a cynosure for all. This prompted me on assumption of duty to roll out a five point agenda which form the fulcrum and driving force of our modest achievements. The five point agenda were welfare, discipline, technology, transparency and networking.

“The five point agenda are like our code of engagement and guiding principles. What we are doing is leading by example, once people know your motive in an organisation they automatically set their own. Once your motives are transparent, national and inclusive, you will see people following your determination willingly and if it’s otherwise, you would just be deceiving yourself as they would do everything to compromise the system.

“Punishment is secondary however, we have equally not shy away from it as the board punishes when necessary and reward in equal dimension. But the turning point in our dream today is technology. We have taken full advantage of technology to put solid security, ensure transparency and create equity, fairness and inclusiveness of all stakeholders to all stages of the process.”

Giving his assessment of the education sector, the Deputy Director, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Mr. Ohi Ojo expressed concern about the strikes embarked on by ASUU and ASUP saying that it crippled both key tertiary sub-sectors.

“This is quite unfortunate. It is inconceivable that lecturers in this sector should choose strike action so frequently forgetting how these negatively impacts on the nation.”

He said he believes that negotiations could have continued with government without stopping teaching.

“Recently we were informed of the increase in the pay package of the police, they didn’t go on strike,” he said, while expressing regret that “many lecturers hardly do their job well too. Several times, students are not aware of their results for the first semester. How can they plan for a test or carry-over? Yet they are the first to criticise the government for failure to keep agreement with their students except those in private universities.”