• Monday, July 15, 2024
businessday logo


ASUU strike, future of education and student loan

Looking back to see ahead

The judiciary, which is vested with the authority to interpret the laws of our country, has spoken on the industrial action embarked upon by tertiary institutions’ lecturers in Nigeria since February 14 this year. In its ruling on Wednesday, September 21, it was held that the striking lecturers must return to the classrooms. But that verdict had only helped to galvanize the resolve of the discontented lecturers to further dig in their heels.

So, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) in Abuja which ordered ASUU members back to work in discontinuation of its industrial action might have done its job, but it is a no-brainer for most people to realize that it is a case of barking without being able to bite.

It is therefore such a welcome relief that on Wednesday, October 5, 2022, the Appeal Court acted wisely by directing the parties to settle the feud out of court.

I have a hunch that the Appeal Court judges might have hinged their decision to recommend out-of-court settlement as the best-suited option for resolving the conflict based on the dictum that we are all familiar with: you can force the horse to the river, but you can not force it to drink. This implies that getting teachers back to work should be by persuasion, not coercion.

It makes one wonder why the Federal Government of Nigeria took the option of going to court in the first instance.

And somehow, in light of the wisdom not to try the case by the Appeal Court judges, who rather urged the litigants to resolve their dispute amicably outside the court system, the judicial arm of government can be said to be more sensitive to the plight of our youths who have been out of school for over seven months than the executive arm of government that has failed to settle their differences with the striking teachers hence our youths, the leaders of tomorrow, have literally been left in the cold and at the mercy of nefarious ambassadors.

Having failed to succeed in trying to use the court system, the trick of divide and rule in conflict resolution appears to be a tactic the Federal Government seems to have decided to apply via the registration of labour associations formed by breakaway ASUU members who have decided to form their own unions.

Despite the treachery, the spirit of ASUU members appears to have remained upbeat as reflected by their decision not to back down, despite the odds being stacked against them.

It is a development that all well-meaning Nigerians should be concerned about because both sides of the feuding parties seem to be set for a fight to finish without giving serious consideration to the long-term implications of the industrial action by the lecturers, which may extend beyond the more or less six months remaining life span of the incumbent administration.

And in a situation whereby the no-work- no-pay rule aimed at igniting the fear of hunger and starvation as a tool for getting the aggrieved lecturers back to the classrooms has failed to resolve the conflict, and the gambit of going to court to compel the lecturers to return to the classroom which is not an amicable solution by any stretch of the imagination is also proving to be ineffective, how would the latest antic of sponsoring factions within ASUU to rebel and weaken it, be the panacea to the dispute?

The underlying reason for the poser above is that having gone this far in the strike action, (7 months and counting) the aggrieved lecturers must have adopted the strategy of no retreat, no surrender in this strike that is turning out to be the epic battle of their professional lives.

So, l would argue that seeking an end to the crisis in the education sector via a court judgement or sponsoring rebellion via fractionalization of ASUU (straight out of the playbook of politicians who are wont to divide and rule) is detestable.

In fact, the court judgement is turning out to be a Pyrrhic victory for the FGN simply because the Appeal Court had demurred from deliberating on the matter perhaps because it considers the court forum as inauspicious for the resolution of such a delicate dispute which has more moral content than the legal ground.

Even if the judgement were to have been sustained at the Appeal court level,we are all familiar with what would potentially be the output of an unmotivated workforce which the lecturers would be, if FGN had succeeded in using the courts to hound them back to the classrooms.

Personally,l am appalled that after it had seemed to me that government might have concluded that it is unwise to continue with the dog fight with lecturers, hence it rescinded its earlier decision to coerce the striking lecturers back to the classrooms via the memo from the National Universities Commission, NUC, directing vice chancellors to re-open the institutions, the standoff has persisted.

And given the recent registration of rival associations in the academia, and the rhetorics from labour minister, Chris Ngige, my initial thoughts seem to be too presumptuous.

Before the most recent development, it did not surprise me that ASUU president, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke in a television interview after the court verdict ordering the lecturers back to the classrooms expressed the sentiment below:

“It’s a catastrophe. No country thinking about the future of its children, thinking about the health of its educational system, who believe in education and whose children are in those universities will try that.”

The ASUU president’s assessment of the government’s action and the court verdict is quite scathing and damning, to say the least.

Worst still, there is even another angle to the strike action which is the likelihood that if the crisis is not resolved amicably, the discontented lecturers may seek greener pastures abroad where their services are highly needed due to the shortage of workers in the advanced countries in Europe and North America as a fall out of COVID 19 pandemic which led to the forced closure of businesses that are now re-opening but are facing a dearth of Human Resources supply.

Assuming our leaders prefer to easily forget the brain drain that happened in the healthcare sector which saw our best doctors and nurses migrating abroad where the pay is better and standard of living is higher, we the citizens that are bearing the brunt are frightened and can not afford to erase the memory of the exodus of our medical experts abroad, and fear that we may not survive a similar drain in the education sector, therefore we urge the authorities to thread with caution, so that our education sector which was top notch in not too distant past,but now in shambles, does not tip over.

