ASUU, the vilification of Ngige and Nigeria’s shambolic education system | Dailytrust

ASUU, the vilification of Ngige and Nigeria’s shambolic education system

There was some isolated uproar in Ebonyi State on Tuesday this week. In Abakaliki, the capital, some enraged parents decided to protest Tricia Academy Nursery and Primary School’s decision to bar their wards from writing exams. The reason, according to the school, was the non-payment of graduation fees. The question the parents are asking is why on earth were they being asked to pay graduation fees when their wards are not graduating?

It might be a small incident in a small city in a corner of the country but it demonstrates the state of chaos in Nigeria’s education sector. A field where all comers do as they please because, well, there is a shortage of care for what education means.

To demonstrate, last week, President Muhammadu Buhari, in what would seem like sagely counsel, claimed that he would not bequeath an inheritance to his children but would rather leave them the legacy of education.

On the surface, the claim sounds apt. But it is problematic on several levels. First is the fact that as a Muslim, President Buhari has no choice but to leave an inheritance to his children. As president, former head of state, general, career soldier, a career politician and beneficiary of favours his positions confer on him, he has acquired wealth that will most likely outlive him. Since he has never shown any predisposition to philanthropy, it is hard to imagine him giving away his wealth to charity. So, will it or not, this wealth would go to his inheritors. As it should. In any case, that is the president and his inheritors’ business.

The other aspect that concerns the rest of us is his posturing toward the value of education. For a president who has overseen nearly two years of university closure and an increase in Nigeria’s out-of-school children from 10 million in 2015 to an estimated 13 million now, under whose watch the previous government’s N15 billion investment in almajiri schools has been allowed to waste, it sends the wrong signals.

Yes, as a father, it is fair to give priority to his children’s education. As a president, it is imprudent to say such while universities have been closed since February and with the shocking education index of this administration.

While the strike has lingered, the president has remained nonchalant, relying on a body language that has been proved to have as much efficacy as a placebo, to fix the situation. Revelations this week showed especially how that body language directly led to the impasse we have had over the last six months of the ASUU strike.

In 2016, at a Federal Executive Council meeting, Dr Chris Ngige argued, using the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s provisions, that it is solely his responsibility, as minister of labour, to negotiate with any striking labour union, including ASUU, thereby precluding the intervention of the Minister of Education.  Adamu Adamu, the education minister, looked to the president for clarification but the president said nothing. Neither did other cabinet members. The assumption was made that the labour minister had had his way.

All through, officials of ASUU have lamented over Dr Ngige’s dreadful handling of negotiations, which resulted in the strike last year running for nine months, and another six and counting this year.

 

Finally, this week, the president decided to issue a directive removing Mr Ngige from handling the negotiations with ASUU and giving Mr Adamu two weeks to intervene and present a report on the crisis.

Yet, while Mr Adamu, who as a columnist, had written brilliant articles about handling ASUU strikes and developing the education sector, is keen to also appear as a victim, sidelined by Mr Ngige with the backing of some ILO articles and the president’s body language, it needs to be pointed out that he could have done more. Following Mr Ngige’s massive failures with ASUU, Adamu could have made a passionate appeal to the president using logic to manage a crisis that is defining his legacy as the minister of education.

Besides, the ministry’s responsibilities go beyond managing ASUU strikes, which should not be happening in the first place. Pushing the drive to drastically reduce the number of out-of-school children falls directly within the purview of his ministry. As is standardising the education sector from top to bottom so that those parents in Abakaliki or others in Kaura Namoda or Sagamu are not exploited by private school owners. As is ensuring that the Jonathan administration’s investment in almajiri schools is not wasted, the moderation of the almajiri system and salvaging the future of those children are given priority.

No matter how one wants to look at it, Nigeria’s biggest problem is neither corruption nor nepotism, but education. Our failure to properly decolonise the education system has been the greatest bane of our country and its development. We merely inherited a colonial education system designed to produce clerks and low-level officials to run the colonial administration for the benefit of another country. We have retained it as an instrument of the subjugation of people. While a half-educated populace will never reach its full potential as individuals and a people, it is infinitely easier to govern and exploit.

A properly educated police officer would know the holistic implication of his taking that hundred-naira bribe from the defaulting taxi driver, who ordinarily should be educated enough to know the implication of his traffic law violation. They would at least know that greed should not be placed ahead of the public good. A properly educated woman would know the right steps to take and the right questions to ask to improve her maternal health and cut down on maternal and infant mortality. A properly educated populace would not be scammed into drinking salt water to prevent a viral infection like Ebola. A properly educated populace would know how and be more interested in creating wealth than leeching on an overstretched and largely unproductive public sector.

Redesigning the education system and investing long-term in it is a prerogative to development that various governments have failed to take seriously.

Nigeria is a country with its own unique systems, cultures and moral compasses. Whatever education system we implement should be one that harmonises all of these peculiarities to produce a highly literate, productive populace capable of critical thinking. This is the key to the success of highly literate countries like Japan and South Korea, whose education system highlights the best of their ancient cultures and incorporated modern ideas that allowed them to be world beaters in various fields. This is not achievable by patching up a broken university system so that the next administration inherits the malaise. It will also not be achieved through a beggarly budgetary allocation.

I recently saw a video of President Muhammadu Buhari, then an aspirant, speaking in Hausa, lamenting the chicken-change budgetary allocation to education. At the time, it would give hope that he would fix that problem.

It is a shame that Ngige, a labour minister, was allowed for so long to rubbish the education sector and for the president to have condoned his anyhow handling of the strike for so long. But now that he has been vilified, and removed from the negotiations, I sincerely hope that there will be some positive movements that will free poor university students from their limbo and set them back on track of completing a largely underwhelming education. As for the rest of the sector, one can only hope.

 

 

 

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