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With Buhari freshly elected, the higher education community in Nigeria has hope that their underfunded sector will reap benefits in the president’s honeymoon phase. But students and educators must not relax now; they must take advantage of this changing of the guard to advocate for their needs with renewed vigor.

Muhammadu Buhari has emerged as the President-elect of Nigeria, following the decision of Nigerians in the 28 March presidential elections. President Jonathan is probably tidying up files for the transition process to commence. The body language of Nigerians shows that they would be glad if the outgoing President can leave office with some of the policies and principles of government they consider oppressive and unacceptable – the basis for his loss at the polls in the first instance. ‘Change’ is now the new locution in Nigeria’s politics and social lingua.

But reality beckons. Can we really expect a fundamental change that will be proportionate to the current hope and expectation of the Nigerian people?

If Nigerian students are not the worst hit of the Jonathan administration, then they will definitely be categorised as lead-victims of the economic and political atrocities of Jonathan’s regime. There is little wonder that they eventually took to social media to form the light-cavalry of Buhari’s Presidential campaign. Now that Buhari has emerged, what form of ‘change’ do we really need as students and what does this current reality suggest?

Under the watch of President Jonathan, the university system was shut down for six months. Lecturers were demanding that the federal government should commit more funds to the education sector. According to Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, a former President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) ‘…Government said on 31 December 2011, and I quote “we will give immediately; we will make available within one month N100bn and give additional N300bn to make it N400bn that year, and give N400bn for every other year for the next three years, making N1.2trn”’ (Vanguard Newspaper, 24 October 24 2013). The same government reneged on this commitment! At the point when ASUU was calling off its strike in 2014, the purported resolution of the FGN-ASUU 2013 ‘face off’ was based on another promissory note. It has not been completely implemented until the present date.

Funds in the education sector function synonymously to oxygen in the human body. When government neglects the responsibility of providing funds for the running of our intellectual institutions, then schools runs short of quality. Attempts to make students pay instead of government, through reckless and vicious increments in fees, always create more problems than solutions. The galloping drop-out rate of poor students is the first result, while the sum-total of this heavy taxation of the privileged few, from middle-class backgrounds, remains as drops of water in the mighty ocean of needs of the education sector. It is an absolutely inconsiderate notion to insist that students must fund education with the level of poverty in the country and profligacy in governments. Most times, the politicians that advocate this solution do so with criminal intents.

Most problems faced by lecturers and students in our education institutions today are designs of underfunding of the education sector. From congested lecture rooms to overstretched teaching personnel, lack of funds is the cause of these critical problems of embarrassing magnitude. Right now, Nigerian students simply wish away some of these problems, especially the menace of fee hikes. They should disappear from the vicinity of the education sector with the departure of Jonathan from the State house on 29 May. Wistful thinking!

Though craftily ambiguous, the position of APC as a political party regarding the education sector is similar to the principles pursued by PDP in the education sector for sixteen terrible years. While assessing Buhari’s agenda for the education sector, Victoria Ohaeri observed, ‘My preliminary assessment is that there is nothing listed in Buhari’s manifestos for revamping the education sector that is substantially different from the old fashioned ideas implemented by successive administration… His agenda of education is basically a rehash of old promises; reiteration of known facts and mere re-echoing of familiar lines by politicians’ (Sahara Reporters, 28 December 2014).

In the aspect of funding, the APC manifesto promises ‘targeting up to 15 per cent of our annual budget for this critical sector’. If this ‘target’ is met, hopefully, then it will mean a 5 per cent increase over the 10 per cent budgeted to the education sector in the 2014 Appropriation Act. It is best noted that United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has a standing recommendation for developing nations like Nigeria; that such country should spend 26 per cent of its annual budget on the education sector. However, the 10 per cent allotted to the education sector was shown to be substantially little as far as the needs of Nigeria’s education institutions are concerned. Take for instance that an increase of 1.99 per cent in 2014, over the 2013 budgetary allocation to education, did not stop the astronomic increment of fees at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) as well as at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) and the University of Jos (UNIJOS). It did not solve the lack of basic facilities in the universities or colleges of education. And these problems continue to reflect on the abysmal performances recorded constantly in the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and Senior School Certificate Examinations (SSCE). It is clear that the APC has also not done a scientific analysis of the depth of the many problems facing the education sector, which all take their starting point from poor funding.

In reality, the APC shares the opinion with its PDP counterpart that government cannot single-handedly fund the education sector. On 15 January 2015, Babatunde Fashola, the APC Governor of Lagos State, at a lecture organized by the Faculty of Education at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, under the theme of the Awolowo Free Education lecture series, concluded that government cannot fund education without recourse for the working parent in the form of taxation or payments of fees. The Governor had earlier implemented this harsh philosophical perspective in Lagos State University when he increased the LASU fee from the range of N25,000 to the range of N235,000 in 2012. However, this perspective is incorrect if the enormity of Nigeria’s wealth and resources is considered alongside the manner with which public officers siphon and waste it on daily basis. Politicians that argue for the non-involvement or limited involvement of government in funding the education sector are only afraid of cuts in the jumbo salaries they earn, or of reduction of the fallow money set up for political vultures.

Of course Buhari has not yet been inaugurated as President. APC has what it calls an agenda for the Education Sector. If this agenda is scientifically dealt with, then the similarity of the ruling elites in Nigeria will be exposed and the youths would be well prepared for what is to come. Right now, setting the proper agenda for the Buhari-APC awaiting government is not morally incorrect. And this agenda is the proper funding of the education sector. If Buhari’s war against corruption and profligacy would be actualized, then education and other critical sectors of the economy should be properly funded.

Buhari will inherit the agreement the Jonathan government signed with ASUU in 2014. The level of implementation of this agreement will of course go a long way to prove the sincerity of the Buhari administration in solving the real problems of Nigerian masses.

The change locution may last in the air for a while, but it will definitely be timed out with practical steps of the Buhari-government. Nigerian students and youths must take a step further in their reasoning by placing demands on the Buhari administration for advancement of the education sector. If Buhari will at all be taken up on the basis of his lofty promises and manifestos, students must be organized based on that sense of purpose to achieve that. It is high time the engine of students’ unionism nationwide is revamped and oiled for this challenge. Currently, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has proven itself incapable of genuine representation of the interest of the Nigerian youths and students. Funnily enough, NANS in mid-2014 went to adopt the candidacy of Goodluck Jonathan while the same body condemned the strike of the ASUU in 2013. Such a display of mediocrity and treachery can only be done because of money. And of course, Jonathan’s government and that of his PDP predecessors wasted no effort in buying over these reactionary union leaders with stolen funds. From the level of their local unions, in colleges of Education and Polytechnics and Universities, Students must take renewed interest in the running of their unions and demand the democratic running of the unions. It is through means like this that ‘contracted’ students, with no respect for moral values, can be prevented from emerging as student leaders.

We must not court Buhari for a honeymoon; Nigerian students must not be caught unaware by the looming attacks and further deterioration of the education sector.
* Wole Olubanji Studies Philosophy at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and is a member of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC).

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