To be clear,l am not absolving ASUU of blame, but only imploring FGN to place the issues squarely on the table for ASUU to appreciate the futility of hoping that the old ways of funding education are sustainable, and then propose a new pathway out of the quagmire in a manner that ASUU members would have confidence, and even find ways to reason together with the FGN on the way forward.

After all, it was out of the ashes of ASUU strike that the Education Trust Fund, TetFund- a critical source of funding support for higher education arose via creative thinking by the eggheads.

Before proceeding further, and to put the issues being contended in context, it is appropriate that we take a cursory look at the relief that the FGN went to seek in court.

Basically, the government prayed for the order of the court for ASUU to call off its seven-month-old strike and it is further asking the court to determine the extent of ASUU’s demands by the government since the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA) that the union signed with the government.

These include the funding for revitalisation of public universities as per the 2009 agreement, Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) payments, state university’s proliferation and constitution of visitation panels, and the release of a white paper on the report of the visitation panels.

Also included are the reconstitution of the government renegotiation team for renegotiation of the 2009 agreement, which was renegotiated in 2013/2014, due for renegotiation in 2018/2019, and the migration of ASUU members from IPPIS to its own UTAS, which is currently on test at NITDA.

The intention of the FGN appears to me as if it wants an order of the court for ASUU members to resume work in their various universities while the issues in dispute are being addressed by the NICN which is in consonance with the provisions of Section 18 (I) (b) of the TDA Cap T8. LFN 2004.

Now, that the government has had its way, at least in the lower court, and as earlier stated, even if the Appeal court were to sustain the judgement and the Supreme Court also affirmed it , would the FGN be able to fulfill its part of the bargain which is basically about funding the education sector?

I think not, simply because the FGN is broke and can not afford to continue to bear the burden of the high cost of university education.

As such, the earlier FGN admits that reality, the better for the distressed education sector in particular and the nation in general.

Even the blind can tell that our country is currently in financial dire straits and therefore anemic as its life-blood-crude oil is being illegally sapped from the pipelines by oil theft cartels. And it would not be lost on any discernible observer that the FGN is inclined to once again,as it had been doing since 2009, literally ‘kick the can down the Road’ as Americans like to describe postponing the evil day in the manner that the removal of petrol subsidy has also been postponed to June 2023, which is a couple of days after the end of the tenure of the incumbent regime.

Why not confront the demon hobbling the education sector in Nigeria right now, once and for all by facing up to the reality that the challenge can not be wished away or be eliminated by sheer intimidation of lecturers via weaponization of their welfare with the no-work,no-pay policy, procurement of court judgement against them and the deployment of divide and rule antics via sponsoring of rival labour unions such as Congress of Nigerian University Academics CONUA, and Nigerian Association of Medical and Dental Academics, NAMDA-both of which are newly registered trade associations in the academia?

At the risk of appearing to be holding brief for ASUU,but without being told,these are unwholesome and treacherous practices that would bode ill will for the education sector.

That is because although the strategy of splintering ASUU may appear to be efficacious in the short term,but in the long run,the authorities may inadvertently make the education sector become too unionized with grave consequences for the future of education.

With the latest action,it appears as if government would stop at nothing to compel the agitating academicians to go back to the classroom.

Arising from the above, it is not out of order to wonder if the option of FGN going to court and securing judgement in its favor fails to compel lecturers to go back to work, and the divide-and-rule tactic is also unable to yield the desired outcome, would the authority’s last resort be to arrest and jail the leaders of the strike, as it allegedly did with top members of the judiciary when they were not dancing to its tune?

We are all too familiar with how the executive arm of government apply such an arm-twisting and undemocratic approach to impose its desire on other arms.

Hopefully, the situation may not be allowed to degenerate to such a bizarre level again, particularly because the country is now in election mode which presupposes that the electorate is to be wooed via a charm offensive unleashed by politicians, not being clobbered in the head by security agencies, as any attempt to arrest the striking lecturers and lock them up based on trumped up charges, would look like.

Read also: FG: Playing the ostrich with ASUU strike

While I have no idea if the ruling party is imagining how devastating protest

votes in the 2023 elections by aggrieved lecturers and students against the ruling party’s presidential candidate and seekers of other offices would be,l can see the APC paying dearly at the polls in February and March next year ,if the ASUU FGN and students impasse is allowed to degenerate beyond the current situation.

Dwelling further on the possibility of applying brute force to rein in the lecturers if they fail to comply with the court ruling, it may be recalled that a handful of members of the top echelon of the judiciary who were not compliant with the desire of the government back in October 2016 were arrested in the middle of the night in gestapo style, even as some were taken away in their pajamas by security agents, ostensibly on corruption charges which were justified with the cache of cash in local and foreign currencies found in their homes when they were raided.

After that ugly incident, the judiciary became mired in the doghouse until a recent change in the leadership which was forced by a rare act of Supreme Court judges writing a vicious and scandalous petition to the government against their colleague, then Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, which was leaked to the media.

