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UNIBEN’s Inordinate Circle of Fees and Harvests of Protest

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UNIBEN

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Separate from the awareness that the euphoria which heralded the epoch appointments of Professor Lillian Imuetinyan Salami, a home economist/nutritionist and former Dean of the Faculty of Education, as the second female vice-chancellor after Grace Alele Williams, and the 10th substantive vice-chancellor of the University of Benin, Edo State, Nigeria, has faded and jeer overtaken the cheers of expectation while fears have displaced reason, resulting in an entirely separate set of consequences, irrational hatred and division, I must say that the recent news report that the students of UNIBEN, September 14, 2021, blocked the Lagos-Benin highway in protest over imposition of, but now reversed N20,000 late registration charges by the school management, did not come to be as a surprise.

Rather, like the generality of Nigerians who earlier believed that the appointment of a new VC, a few years ago will usher in fresh breathe too and save the students and their parents from financial emasculation, the recent protest convinced all that nothing has changed in the university’s love for visiting their students with unjust laws/policies.

As we know, a just law is ‘a man-made code that squares with moral laws or the laws and uplifts human personalities, while an unjust law on the other hand is a code that is out of harmony with moral laws.’

This assertion is predicated on two separate but similar realities. First was a similar protest by students of the school dated Friday, November 1, 2019, to register their grievances over the poor state of infrastructures and incessant fees charged by the school authorities.

The second reason enjoys a link with the first (the 2019 protest) but stemmed from the content of my earlier intervention/ reaction to the appointment of Professor Lillian Imuetinyan Salami as the school’s new VC; that was in 2019.

Aside from congratulating the new VC, the piece, which had as title; Tasks ahead of Professor Salami, the new VC of UNIBEN, highlighted how in recent time the institution has defined leaning too narrowly in a manner devoid of process and outcome fairness; got preoccupied with revenue generation without consideration to the students comfort or wellbeing; identify errors among students without beaming searchlight on internal occurrences.

It concluded by reminding the new VC that if she does nothing about this, it simply means our youths, and the nation by extension is faced with a bleak future.

Conversely, if she is able to correct the above challenges; it will be her most powerful accomplishment for earning new respect and emulation.

Presently, the impulse in the school particularly the recent protest and student’s description of the decision of the university management as harsh, as it did not take into consideration “the unfavourable economic situation in the country, explains that the institution is still characterized as a neck-deep in an inordinate circle of fees and should be ready to harvest from students baskets of protest.

More than anything else, the present happening stands as emblematic prove that the school management is still unmindful of the fact that ‘if learning must persist, teachers must also look inward, reflect critically on their own behaviour, and identify the ways they often advertently or inadvertently contribute to the institution’s problems and then change how they act, it more than anything else points to the fact that nothing has changed.

Admittedly, Nigerians and of course the global community particularly development professionals do not think that what the federal government is doing when it comes to perennial underfunding of public universities is the best way to encourage education in the country as such failures/failings and shortfalls daily 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. This partly explains the dilemma of public universities administrators.

But when one juxtaposes the above fact with the ongoing challenge particularly, the now reversed late registration charges; one will discover that if what happens in other universities is a challenge, that of UNIBEN is a crisis.

To support this claim, let’s listen to the UNIBEN VC as she talked about the reversal of the N20,000 late registration charges; “It is important to mention that this reversal in position will not break the University of Benin. I fundamentally believe that there are very few decisions that are irreversible and this is definitely not one of them. At this time, the N20,000 late fee is reversed and it is a closed case.

“UNIBEN is resilient and we will continue to move forward with a strong conviction to ensure that the university reaches its full potential as a premier academic institution,” she added.

The above comment naturally elicits the following posers; if the school leadership knows that reversing such a position will not break the University of Benin, why did they come up with it in the first instance? If they (as they claim) are aware that UNIBEN is resilient and will continue to move forward with a strong conviction to ensure that the university reaches its full potential as a premier academic institution, why are they overburdening students with a circle of fees?

Is the underfunding of tertiary institutions in Nigeria by the federal government UNIBEN-specific? If not, why are they in the habit of transferring such aggression to innocent students and their parents?

As the students noted, why is the school management not bringing into consideration “the unfavourable economic situation in the country before slamming N20,000 late registration charges on the students? Why can’t they (management) look for more civil/creative ways of generating income for the school without overburdening the students and their parents?

While answer(s) to the above is awaited from UNIBEN leadership, another argument by the VC that cannot hold water when faced with embarrassing fact is her statement that; “Early registration is critical for effective operations of the university; it provides insight into the students’ volume/demand and allows for smarter planning to ensure that we have enough staff, courses and funding supporting our students accordingly. It is important to note that in the past, other non-financial interventions in attempts to urge early registration have failed.”

