The leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has said that only genuine increment in budgets for education between 20 and 26 per cent by the federal government as spelt out by the United Nations will be the solution to the current impasse with the university system in Nigeria. In this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, the president of the union, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, argued that introducing school fees would not solve the current crisis. He noted that while Nigeria’s resources are being mismanaged by government officials, education is being given priority in other countries.
Will ASUU consider the introduction of school fees in our universities as a solution since all your demands are financially related, so that they can all be met at once?
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We will not encourage tuition fees in whatever guise. The government can meet our demands without tuition fees. What is the minimum wage for Nigerians? It is N30,000. If we start to charge N200,000 to N300,000 how will a parent earning N30,000 pay for two children?
It should be noted that education is a right, not a privilege, so we will never go for that! If they like, let them sack all of us.
But in other countries, education is a right only at primary and secondary levels, not at the tertiary level. In fact, some at primary level only. What’s your take on that?
Is that what our constitution states? Besides, the parents of these students are already paying so much. They pay for accommodation because there are no more hostels in universities, they pay for feeding and transport because they are not staying on campus. They pay for everything, including laboratory usage. So why should they pay for tuition again? Can the country afford it? The answer is yes.
How best do you think this current crisis can be handled?
Once the government makes up its mind to prioritise education over other things like other countries in the world, they would fund it. How much is Nigeria trying to borrow to pay for fuel subsidy? It IS $2 billion. You heard it when the minister of finance disclosed it.
What is the way out?
That is what I am saying; fuel subsidy is not something we should be talking about because it doesn’t exist. They said they would borrow $2 billion, which is over N1 trillion, to use on fuel subsidy. The amount that can build a refinery!
We need to amend our laws so that all these oil companies and moribund refineries can be resuscitated, but we want to spend this money on fuel subsidy to feed some prominent people who own oil companies. But we cannot push N200m, which is less than $50 million US on our education. Does it sound right? So, if the leadership of this country prioritises education, we will get it right.
In Ghana, their budget on education is between 15 to 20 per cent of their total, while Nigeria budgets six per cent. Does it make any sense? Not even in the United States where the minimum wage is high. If they try the introduction of tuition fees, children will rise against every person involved.
What are the solutions?
Nigeria should increase her budgetary allocations to what has been recommended by the United Nations Education and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which is 20 to 26 per cent as we have in other countries. Once it is increased to that percentage, it will fund it. That’s all.
In this country, we are aware that the president, Muhammadu Buhari, was in a conference somewhere outside the country and he said that in 2022 he would increase the education budget by 50 per cent, a year later, he said he would increase it by 100 per cent. We all watched him make that promise.
So, what happened this year; instead of increasing it as promised you reduced it. Those are the issues.
How many of your demands have been met out of the ones you listed?
None has been met fully.
Which ones have been met partially?
We want revatilisation of the universities and the government promised that on a yearly basis, as far back as 2013, we shall be receiving N220 billion, which they signed. Since 2014 till today they have only released N70 billion. Between 2014 and today is about eight years.
The last time we met in 2020 they said they would release N30 billion immediately as a sign of commitment to implementing the agreement. That is the commitment out of the N220 billion, but till now, they have not released anything.
Also, we agreed to mainstream Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) so that we will not be talking about it again, and they agreed, as if they would mainstream it in 2020 or 2021. 2021 has come and gone and in 2022, it is not in the budget, and they have done nothing!
They also said they were going to pay our promotion arrears. People were promoted four, five years ago, but till now they just paid few to create the confusion that people have been paid, which is not correct.
The fourth one is that they said they were going to accept the UTAS as an alternative to the IPPIS. It is about 10 months now and the UTAS has not been accepted. They kept on telling lies. We have done tests with them, which were all positive.
But they went to the public to tell lies that the UTAS failed integrity tests. We asked if the IPPIS they are using was even tested, and the answer is no. What they are using was never tested; and they don’t want to test it. We have told them to test the two together and see the one that is better, but they said they should not be addressed like that, just because there are some people feeding on the IPPIS.
All these were said during negotiation. We started this negotiation in 2017. This was an agreement in May 21, 2021; and now, they are telling us that they are going to set up another panel. Does it make sense? Those are the major issues we had in the agreement, and till now, none has been implemented, not even up to 10 per cent. I just pray they can do it within a short period if there is a commitment.
What is your message to students who are now at home?
The struggle is about the Nigerian university system. It is about the future of our students. The government is muting the idea of paying school fees, N1 million per student, then all of them will leave the school.
They should know that what we are fighting for is about them. If we ‘leather our guide’ they will introduce school fees of N1m per student. And you know the implication. How many Nigerian students would be able to afford N1m as school fees?