By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi –
It is pedestrian information that while Nigerians were waiting for the commencement of governance, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on the day of inauguration, precisely on Monday May 29, 2023, announced the removal of fuel subsidy without putting palliatives in place to assist ameliorate the harsh impact of such policy reversal. Also newsy is that before the dust raised by such a decision could settle, another was up, as the Federal Government again implemented a coordinated but thoughtless hike in fees paid by students of most of the tertiary institutions of higher learning in the country.
What is however different is that such harrowing decisions have left varying degrees of unpalatable impacts on Nigerians.
To the students, it has dampened their morale, a state of affair which visits the nation with a clear and present danger. To their parents, it has brought a combination of dropping spirit and despondency. For the lecturers, they have given up hope on Federal Government’s ability to find sustainable solutions to problems confronting humanity and the nation’s educational sector in particular. The FG’s latest decision and unrelenting inability to promptly respond to the socioeconomic need of Nigerians has adversely turned public affair commentators, development professionals and public policy watchers’ to a bunch that keep repeating one topic.
More damaging is that the ongoing hike in fees in the nation’s Federal Government owned universities amply demonstrates a nation that its leaders neither appreciate education as the bedrock of development nor believes in the time-honoured saying that; with sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made -as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes, and projects.
While well meaning Nigerians need to feel worried as well as collectively work hard to deliver the nation’s public universities from the valleys of the shadow of death, is that in the past decade, nothing seems to be changing for the better in that sector.
Take as illustration, in my similar intervention ‘Nigerian Students and Public Universities’ published October 2019, the piece diligently underlined that there were two forms of challenges confronting tertiary education in the country. The first as captured in the reference intervention lays out the dilemma posed by the government’s underfunding of the public universities which as a consequence; impedes lecturers from carrying out scholarly researches, truncates academic calendar with strike actions, lace Nigerian universities with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities with the universities producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower demand by the nation’s industrial sector.
The second challenge stems from the first but centres more particularly on thoughtless demand for fees of varying amounts/ proposed by the school authorities-a development that is financially squeezing life out of the innocent students and their parents.
Despite the dilemma and menace indicated above posing risks to tertiary education survival in Nigeria, coupled with similar calls by other well meaning nigerians, development experts and stakeholders in the nation’s education sector, it remains a painful narrative that instead of the challenges abating, the Federal government allowed it to blossom. In fact, it has morphed from bad to worse. And except the government commits its resources in getting to the root of the challenge, the potential consequence could be higher than that of other challenges currently ravaging the nation.
This is not the only concern here.
A while ago, a student in one of the universities in Nigeria’s south south geopolitical zone noted in frustration that inexplicable fees paid by students have gotten so complicated that the students can no longer spot the ones that are authentic or otherwise. And further lamented that despite these fees, student’s hostels have been overtaken by Bedbugs and bushes, making it convivial for reptiles/rodents to struggle for spaces with students, and left with neither portable water nor electricity as a result of the school authority’s inability to power the school generator or settle their indebtedness to the Electricity Distribution Company (DISCO) that services the region.
The above example is not to suggest that such is limited to the school in question as no public university in the country can boast of clean hands. The challenge may exist in overt and glaring forms within the school I question but exists in the hidden and subtle manner in others. Looking at commentaries, it’s obvious that there is no end to the list of such Universities. This is a verifiable fact.
By analyzing what goes on in each of these schools, it clearly presents a clumsy and discomforting attitude to the students and their parents, and provides answers as to why many of our youths- those that will provide the future leadership of the country are on the streets instead of school.
This leads to another observation; the demand by universities in Nigeria of unthinkable and varying amounts as acceptance fees from new students- a practice that’s crushes/squeezes life out of so many parents.
With this appealing awareness in mind, one may be tempted to ask what the acceptance fee signifies. Why must students pay the acceptance fee for an admission they voluntarily expressed interest in and paid the examination fees? In fact, it may not be hasty or considered illogical to conclude that in a situation a candidate is not willing to accept admission; he may not, in the first instance, border on registering or participating in the examination.
Regardless of what others may say, it is important to recognize that educational development, particularly at the tertiary level is not what the government alone can shoulder as it is both capital intensive and requires productive collaboration. It, however, remains a worrying development that while the privately-owned universities like sheep have gone their ways with astronomical charges as school fees, despite the obviousness of gaps and incongruencies between their fees and the quality of education they impact on the children, the public universities which supposed to provide palliatives now behave as if it is a competition with their private counterparts over fees.
For me, there are reasons why this worry expressed should not be described as unfounded or treated with levity.
First, these harsh economic policies are coming at a time when the FG/state have both visibly and persistently manifested gross incapacity to implement living wages across the country, and in a season when unemployment rate in the country is at an all time high.
What if the parents of these students were among those caught up by the minimum wage cobweb, unemployment or underemployment at the very least, how can they cope with these arbitrary fees currently demanded by the public universities?
To move this nation forward, we need to recognize that sound educational sector and sustained infrastructural development remains the spine. We must learn that nations such as the Jews progressed because they possessed a tradition of education combined with social and political action. They enthroned education and sacrificed as a nation to get it.
We must therefore as a nation make quality but subsidized education a human right that will be accessible to all Nigerians irrespective of tribe/ethnicity, sex, religion or creed. And develop the political will to fund education in compliance with the United Nations Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s [UNESCO] budgetary recommendation.
Finally, in the words of Kenneth Lowande, Professor at the University of Michigan, monitoring unelected officials, implementing public policies should be the chief concern of leaders in every democratic government. By overseeing that process, elected officials aim to prevent shirking, corruption, performance failures and policy drift in bureaucracy. Obviously, it will be highly rewarding if the Federal Government monitors and implements such policies in public universities.
.Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;[email protected]/08032725374.