As 2022 draws to a close amidst the controversy surrounding the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, which paralysed activities at several universities for eight months, experts have advised education administrators to listen to public outcries and serve the interest of the generality of taxpayers. Funmi Ogundare reports
In the outgoing year, the education sector received a budgetary allocation boost. President Mohammad Buhari had proposed N1.79 trillion, representing about 8.8 per cent of the total N20.5 trillion, to the joint session of the National Assembly. It was the highest he has made to the sector since he assumed office in 2015.
The allocation is above N1.18 trillion or 7.2 per cent of the total budget compared to previous years.
However, the allocation was still a far cry from the 26 per cent UNESCO benchmark. This explains the rot in the sector as a result of poor funding.
A budget breakdown showed that N1.08 trillion was allocated to the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) and its agencies. Of the amount, N239 billion was allocated for capital expenditure, while N706.5 billion and N52.8 billion were allocated for personnel and overhead costs, respectively. Allocation to the ministry is significantly higher than the N875 billion proposed in the 2022 budget. The agency responsible for education at the grassroots, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), was allotted N149.7 billion, which includes N95.3 billion for personnel and N54.5 billion for capital projects. In 2022, the president proposed N108.10 billion for UBEC.
Also, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) will get N248.3 billion in transfers. However, this is less than the N306 billion it got previously. Also, in the budget, N170 billion was proposed for salary increment and N300 billion as revitalisation fund.
The president proposed to spend N470 billion on public tertiary institutions and promised to pacify the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
However, this was not to be. On February 14, the union embarked on a warning strike, which later became indefinite, and lingered for eight months. The strike was to press home its demands on the federal government to provide funds for the revitalisation of public universities to the tune of N1.1 trillion, payment of earned academic allowances, adoption of the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) instead of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), payment of promotion arrears and the renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU-FGN Agreement.
After intensive bargaining, the federal government constituted a committee headed by Prof. Nimi Briggs, and ASUU came to a compromise leading to the submission of the revised draft agreement to the federal government in June 2022. Surprisingly, the government refused to execute the renegotiated agreement, claiming it lacked funds.
Rather than toeing the path of honour, the government resorted to mind games and arm-twisting to frustrate ASUU’s strike. It enforced the ‘no work, no pay’ policy, threatened to proscribe ASUU, and later alleged that all the demands had been met except the withheld salaries. Realising the futility of these gimmicks, it then sued ASUU at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, registered fresh academic unions: Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and Nigerian Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA), and finally accused ASUU of corruption. Fortunately, the National Assembly waded into the crisis, which had human rights activist and lawyer Femi Falana as its counsel, when the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, had dragged the union to the NIC to force members back to the classroom. The union, in turn, filed an appeal against the court ruling. However, after a series of stakeholders’ meetings with the union and National Assembly, the parties came up with a seven-point resolution that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, presented to Buhari, which subsequently led to the suspension of the prolonged strike.
ASUU President, Prof Emmanual Osodeke, said the union suspended the strike to obey the industrial court judgment, adding that the issues have not been fully resolved and no agreement was signed.
In October, when union members and the newly registered CONUA received pro-rata salaries, they expressed shock while describing the development as insulting, humiliating and embarrassing.
Osodeke again said the government’s action of paying 18 days’ salaries to its members contravened all known rules of engagement in any employment contract for academics all over the world.
The government’s action caused panic among parents and students, who feared it could cause another disruption of academic activities. Despite protests by some branches of ASUU, the union decided to tackle the issue with dialogue.
In the outgoing year, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) pegged the minimum cut-off point for admission into universities in Nigeria at 140. The cut-off mark for colleges of education and polytechnics was 100.
The board approved the cut-off points at a policy meeting in Abuja following the successful conduct of the 2022 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). The meeting, chaired by the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, had vice-chancellors, rectors, provosts and other stakeholders in attendance.
As part of its achievement for the year, JAMB Registrar Ishaq Oloyede disclosed that the board remitted about N50 billion to the federal government in the last six years, adding that the amount was left after the expenses incurred in conducting the examination. The remittance was due to measures put in place on cost control, prevention of financial leakages and minimisation of financial corruption. The registrar explained that the “humongous returns” were in contrast to about N52 million, which is the cumulative return of the previous 40 years of the board.
