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Commission on Child Destitution, ASUU Strike and Education Sector

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Child Destitution

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

With the recent passage for the second reading of the Bill for an Act to establish the National Commission on Child Destitution in Nigeria, it is now evident that the nation handlers’ have finally come to the sudden realization that history has over these years thrust upon our generation an indescribably important destiny – to complete the process of learning and modernizations which our nation has too long developed too slowly, but which is our most powerful for world respect and emulation.

The bill, if passed, would provide the legal and constitutional frameworks for the eradication of child destitution in Nigeria. The bill would also result in taking formidable steps to mitigate the effects of the recurring cases of child destitution in the country. When established, the commission would serve as an intervention programme that would eradicate, rehabilitate and prohibit the menace of child destitution in Nigeria.

Without a doubt, there are many reasons that qualify the development as a right step taken in the right direction.

First, separate from the painful realization that 17 states in the country with the highest number of out-of-school children, 14 of them are in the North, and if the rate of out-of-school children is not curtailed, it would further worsen the insecurity that is currently bedevilling parts of the country. There is an accompanying belief that the latest bill, when passed, will strengthen the already existing Universal Basic Education Act 2003, which among other purposes is aimed at enforcing quality, compulsory, mandatory and free education up to secondary school three or equivalent and other purposes.

The second is that successive administrations in the country have done very little in arresting the situation. A particular report in 2013 described as mind-numbing the awareness that about 10.5 million Nigerian children of school age are not enrolled in schools. Out of this number, the report explained that about 9 million are children of beggars, fishermen and other less privileged people in the society.

The survey further showed that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world, noting that; there is still a huge number of those who are in school, but are learning nothing, as schooling does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school.

Regardless of what you hear or read on the pages of the newspaper, this piece believes that despite the proposed National Commission on Child Destitution in Nigeria, it is still not an easy road for the Nigerian education sector but a tough and tumble ride. Even the practice of democracy in the country, contrary to earlier beliefs, has not helped to stop the pangs of challenges experienced by Nigerians in the sector.

Among many other comments in the recent past, I heard some say that across the globe, funding education now comes with a crushing weight that the government alone can no longer bear. To this group, it calls for public-private partnership and support from good-spirited individuals to the rescue.

Within this span, I have equally read an argument that our educational system is faulty just like every educational system is faulty. The United States educational system, they added, is faulty. If there is no fault in any system, then, there is no improvement. They concluded that what we call fault is a challenge and that is the basics of development. To the rest, our educational system is not faulty as it remains one of the systems that are still very sound and applauded across the world.

To illustrate this belief, the ongoing strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to ensure the government stops reneging on agreements with the union has more than anything else made it clear that the nation’s public universities, principally the federal government-owned universities, are in trouble.

Aside from the fact that this is the second industrial action in less than two years, coupled with the fact that the system continues to frustrate the ambitions and aspirations of our youths; those that will provide the future leadership needs of the country, there are indeed reasons that characterize the current happenings as a troubling reality.

The most fundamental of the reasons is that the strike came a few days after President Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja, while receiving members of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) led by the co-chairs, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, and the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, promised that the federal government remains committed to honouring promises made to ASUU to prevent disruptive strikes, engender uninterrupted academic programmes and improve funding of educational institutions.

The second stems from the words of Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, president of ASUU, who during a reported interview with the Channels Television, not only contradicted but proved as untrue the above pledge by Mr President. He ‘religiously’ explained how the FG has seamlessly become reputed for not keeping promises.

Let’s listen to him; “For the past nine years or so, they have been giving us promises but once the strike is over, they relapse. While noting that his colleagues are tired of these promises which they don’t fulfil, he added that what they want is action, maintaining that the union has sacrificed for the country’s educational system, concluding that ASUU will not back down on the current industrial action, since the federal government has become reputed for not keeping to its promises.

Looking above, it is evident that if the time-honoured aphorism which considers education as the bedrock of development is anything to go by and if the age-long belief that; with sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made, 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 remains a valid argument, then, we all have reasons not only to feel worried but collectively work hard to deliver the nation’s education sector.

Specifically, these challenges come in two forms; the first lays out the dilemma posed by the government’s underfunding of the public universities which as a consequence; impedes lecturers from carrying out scholarly research, truncates the academic calendar with strike actions, laces 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 the life out of the innocent students and their parents.

The dilemma and menace posed by this practice indicate considerably higher risk and unless the government commits its resources to get to the root of the challenge, the potential consequence could be higher than that of other challenges currently ravaging the education sector.

By not taking the education sector seriously, one fact that the federal government failed to remember is that when human beings, through sound education, develop a higher order of thinking, the society gains an advantage in being able to anticipate emerging threats, they gain the ability to conceptualize instead of just perceiving.

But when they fail to acquire or deny the need, they will also gain the ability to conceptualize an imaginary threat and when a group of people are persuaded to conceptualize this imaginary threat, they can activate the fear response as powerfully as the real threat.

