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Halfway Scorecard : The many crises of education

Public spending on education in Nigeria is still estimated at five percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), which is below the average in developed…

Public spending on education in Nigeria is still estimated at five percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), which is below the average in developed countries. If the policy assumptions contained in Nigeria’s 2007, 10-year plan are to be maintained, Nigeria would allocate about seven percent of its GDP to education in 2015 and about eight percent in 2020. Analysts insist that these figures are still good.

In 2007, for instance, the former Education Minister, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili pointed out that less than 18 percent of Nigeria’s N185bn education budget was committed to building additional classrooms, providing new books and training new teachers. The rest went on to concurrent expenditure like staff salaries and day-to-day administration. This is despite several calls on the government to commit as much as 15 percent of its GDP towards education. The crisis in the education sector can be seen in the bourgeoning illiteracy level and all its consequences.

FG/ASUU endless crisis

The Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) face-off is one of the problems that have dominated the education sector for a very long time.  Apart from the demand for better working conditions and remuneration, one of the issues that breed the lingering crises is the sack of 49 lecturers from the University of Ilorin in 2001.

The affected lecturers included nine professors, 21 PhD holders and 18 non-PhD holders. The lecturers are from various fields including Anaesthesia, Pathology, Surgery, Haematology, Radiology, Mathematics, Agricultural Engineering, Crop Production, Performing Arts, Education, History, Linguistics, Accounting and Behavioural Sciences, among others. Since 2001, ASUU has continued to demand the recall of the affected lecturers and has put its case before several competent bodies, which established that the sack of the UNILORIN 49 lecturers was unlawful and recommended their recall.

For instance, the FGN/ASUU Implementation Committee on the 2001 Agreement established that “the affected teachers were at the time of termination ,actually on national strike directed by the National Executive Council of ASUU.” Therefore, the committee, in a letter dated September 6, 2001, which was signed by its chairman, Professor Ayo Banjo and addressed to the Minister of Education, recommended that the action of the university should be reversed in line with the non-victimisation clause of the FGN/ASUU agreement of June 30, 2001.

On the basis of this, the then Minister of Education. Professor Babalola Borisade, wrote to then President Olusegun Obasanjo seeking his approval to recall the affected lecturers. This was conveyed to Obasanjo via a correspondence dated September 14, 2001 and entitled “FGN/ASUU 2001 Agreement: An update of the case of the University of Ilorin.” Also, the Federal Government Committee on Politically Victimised Students and Lecturers in 2002 also recommended the reinstatement of the 49 lecturers, having established that they were sacked for political reasons. The Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) in 2003 also established that the 49 lecturers were sacked in violation of the 2001 Agreement and recommended their recall.

In the same vein, the Freedom of Association Committee of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2004, also examined the case and asked the Federal Government to get the 49 lecturers reinstated.

Two bodies, the Reconciliation Committee supported by the National Universities Commission (NUC), which was headed by the President, National Association of Parents and Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Alhaji Animashaun and the Alhaji Maitama Sule-led Dialogue Team set up by the then Minister of Labour, Alhaji Musa Gwadabe, also examined the case and recommended the recall of the affected lecturers. Despite all these interventions by the various committees set up to examine the case, the affected lecturers are up till now not reinstated. So far, two professors and a doctoral degree holder have died.

In June 2007, there arose another hope when representatives of ASUU met with President Umaru Musa Yar’adua on the matter. The meeting was convened primarily to find ways to resolve issues that necessitated the nationwide ASUU strike which began three months earlier. On June 26, 2007, the same ASUU representatives met with an ad-hoc committee to formalise the discussions with President Yar’adua on the conditions that should be met so that ASUU would suspend the strike.

In a six-point agreement, it was agreed that “the University of Ilorin 49 lecturers sacked in violation of the non-victimisation clause enshrined in the June 30, 2001 Agreement should be reinstated. This will be resolved in the process of an out-of-court settlement.” This was communicated to the then president of ASUU in a letter from the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education with reference number FME/PS/629/C/VOL1/28.

