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As NASU Embarks On Strike Once Again, Who Will Save Our Public Universities?

The Oasis Reporters

August 21, 2019

By M.D. Aminu

It is that time of the year again when Nigerian elites converge in the United Kingdom and other countries of similar standard to appreciate Western education and celebrate their children’s graduation. While this is happening, the Nigerian middle class and the poor are voicing their frustrations, claiming that the children of the elite are not graduating from the type of universities that they (especially the poor) are graduating from. I believe the frustrated folks are not realistic here. People have money so that they can have comfort.

What is the need of all the money if you and your family are not comfortable? No well-off people in their right senses will send their children to say Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), in its current state. Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State noted in his book (The Accidental Public Servant) that he would have wished to send his children to Ahmadu Bello University, ABU he attended in those days.

But that was not going to happen for obvious reasons. The truth of the matter is that the children of the elite have no business attending the present ABU or any other public university for that matter. Attending those public universities are severely stressful and the elite children do not seem to need that stress.

Last year I drove through ABU campus to see the university my father attended in the seventies. Once you drive past the campus entrance at Samaru, there is a hostel to your left which welcomes you offensively. That place does not qualify as a hostel but a perfect slum. Then I drove around the place even further. There was a severely decrepit place that looked like an unwanted rooster. I asked what the place was meant for and was told it was a hostel for undergrads named Danfodio. Nobody who desires a dignified existence will live in those hostels I saw in Samaru.

But why am I referring to ABU as if I have a problem with that university? The answer is simple. ABU is our supposedly model university in the north.
Folks who criticise the elite for finding an alternative to their children’s education must up their game. Poverty and economic inadequacy must not always make us lose our rationality. President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo will not send their children to ABU or to any other public university in Nigeria for understandable reasons. By shunning the universities, the leaders do not hate the institutions, they are only being realistic about it. The right thing the citizenry should do is to demand that the leaders improve our universities for decent and humane living. When that is achieved, the elite may reconsider sending their children to those universities again.

At the moment, Nigerian leaders who are in charge of our universities are in a difficult situation. They cannot help us change the system if we are all unwilling to make the sacrifice. It is often said that Nigerians love to see their country change for the better, but they are unwilling to make the sacrifice needed to realise the change. I was educated in a Nigerian public university where I paid a tuition of less than a hundred US dollars per academic session, and expectedly, in so many ways, I also paid the penance for cheap patronage. With almost free tuition, why would I expect excellent services and/or decent treatment from the university? University lecturers in Nigeria often treat their students with impunity. But they will continue to mete out such treatment because their salaries and promotions are not in any way tied to the student’s satisfaction. Their salaries are assured once the central government sells oil and shares the proceeds.

Talk about standardising these universities to achieve autonomy, which will include amongst other things, raising the tuition significantly and allowing the institutions to take charge of paying their staff salaries so that government can occasionally support them with funds for research and development, and you will have the citizenry going for our leader’s jugulars. They will ask our leaders how they (the poor and middle class) are expected to afford university education under that circumstance. But we often forget that university education is meant for those who can afford it. It seems we are yet to understand that while the government has a responsibility of ensuring that citizens are able to access free and compulsory basic (primary and secondary) education, nonetheless, that is not the case for access to tertiary education.
Basic education is a right for all citizens, but tertiary education is a privilege and not a right. This is the difficult situation that the Nigerian leaders have found themselves: if they move for the standardisation and liberalisation of public universities, they would receive popular disapproval because commoners claim they cannot afford the cost (believing that they have a right to afford it); and if they (the leaders) do not arrange the move, they are blamed for non-action.
In the midst of all these, the leaders have found a way out; which is to find alternative means for their children’s access to education; and that is to flee Nigeria. Their fleeing only makes them realistic to the extent that they understand it is impossible to have a better educational system than the current one, if as parents, their contribution for their children’s education in terms of tuition is a meagre hundred US dollars or thereabouts per academic session.
Also, there are Nigerians who claim that they are comfortable with their leader’s liberty to send their children overseas as long as they do not do so with illicit wealth.

The narrative that our leaders can afford their children’s education abroad only by illicit funds is misleading. We seem to always forget that the leaders, even though some of them may be dishonest, could have significant legitimate earnings. For example, it does not make sense to assert that Buhari, Osinbajo, Sanusi, etc., whose children have recently graduated from foreign universities, have not earned enough legitimate money in their lives to afford a UK educational provision. Finally, there are Nigerians who ask why some of our leaders could afford overseas education for their children only after assuming public office. But even in the most decent societies, people do not serve in public offices so that they become poorer. In all progressive societies, public offices come with privileges; and there is nothing unusual when privileged people improve the lives of their children through the things they can afford. The poor and middle-class Nigerians must wise up in their thought processes.

Written by Mohammed Dahiru Aminu, PhD from Cranfield University.

He’s a Professional in Energy Demand and Carbon Reduction.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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