This fact partially explains the current fears and insecurity that have recently enveloped the country.

To further avert all these, governments at all levels must unlearn this attitude of the progressives’ non-recognition of the right to education as a human right despite their membership in a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights where the right is respected.

Above all, the Buhari-led federal government must urgently commit to mind that globally; ‘the relationship between employers/employees is always strained, always headed toward conflict. It is a natural conflict built into the system.

Unions do not strike on a whim or use the strike to show off their strength. They look at strikes as costly and disturbing, especially for workers and their families. Strikes are called as last resort’. And any government that fails to manage this delicate relationship profitably or fails to develop a cordial relationship with the workers becomes an enemy of not just the workers but that of the open society and, such society will sooner than later find itself degenerate into chaos.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based non-governmental organisation (NGO). He can be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Education

Who Will be Peter Obi’s Minister of Education?

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Minister of Education

By Akachukwu Ifeanyichukwu

The public education sector of Nigeria is currently in a critical state as staff unions of federal universities have been on an unending industrial action for the last five months.

Federal institutions are dilapidated as they are poorly funded and the approved funds are rarely used for the approved task. If elected on February 25, 2023, the Peter Obi-Yusuf Datti Baba Ahmed-led administration will have to face the uphill task of rebuilding the sector from the foundation and this would be done by who he appoints as the Minister of Education if he is given the mantle of leadership.

During his tenure as Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi revitalized the education system of the state using strategic partnerships with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank, the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU).

The state was the first to procure and distribute more than 30,000 computers to secondary schools, including 22,500 from Hewlett-Packard (HP).

The Managing Director for the Personal Systems Group at HP described the deployment as the biggest of such projects in the Middle East and Africa.

The Anambra State Government provided Microsoft Academies to more than 500 secondary schools, which the Head of Microsoft in Nigeria described as the biggest such deployment in Africa so far.

The State provided Internet access to more than 500 secondary schools, which were characterized by the Director of Galaxy Backbone as “incomparable to any in the country.”

More than 700 buses were given to secondary schools in the state by the government. Boreholes were provided in schools all over the state and lastly, numerous classrooms were built in all the 177 communities of the state. This led Obi to receive awards from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other prestigious organizations.

Here is a short list of the qualified members of the Nigeria Academia for the possible post of Minister of Education:

Emeritus Professor Umaru Shehu (North)

A must-know name in the Northern region of Nigeria is Professor Umaru Shehu, a distinguished physician, academic, and administrator, who is the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN).

Professor Shehu, who was educated at the University of Ibadan and Liverpool, is a distinguished fellow of the National Postgraduate Medical College. He was a pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic) of the Ahmadu

Bello University, Zaria from 1977-1978.

From 1978-1980, he was the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Chairman of the board of management of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan between 1991 and 1994. He was also Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the Bayero University, Kano, and the University of Lagos between 1993 and 1999. He has also chaired the boards of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and STOPAIDS.

A one-time president of the Academy of Science and consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO), Professor Shehu holds the prestigious national award of the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR). A world-renowned scholar with many publications to his credit and membership in international and local professional bodies, Professor Shehu is a Professor Emeritus of Community Medicine, at the University of Maiduguri, Nigeria.

Professor Kayode Adebowale (West)

A popular name in the Western academia of the country is Kayode Oyebode Adebowale, a Nigerian professor and scientist and the 13th Vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan. In October of 2021, he became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, having formerly served as the deputy vice-chancellor (administration) of the school and as the Dean of the Faculty of Science in the same institution.

Prof Kayode Adebowale was born on January 11, 1962, and he is a native of the Gateway State, Ogun, in Western Nigeria. He had his primary education at St. Marks Primary School, Oke-Ijaga, Ijebu Igbo between 1967 and 1972 while his secondary was at Ayedaade Grammar School, Ikire between 1973 and 1978. He bagged his BSc in Chemistry in 1984 from the University of Ibadan at the age of 22. He received his Master’s degree and PhD from the same university in 1986 and 1991 respectively. He began his academic career as a Graduate Assistant at the University of Ibadan and became a professor of Industrial Chemistry in 2006.

He was once a lecturer at the Federal University of Technology. He has a record number of 137 published and peer-reviewed scientific papers, 14 conference papers, and 3 technical reports. He was formerly the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration), at the University of Ibadan.

Professor Aniebiet Inyang Ntui (South-South)

A name strongly involved in Nigerian academia is that of Professor Aniebiet Inyang Ntui, an international author in the field of Library and Information Science and the current university librarian of the University of Calabar.

Ntui holds a BSc (Ed), Dip (Computer Techniques), M.Ed., MLS, and a PhD in Library and Information Science. She has over 20 years of experience in the library and classroom of the University of Calabar, Nigeria. Professor Aniebiet is an Associate of the European Union Research Initiative – Europeana, the University of the West of Scotland’s Centre for African Research on Enterprise and Economic Development, and the University of Glasgow’s UK-COP 26 Universities Climate Network. She is also a Fellow of various international library associations and institutions. She has served as a Consultant of Information Management to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank. She is a recipient of the Nigerian Library Association, the 2020 Award of Excellence, and the 2021 Award of Honour for her contributions to the development of librarianship in Nigeria.