On the basis of this, ASUU resolved to suspend its strike on July 1st, 2007, which its officials said was out of respect for the incoming President, Yar’adua. The ASUU/FGN Negotiation Team with Deacon Gamaliel Onosode as chairman, also examined the case of the 49 lecturers and agreed that the case should be resolved through an out-of-court settlement. This was conveyed to the Visitor to the University of Ilorin, President Yar’adua in a letter dated September 14, 2007. Despite the academic background of the president and his deputy, there is still no solution to the problem. Parents and their wards are the victims of this endless face-off.

Demand for Teachers Salary Structure (TSS)

While the university system is plagued by this development, primary and post primary schools teachers are demanding much better salary package. For over two decades, the teachers under the aegis of the NigerianUnion of Teachers (NUT), have been consistent in their agitation for a separate condition of service and salary structure for teachers in primary and post primary schools in the country. This demand has been backed up with moral persuasion and historical trade union struggles as occasions warranted.

In 1992, a memorandum was submitted by the NUT to the Federal Ministry of Education and was subsequently reviewed in 1995 and well defended before the National Salaries and Wages Commission. The seriousness of the demand for the TSS has taken its toll on the industrial life of the nation, sometimes leading to nationwide industrial action by teachers. In the aftermath of consistent demands by the NUT, the Federal Government commissioned an “Inter-Ministerial Committee on Teachers’ Salary Structure”, the report of which was submitted to the Federal Government on 3rd October, 1996.

The subsequent good news the teachers heard of TSS was made by the Federal Government in the federal budget broadcast of 1998. The then Minister of Education categorically stated that the Federal Government would take teachers out of the Public Service Salary Structure. The implementation of that budget broadcast remains subsumed in the nation’s archives till date.

Ironically, while teachers in all tertiary institutions in the country (universities, polytechnics, monotechnics, colleges of education) enjoy separate salary packages in keeping with their occupational and professional calling, those in primary and post-primary schools who constitute the foundation and critical levels are ignored and left out. Yet, they all possess the same prerequisite professional qualifications to be registered and licensed with the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), an exercise that is currently going on. This represents an established case of professional discrimination.

Consequent upon the delay in establishing the TSS and in view of rising pressure from teachers, the NUT took a fresh step by resuscitating the demand for TSS in 2001. A reviewed memorandum was submitted by the NUT to the Federal Ministry of Education, requesting the establishment of a Teachers’ Salary Structure (TSS) and this received the attention of the Joint Consultative Committee on Education (JCCE) plenary meeting held in Kano in 2002, as a prelude to its consideration by the National Council on Education (NCE).

A technical committee of the JCCE was set up to examine this submission and make appropriate recommendations to the NCE, which is the highest policy-making body of government on all educational matters in the country. The issue last year occasioned an industrial action by teachers. Up till now, it is still a subject of contention in several states of the federation with its negative consequence of strikes and a further degeneration in the standard of education at the foundation levels.

Unity schools confusion

Recently, the heated topic of Nigeria’s 104 unity schools was in the news again. The Education Minister, Dr Sam Egwu, has been told by legislators to abandon proposals to privatise the nation’s elite federal government colleges while the House of Representatives Committee on education has been told to conduct an investigative public hearing on the matter. Egwu inherited this problem from his predecessor, Obi Ezekwesili. In its current format, this debate is at least four years old and centres on funding.

Ezekwesili’s argument was centred on the fact that as much as 70 percent of the expenditure in the Education Ministry went to unity schools, adding that to address the problem of over 30 percent of school age children sitting at home, some of that money needs to be deployed to provide education for the have-nots.

The role of unity schools in national development can’t be underestimated admidst pupils irrespective of their socio-economic background. Also among other things, unity schools admit pupils based on quotas allocated to each state thus they are not ethnically lopsided. Federal Government Girls’ Colleges were introduced to bridge the gender gap in education.

The Federal Government recently denied ceding its 104 unity schools to state governments. This was made known at the end of the meeting held between the representatives of the Federal Ministry of Education and the executives of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN). Observers believe that with the present government’s approach, educational development is still a mirage. The country is the victim of this unhealthy development as evident in its development in virtually every sector of human.