If that is the true position, it may again necessitate the question as to the logic/reason behind outrageous and out of order acceptance fees charged by the UNIBEN management?

Take as another illustration, presently, new students pay about N63,000.00 for Education, Management and Engineering faculties, while Medical students are made to cough out about N75,000 as acceptance fees.

Comparatively, while UNIBEN charges the above, other federal universities such as; the University of Lagos (UNILAG), the Federal University of Petroleum and Resources (FUPRA), Warri, Delta State and the Federal University of Agriculture (FUUNAB), Abeokuta, Ogun State, receive amounts that are far low. These are verifiable facts.

By this analysis, the UNIBEN’s clumsy and discomforting attitude to the fresh students is led bare. Against this backdrop, the question that, begs for an answer(s) is; how did UNIBEN arrive at the above fees in the first instance?

I hold the opinion that the university needs a new vision and students-friendly reforms and policies that will re-engineer quality and affordable education.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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Education

UBEC Urges Oyo to Recruit More Teachers

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Lagos Teachers

By Modupe Gbadeyanka

The Oyo State government has been advised to recruit more teachers into public primary schools in the state as this will further enhance the quality of basic education.

The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), which made this appeal, commended the government for the qualitative education pupils in Oyo State are enjoying under the leadership of Governor Seyi Makinde.

“We urge the Oyo State government to look into the recruitment of teachers into the public primary schools in the state,” the Executive Secretary of UBEC, Mr Hamid Bobboyi, said while reacting to the recommendation of the 2022 National Personnel Audit team.

The chair, who spoke through the head of the team, Mr Muhammed Bello, added that the National Personnel Audit was a major activity in data gathering used in the planning and development of education.

“Though entry is still ongoing, we would give the Board updates on the list and give the State government accurate data in order to plan and develop basic education,” Mr Bobboyi said.

He solicited the cooperation of other stakeholders in education in ensuring accurate data so as to know where every Nigerian child of school age was at any given time.

Responding, the Executive Chairman, Oyo State Universal Basic Education Board (OyoSUBEB), Mr Nureni Aderemi Adeniran, admitted the acute shortage of teachers in the state, saying the state government is making efforts to look into fresh recruitment and replacement of seconded teachers in the state.

“We are aware of the shortage of teachers in our primary schools. The state government under the leadership of our dear Governor is making efforts to ensure the problem is resolved in time,” Mr Adeniran added.

He added that the state government will continue to collaborate with the federal government and other relevant agencies to ensure the public education sector in the state thrives.

Mr Adeniran also hinted that school owners and proprietors operating illegally in the state would be made to face the law.

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Education

Lagos Lauds MTN Nigeria’s Support for Education

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Increase Funding to Education

By Modupe Gbadeyanka

A notable telecommunications company, MTN Nigeria, has been given a pat on the back by the Lagos State government for its support for education in the metropolis.

In June 2020, MTN Nigeria commenced a free data offer enabling primary and secondary school students in various states to access educational content.

The intervention was done in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Education, allowing primary and secondary school students access to virtual lessons and exam prep.

The resources available cover all primary and secondary school subjects and over 10 years of past questions from key examinations, including the First School Leaving Certificate exams, West African Senior School Certificate exams, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board exams, among others; as well as access to learning portals such as Pass.ng, Roducate, mAcademy, among others.

This initiative thrilled the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who said he was impressed with the company’s support for e-learning in primary and secondary schools across the state.

Speaking at the second Education Summit organised by the Lagos State Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Office of Sustainable Development Goals and Investment (SDGI), Mr Sanwo-Olu, who was represented by his deputy, Mr Obafemi Hamzat, noted that the past three years have witnessed tremendous improvement in the overall value chain of the education ecosystem.

“Our model of investment is informed by the desire to entrench 21st-century technology into the sector.  This huge investment will ultimately result in significant improvement in learning outcomes.

“Our administration also seeks to recognise and appreciate the tremendous contribution and donations of various private partners who supported the State Government’s Education Transformation Plan, most especially during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown of schools,” he stated.

The Chief Enterprise Business Officer of MTN Nigeria, Ms Lynda Saint-Nwafor, while reacting to the praise showered on the firm, stated that, “We are humbled by the recognition from the Lagos State Government and are pleased by how well our support was received by the Ministry of Education.

“At MTN, we believe that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern, connected life and will continue to provide opportunities that support students to learn and shine.”

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Education

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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