She is one of the Most Read Researchers in Nigeria according to information available on the Web of Science Site.

Who do you think will eventually become a member of the Obi-Datti cabinet if he is eventually elected as President of Nigeria?

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Education

The Unending Valentine Gift

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ASUU Suspends Strike

By Ohore Emmanuel

Since the inception of the Nigerian democracy in 1999, the educational sector has gone on strike more than 16 times.

The back and forth between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the umbrella body of the teaching staff of Nigerian public universities and the Nigerian government has been an unsettled fight but at the end of the day, it is the Nigerian students that suffer for it.

Could we say that the same political actors that enjoyed free education are now the ones deliberately punishing the Nigerian student?

Is it safe to admit that it is because most of these politicians’ children do not attend our own public institutions hence, the reason they are not keen on solving this long-time issue?

Every government since 1999 comes in and blames the previous government for its irresponsibility. Our educational system is ranked one of the least in Africa and it is also worthy to note that most of our certificates are not accepted abroad, not to talk about us infiltrating our own problem with the dichotomy between Higher National Diploma (HND) and BSc.

The first ASUU strike was during the regime of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida in 1988 and ever since then, ASUU goes on strike like a yearly festival.

During the 2020 pandemic period, a two-week ASUU ‘warning’ strike (March 9 – 23, 2020) was embarked on due to the underdeveloped educational system. Most higher institutions in Nigeria were unable to adopt e-learning and for the 10 months students were at home, but immediately after schools resumed in early February 2021, most schools had to compress their academic calendar to enable them to meet up.

Since Feb 14, 2022, the Nigerian students have been at home. ASUU has continually accused the federal government of not implementing the 2009 agreement on conditions of service and funding of the universities. “Revitalization” through massive funding and ASUU has continued to stress the importance of “genuine university autonomy and academic freedom.”

For a decade now, the 2021 budget for education is the lowest. It is a sign that this government places no value on our educational system.

As time goes by, the youths are gradually losing faith in this system.

The argument between these two elephants has lasted for over 5 months. The Presidency seems to have accused the Minister of Labour of being unable to solve the problem while the Minister has accused the striking lecturers of sabotaging the system.

Over the weekend, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, was appealing to the Nigerian parents to plead with ASUU because the government can no longer solve this problem.

The failure of this government has made so many students divert their passion for studying to survival. Many have gone on to learn skills and trade.

According to UNESCO, there are currently more than 70,000 Nigerian students studying outside the country, with the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada the leading destinations.

While 2023 elections are at the corner, the current government that could not solve this problem for seven years is now promising to solve it in less than 6 months to the end of its tenure in office.

This unending Valentine gift served by this administration will not only destroy the lives of our teeming youth but propel us as a nation with no vision.

Ohore Emmanuel is the lead team at Forthman Educational Foundation, Abuja. He is also a PGDE student at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN)

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Education

Anxiety as ASUU Further Extends Strike by Four Weeks

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ASUU Suspends Strike

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has again extended the ongoing strike by four weeks with effect from Monday, August 1, 2022, to give the government enough time to resolve all outstanding issues with the lecturers.

This was disclosed by the president of the union, Mr Emmanuel Osodeke, in a statement on Monday.

The ASUU leader stated that the body conveyed an emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting at the University of Abuja on Sunday.

“Following extensive deliberations and taking cognisance of the government’s past failures to abide by its own timelines in addressing issues raised in the 2020 FGN/ASUU Memorandum of Action (MOA), NEC resolved that the strike be rolled over for four weeks to give the government more time to satisfactorily resolve all the outstanding issues. The roll-over strike action is with effect from 12.01 am on Monday, 1st August 2022,” the statement read.

Specifically, NEC recalled the government’s failure to conclude the process of renegotiating the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement, deploy the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), pay outstanding arrears of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), release the agreed sum of money for the revitalization of public universities (Federal and States), address proliferation and governance issues in State Universities, settle promotion arrears, release withheld salaries of academics, and pay outstanding third-party deductions led to the initial declaration of the roll-over strike on 14th February 2022.

The group said it “observed that non-signing of the draft renegotiated 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement more than one month after it was concluded by Professor Nimi Briggs-led Committee is further tasking the patience of ASUU members nationwide.”

it was further disclosed that the “cumulative indifference by the political class gave vent to a pervasive atmosphere of insecurity which now threatens the seamless provision of educational services in the country. The unceremonious closure of educational institutions in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), following the recent attack on Presidential Guards, betrays a panicky measure to addressing a malignant ailment. Nothing short of a comprehensive overhaul of the security architecture of the country will sustainably address the problem.”

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