He listed UTME’s credibility and reliability, massive returns to the national coffers, the institution of CSR, the establishment of government-owned CBT centres in all states, and minimising fraud in National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) mobilisation as some of the achievements of the board under his watch.
“Over N29 billion of this has been returned directly to the CRF. About N11 billion disbursed on capital projects, corporate social responsibility, savings (about N6 billion) and others in contrast to about N52 million that had been the cumulative return of the previous 40 years,” he stated.
In the results of the May/June 2022 diet of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) announced that 1,222,505 candidates, amounting to 76.36 per cent of the 1,601,047 candidates that successfully sat for the examination, obtained credits and above in a minimum of five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics.
The statistics indicated a decrease of more than five per cent in performance compared with the 81.7 per cent pass rate recorded in 2021.
The council scored a first this year with the inauguration of its digital certificate platform for candidates to generate their certificates online and to recover burnt, lost, and damaged certificates.
Certificates produced from 1999 to date are eligible for such recovery.
According to WAEC’s Head of National Office for Nigeria, Patrick Areghan, who spoke during the unveiling in Lagos, the platform, which involves mobile and web-based applications, will cost N7,500 for new and old candidates to assess the platform, N3,500 to share and N5,000 for certificate confirmation to eliminate fraud and send fakers out of the market.
He added that the platform will enable over 30 million certificate holders to “access and share the original copies of their certificates from anywhere in the world, and those from 1970 to 1998 will be attended to shortly.”
Developed by Botosoft Technologies, the platform can also be used to recover candidates’ forgotten or lost examination numbers and “it has many security doors that will make it impossible to hack.”
In his assessment of the outgoing year, a Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Victor Ariole, said the primary school that is exclusive to local government was a failure with 20 million out-of-school children, and with less than 7 per cent of the budget to education as a whole, the government was anti-education.
An associate professor at the Lagos State University (Journalism Department), Dr Tunde Akanni, said if government functionaries take rational decisions, things could get better.
“ASUU hasn’t been asking for nothing extraordinary, and the two consecutive corrupt former Accountant General of the Federation, Jonah Otunla and Ahmed Idris, have vindicated ASUU with the humongous amount of money they’re being compelled to return to public coffers. We need to have government officials feeding fat on the rest of us to do our bid by acting promptly in our interest as opposed to what we are currently experiencing,” Akanni stated.
He said the education minister in 2023 should listen to public outcries and ensure that he serves the interest of the generality of taxpayers and remember always that he was sworn into office with some pledge.
In her submission, the Executive Director of Edumark, Mrs Yinka Ogunde, stated that some states improved in their exams and made efforts to curb exam malpractice, adding that they are also collaborating in the digital space with organisations that will improve digital literacy among the students.
“Generally, we can say that there is a high level of awareness about the need to bring about improvement and reform within the sector. Going forward, a lot of things need to be put on the front burner much more,” she said.
Ogunde stressed the need for the country to review its curriculum to develop people who will fit into what is needed in present-day Nigeria and the world.
“When we say a society is facing challenges and quite a number of things are going wrong, the value system have been corrupted, how do we begin to change things? We begin from our schools and what the children are learning. You begin from those things that they ought to learn, how are they put across to them?” Ogunde explained.
She suggested that in 2023, as new leaders emerge in the sector, tangible changes need to be made in the curriculum so as to ensure better outcomes.
“Quality of teachers is one area we should look at. We have some teachers that are very good and are developing themselves. But the downside of that is that some countries are now finding Nigerian teachers attractive and are making it easier for those who wish to relocate to do so. That is going to present us with a bit of problem,” added the Edumark boss.
Ogunde further stated, “What do we have in place to address that? We feel because they are so many, it’s not going to affect us. When some of our best heads may be leaving, then we may need to have a rethink and ensure that we are producing the right kind of teachers by giving them the right type of remuneration and we are making the sector attractive to good people.”
Ogunde also stressed the need to create stronger regulatory bodies, especially on the quality of schools in both the private and public sectors.
“We are talking about the future of the children. How can we bring together schools in low-cost communities and ensure that they are structured in a way that will deliver value to our children?” she noted.