• Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Nigerian universities and the brain-drain challenge

Nigerian universities and the brain-drain challenge

“We are in trouble in Nigeria, and the Federal Government is not helping us. The younger ones who are brilliant have relocated abroad. As soon as they complete the first degree, they relocate abroad, they do well there, and they are not coming back to this country.”

Prof. John Odu (professor of adult education)

When Lucio Tan, the Chinese-born Filipino business magnate, investor and philanthropist succinctly stated that: “We cannot as a country, improve economically, socially and culturally without quality education” he might not have had Nigeria in mind. But the sad scenario that has been playing out in the critical education sector over the decades justifies his position.

With the news media raising genuine concern on the crisis looming in Nigerian public universities, caused of course, by the massive exit of several lecturers seeking greener pastures in foreign land, some urgent actions should be embarked upon by the federal government, to reverse the drift to mass ignorance and low quality education delivery.

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As recently made public, about 50 per cent of lecturers in our public universities have already resigned. In specific details, at UI, the figure is 75 per cent,at AAUA, it is about 45 per cent, at the University of Ilorin, it is about 40 per cent while about 50 per cent of lecturers at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife; Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), and the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, have similarly resigned and relocated abroad.

In fact, others who are yet to ‘jappa’ as the coinage of mass exodus means are also warming up to do so. Indeed,, recent data gathered by the media pointed to the fear that as much as 80 per cent of the remaining lecturers are preparing to leave. That is, if the current situation remains as it is. This is worrisome, is it not?

Of course, it is. Factors so far identified as responsible for the lecturers’ exodus, from investigations by some journalists, include “the desire for better working conditions, career fulfillment, insecurity, poor salaries and inadequate funding”. But that is not all.

Other pertinent reasons adduced include the non-payment of outstanding salaries of university teachers, as earlier agreed by the federal government. That was over the period of strike by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Not left out also is the current harsh economy, triggered by the removal of fuel subsidy leading to the unprecedented hike in the pump price of petrol, diesel and cooking gas. This has had a spin-off effect on the costs of transportation and sundry consumables.

Indeed, the movement of lecturers to seek their fortunes beyond our shores has continued despite the efforts of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led government giving approval for the implementation of 35 per cent and 23 percent of salary increment for staff of all federal tertiary institutions. To members of ASUU the government’s offer was far from what the university lecturers had been negotiating for over the recent years.

It would be recalled that on September 1, 2022, yours sincerely expressed concern that the federal government should give a listening ear to the lecturers’ demands and stop playing the might-is-right mentality of the then Buhari-led government.

Amongst the demands by ASUU then were the renegotiation of the ASUU/FG 2009 agreement and the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) to replace the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS).

Other demands of the union included the release of the reports of visitation panels to federal universities and distortions in salary payment challenges. There are also the critical issue of funding for revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowance, poor funding of state universities then Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu had days after the commencement of the strike constituted the white paper panel of the visitation panels. But he did not inaugurate them as at when due.

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Curiously, eight months after the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement had reportedly been concluded by the Munzali Jubril-led renegotiation committee, the Nigerian government went ahead to constitute another team of scholars to renegotiate the same agreement with the nation’s universities’ workers’ unions!

The constituted seven-man team was chaired by an emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, and pro-chancellor of Alex Ekueme Federal University, Ndufu Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi State, Nimi Briggs. This situation exhibited crass disregard the federal government has shown for the lecturers. But sadly, it is the largely acquiescent Nigerian society that has to bear the brunt of the unfolding mis-governance saga.

Some of the public universities most hit by the lecturers’ exodus include the University of Ibadan (UI), University of Lagos (UNILAG), University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), University of Benin (UNIBEN),and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.

Looked at from a broader perspective, the obvious disregard of the important play the lecturers play in our children’s educational development, by the powers that be at the federal level throws up some significant questions. For instance, why is the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC always ready to approve jumbo pay packages for the already rich politicians and defend such while the lecturers are left in agony for months to get paid their peanuts?

Similarly, why should the Tinubu-led government ever think of increasing tuition fees in public tertiary institutions, worse still at this perilous time of an economic downturn with the inflation rate jumping overt 25%? And why should our policy makers wait for issues and demands from the workers to escalate before addressing such with the knee-jerk approach; of throwing money at them for short-term, instead of long-lasting solutions?

Besides these questions, why should we, as a country be more interested in giving out crude oil, several agricultural products such as yam, cassava, cocoa, coffee and even solid minerals like lithium, iron ore, gold to other countries for processing, or refining the raw materials for more economic benefits? And now, we are ignoring our best of brains’ demands for better working conditions, only to allow them to move to other lands where they become great inventors, innovators and critical thinkers, such as Philip Emeagwali, Silas Adekunle, Jelani Aliyu. That is, with the products of their creative ingenuity benefitting other countries instead of Nigeria? In all honesty, we cannot keep running the country this way.

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As yours truly reiterated in 2022, the way out of the wood is for members of ASUU and the Minister of Education to learn from the experience of former President Goodluck Jonathan. As he explained, there was a similar strike by ASUU that lasted for four months. Different committees were set up without achieving the objective of calling off the strike. But what exactly did he do?

He called for a meeting with all the leadership of ASUU, presided over the meeting with his vice president, the Attorney General and Secretary to the federal government. They all spent a whole night, with the meeting ending at 5.30 am! At the end ASUU called off the strike.

That is pragmatic leadership for us all to learn from. He took the bull by the horn embodying what is called the political will to rise up above all odds.

All said, let us be reminded by Jon Huntsman Jnr’s admonition that: “Economic prosperity and quality education are inexorably linked”. One hopes, and fervently so, that some of our leaders have read through this piece.