It was pleasant news to many including yours truly as the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige revealed after wednesday's Federal Executive Council meeting, that Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has taken over the leadership of the Federal Government negotiation team with the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
I had been worried about the downward trend in our education sector ever since Buhari announced his 2016 budget which saw the first decline (N367.73 billion) in the education budget in recent years. Before then the allocation to the sector had witnessed marginal increases.
It was N249.086 billion in 2010 and N306.3 billion in 2011. It maintained the same trajectory with N400.15 billion, N426.53 billion, N493 billion and N492.34 billion in 2012, 2013,2014 and 2015 respectively.
The appointment of Mallam Adamu Adamu as Minister of Education (somewhat a misnomer by the way) did not excite many either. Not a few of us have noted his tepid reign at the ministry which has been dogged with controversies, notable among which are the Islamic/Christian studies brouhaha when the school curriculum was changed and the recent low cut off marks announced by JAMB. Neither was i impressed as i watched Dr. Wale Babalakin, a man he handpicked to negotiate with ASUU, struggle to sound coherent on Channels TV the day after the strike action commenced.
In the wake of this current strike action, I had latched on to the usual sources to ascertain one and only one thing: Are the various branches of ASUU in tandem with the decision announced by National Executive Council of the union?
I was relieved to learn that they were and even the statement by Obafemi Awolowo University Ife that it will not be joining the strike action was subsequently unpacked as a factional one.
One may ask why I am elated that our lecturers have downed their tools? Well the answer is that like most Nigerians I am now fed up with the incessant strikes in our ivory towers. Something’s got to reboot all concerned to default/sanity mode.
What manner of a country will be talking about development without funding the crucible of knowledge? What type of a govt budgets a paltry N448 billion for the whole education sector when it has a carryover of about N800 billion to universities and over N60 billion outstanding EAA to lecturers?
It is shameful that bulk of our so called leaders do not appreciate the significance of education when their wards are studying in Ivy League institutions abroad. Some like Senator Shehu Sani who was quick to announce his support for the strike action on this premise can only be described as a trouper in the gallery. His hypocrisy is exposed when his silence during the budget slashing and re-allocation at the NASS is brought to the fore.
Furthermore, Oby Ezekwesili who reportedly insinuated that ASUU’s demands were unrealistic should be reminded that in consideration of the decline in revenue occasioned by low crude oil prices, the truth remains that the sector has perennially suffered even when we had oil windfall.
The education sector should be accorded greater attention in budgetary allocation because we can’t be serious about development when the sector gets about 6% of the budget whereas recurrent expenditure is to gulp over 41%. The aim should always be to exceed the UN benchmark of 26 % and not the other way round. It is the proper thing and will go a long way in addressing some of our long term problems like tribalism, intolerance and poverty.
The “change begins with me” preachers in this administration ought to know that knowledge is a prerequisite for that slogan. Let the change begin in our schools, in our future generations for those we call our leaders today have failed and some have also acknowledged that.
So as Vice President Osinbajo takes on the arduous task, I in particular am not optimistic because he cannot negotiate beyond budgetary provisions. The year is almost over and hopefully the long overdue cabinet reshuffle will usher in a new era with a visionary education minister who understands the importance of funding the sector. More importantly let us hope that all the parties involved are willing to make the necessary compromise as they head back to the negotiating table.