Babalakin: FG Alone Can’t Fund University Education

Wale Babalakin

Urges ASUU to return to the negotiation table

Olawale Olaleye

Following last week’s commencement of a nationwide strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over lingering funding issues, Dr. Olawale Babalakin, SAN, Saturday said the federal government could not afford to fund university education alone. Babalakin stated this yesterday in Lagos during a press conference at his office.

The senior lawyer is the chairman of the Implementation Monitoring Committee of the Agreements entered into between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the various unions of the Nigerian universities, namely ASUU, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT), and Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU).

Babalakin dismissed as false the often talked about 26 per cent education funding advice by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). He said the solution to effective education funding lied in the establishment of a students’ loan scheme and, by extension, an education bank, which will avail students of loans for their education and other immediate needs.

He also disclosed that when they once confronted ASUU to provide document showing that UNESCO actually pegged budgetary allocation for education by developing countries at 26 per cent, the association was unable to substantiate its claim, a situation which further confirmed that the lie was cooked up to put government in a difficult situation. Besides, he said such an advice would have been impossible in a developing society with unstable economy, asking what happens in a year that the government is unable to make provision for 26 per cent due largely to the instability of the economy.

While asking the ASUU leadership to return to the negotiating table in the national interest, Babalakin said an annual budget of N2 trillion on education alone was largely unfeasible, considering other competing social needs, like health, infrastructure and security. This makes the need to jointly work out a more plausible solution to the lingering crisis imperative.

According to Babalakin, “Our position as a team is that Nigeria deserves and should have quality education. This must not be compromised as a result of inadequate funding, which has been the situation in the last 30 years. We also believe that no Nigerian should be deprived of university education because of his/her financial circumstance. This position is consistent with that of the government of President Muhamamdu Buhari.

“Going by the figures provided by ASUU, Nigeria requires over N2 trillion per annum to fund university education. This figure exceeds, in value, the total amount of money available for all capital projects in Nigeria, including health, infrastructure, security and others.

“No doubt, if the money was available for university education, as ASUU has insisted it is, the government will have no difficulty in spending it on university education. However, as it is, government cannot ignore all other areas of expenditure that require funding.”

Babalakin said it was in appreciation of the financial reality that the National Council on Education “has directed that student loan schemes be set up by the various state governments. It has also supported the idea of an education bank, which would provide soft loans for students seeking to obtain university education.”

He said, “We do not know where ASUU got the figures that it has been peddling around the whole country. However, the inconsistency in the figures is glaring. While Professor Lawan Abubakar, the ASUU zonal coordinator for Bauchi, stated in his article published in Pulse News on 3rd October 2018, that our committee has proposed N500,000. 00 (Five hundred thousand naira) per annum as tuition fees to be paid by university undergraduates, the ASUU zonal coordinator for Ibadan, Dr. Ade Adejumo, stated in the Punch newspaper on 3rd October, 2018, that our committee was planning to impose tuition fees of N350,000.00 (Three hundred and fifty thousand naira).

“Aside from the fact that our committee has no power to impose fees on students, we are at a loss regarding the source of the said figures. However, the contradiction demonstrates clearly that the figures are incorrect and should not be countenanced by anyone.”

Babalakin urged well-meaning Nigerians to appeal to ASUU to return to the negotiating table and resolve issues based on accurate information and verifiable data.

He stated, “We remain committed to a permanent resolution of the recurrent industrial disputes that have militated against the progress of the Nigerian university system. We are determined to ensure that Nigerians receive proper education.

“As we had stated in our previous communication on this matter, we believe that negotiations are best done on the table rather than on the pages of the newspapers, hence we have been very reluctant to respond to the campaign of our co-negotiators.”

ASUU, last week, commenced a nationwide industrial action following the inability of the federal government to respond to its demands.

The union accused the government of not implementing the Memorandum of Action signed with it and declared that the strike would be total as all federal and state varsities would join the strike.

The union made the announcement after its National Executive Council meeting held at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, last Sunday night.