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 email@example.com/08032725374.
Oyo Threatens to Revoke Unexecuted Contracts
By Aduragbemi Omiyale
The Oyo State Government has threatened to revoke unexecuted contracts on renovation and construction projects under its 2012-2018 UBEC/SUBEB Intervention Project from defaulting contractors in the state.
This threat was made on Thursday by the Executive Chairman of the Oyo State Universal Basic Education Board, Dr Nureni Adeniran.
Speaking with the 22 contractors in Ibadan, the state capital, Mr Adeniran this action may likely be taken under the breach of contract terms.
He noted that many of the contracts, including those awarded by the previous administration had been dragging since 2018, adding that this is in contravention of the time frame of the contractual agreement which stipulated two weeks for completion of borehole and a maximum of 24 weeks for completion of model schools.
Mr Adeniran said the board would not hesitate to apply appropriate sanctions against these defaulting contractors, who have failed to meet project specifications in the execution of UBEC/SUBEB jobs in the state.
He added that the contractors may answer queries from the anti-graft body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), after the November 2021 deadline, adding that they also risk being blacklisted by UBEC for further contracts of UBEC/SUBEB nationwide.
“The message here is clear, the job has taken too long, your failure to deliver on the agreed dates is affecting the wellbeing of our children, we will reverse the contract,” he said.
“We have issued several warnings, this is about the third time. We need to revoke the contract and give those that will do the job. The guideline is clear and we are not going to compromise,” he warned.
The SUBEB boss, who was at the meeting in the company of the management staff of the Board, queried the rationale behind the contractors’ refusal to deliver results, despite the mobilization fee Government had given them.
The educationist noted that as part of concerted efforts to enforce standards, as well as ensure that there are only appropriate executions of projects, the board in 2019 did not revoke their contracts, despite the fact that they were issued by the former administration.
Katsina Has 775,000 Out-of-School Children—SUBEB Director
By Sodeinde Temidayo David
The United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF) in collaboration with the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has commenced a new campaign on the rising number of out-of-school children in Katsina State.
The campaign tagged Back to School and Behavioural Change, is with the aim to prevent the threat that could be caused if there is a high number of children who would lack a formal education.
The scheme, which is targeted at returning over 200,000 out-of-school children, including Al-Majirai to schools in 2021, is supported by the UNICEF and sponsored by Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Speaking at the unveiling of the programme, the State Commissioner for Education, Mr Badamasi Lawal, noted that the outbreak of COVID-19 and banditry had triggered the number of out-of-school children in the state, particularly in Kafur and Kankara Local Government Areas.
According to statistics released by the State SUBEB Director, Social Mobilisation, Mr Abdulmalik Bello, the state has 775,000 out-of-school children across the 34 local government areas of the state as a result of banditry and COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Lawal further expressed that with the new flagship, the back to school campaign would reduce the number of out-of-school children across the 34 Local Government Areas of the state.
The state commissioner recalled that the state government, under the leadership of Governor Aminu Bello Masari, had prioritised the education sector hence the employment of 10,000 teachers, prompt payment of teachers’ salary and timely provision of instructional materials to schools.
He, therefore, tasked traditional and religious leaders in the state to support the state government’s effort of uplifting the education sector by ensuring the enrolment, retention and completion of school by all children irrespective of gender affiliations.
On his part, the SUBEB Executive Chairman, Mr Lawal Buhari Daura, applauded UNICEF for supporting the state government in curtailing the number of out-of-school children and other educational challenges afflicting the state.
Following this development, UNICEF reaffirmed the goal to reach the most disadvantaged children and adolescents, and to protect the rights of every child, and to advocate for the protection of children’s rights, helping to meet their basic needs, and giving them a fair chance to reach their full potential.
Kaduna Prioritises Education, Health in N233bn 2022 Budget
By Adedapo Adesanya
The Kaduna State Government has presented the 2022 draft budget of N233 billion to its House of Assembly, with a capital expenditure of N146 billion and recurrent spending of N87.6 billion.
This was done by the state governor, Mr Nasir El-Rufai, on Tuesday. In the further breakdown of the budget estimate, it was stated that the capital to recurrent ratio stands at 63 per cent to 37 per cent.
Mr El Rufai noted that the 2022 estimates are slightly smaller than the 2021 budget of N237.52 billion, which had N157.56 billion as capital and N79.96 billion recurrent expenditure, a 66 per cent to 34 per cent capital to recurrent ratio.
He said that the priorities of the 2022 estimates are education, healthcare and infrastructure, like the previous budgets.
The Governor noted that the allocations in the 2022 budget estimates reflect the political values and governance principles that have consistently guided the six previous budgets of his government since 2015.
“Most of the capital spending will be in the economic and social sectors, in keeping faith with our stated governance agenda.
“We propose to devote 76.8 per cent of the capital budget to schools, hospitals, and infrastructure, including housing.
“Capital spending on education is N68.4 billion (29 per cent) and for health N35.1 billion (15 per cent),” he said.
According to the governor, “these figures show that the 2022 draft budget estimates express our political values and governance principles in the same consistent manner as our six previous budgets.”
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