Of course, the media seized upon it and created a firestorm in society, particularly the judicial sector, via a media blitz that resulted in a change of guard in the leadership of the judiciary.

With the replacement of the embattled CJN with the current incumbent, in an uncanny way, the judiciary has started healing itself following the confirmation of justice Olukayode Ariwoola by the senate of the National Assembly, NASS on September 21, 2022, as the new CJN.

And it would not be out of order to expect a reset in that arm of government from being pliable and compromised to be impartial so that it would remain the bastion of democracy and the proverbial last hope for the common man that it is meant to be.

By the same token, the aggrieved lecturers turned activists in the education sector may be treading a similar path or adopting a strategy akin to the one applied by the senior members of the judiciary with the hope that the authorities would (in American lingo) ‘wake up and smell the coffee by realizing that ASUU members have taken their destiny into their hands with the determination to make this strike the industrial action that would trigger a chain reaction that could turn the sector around for good.

Presumably, if adequate care is not taken, and the current malaise in the sector is allowed to persist by not implementing the robust and far-reaching solutions encapsulated in the 2009 agreement which have been put in abeyance to date, the current afflictions of the education sector may attain a point of no return.

And it may very well be the final death knell to the future of higher education in Nigeria for our youths whose destiny destinies have invariably been put in the coffin via the 7 months old shutdown of schools,and it is only waiting to be nailed.

It bears repeating that without a change in FGN’s approach to funding higher education, the coffin of ignorance and illiteracy with Nigerian youths as victims would be nailed via the ongoing skulduggery being perpetuated by the government that should be laser-focused on putting the future of our children on even keel for a leap forward as Lee Kuan Yew, the iconic leader of Singapore, did with his tiny island country which grew from third to the first world in an unprecedentedly short period by implementing out-of-the-box policies that seemed like they were impossibilities to lesser mortals, but which became manifest through the dexterity and astuteness of its illustrious leader with a can-do spirit.

It is certainly not rocket science to figure out that our children who are by nature leaders of tomorrow, should be armed or equipped with the best education possible and cutting-edge knowledge that is in tune with the 21st century developments in order for our country to be able to compete in the world that is increasingly becoming more knowledge-based and less natural resources dependent.

For instance, it is universally acknowledged that in another two decades or so, most countries in the industrialized world would ban the use of fossil fuel to power their vehicles as they are intent on transiting to rely solely on electric vehicles.

As a matter of fact, the state of California in the USA which is a major producer of crude oil intends to ban fossil fuel powered vehicles in the next ten (10) years.

The change from fossil fuel to electric-powered vehicles, for instance, would handicap our country whose main source of foreign exchange earnings (about 85%) is fossil fuel-crude oil.

To be ready for the future, ideally, we should by now be planning to harness our next biggest and best asset which is the abundant human capital that our youths represent when they are facilitated to study in higher institutions of learning such as universities to enrich themselves with knowledge and skills that can be deployed all over the world where they are in demand.

India currently benefits from its highly educated workforce by virtue of their presence all over the world where they are engaged as leaders of top ten Fortune 500 corporations worldwide.

So, our youths being out of school for so long is a liability and burden on society of which we all as Nigerians would bear the dire consequences of breeding criminals instead of scientists, mathematicians, robotic engineers, medical doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc which is in tandem with the wisecrack -an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

It is dismaying that instead of preparing our youths for future leadership

with sound education to stand our country in good stead in the comity of nations, the authorities in charge of education are hobbling the sector with vision-less policies that are capable of worsening the level of incapacitation of our youths capable of canceling out our country from the league of developing nations.

In light of the danger posed to the future of our country by a protracted shutdown of higher institutions, why not invest some of the income from the sale of fossil fuel towards the development of the next best asset in which our country has a comparative advantage, which is Human Resources that are currently largely unharnessed?

Leveraging the aphorism: make haste while the sun shines, it would be wise to seamlessly transit from oil wealth to human capital wealth if we train our youths to become highly marketable by right-tooling them.

It is doubtless that with innovative and dynamic leadership, our abundant Human Resources could be converted into cutting-edge human capital. And that is if we equip our youths with a top-notch education in order to be fit for the future or future ready.

It is heartbreaking that it would appear as if after engaging the aggrieved lecturers in an unnecessary dogfight in the past seven months with our youths as the main victims, the scales are yet to fall from the eyes of the administrators in the education space about the folly of not being in a haste to end the stand-off

How long would Nigeria’s education sector remain in the doldrums before there is an adult in the room? Does the incumbent FGN not have limits to how low in the level of underdevelopment it would blindly drag our beloved country into?

The FGN must come to terms with the reality that even if the lecturers appear to be fighting for their welfare, they are equally engaging in the struggle to secure the future of our beloved nation by literally poking the authorities in the rib via a strike action with a view to waking her up from the deep slumber that it is in currently so that it could hopefully see that our country’s education sector is headed for the precipice, could crash and the ship of education could get wrecked if the authorities do not change course and its bellicose and the devil may care attitude jettisoned, sooner than later.

Perhaps, after the filibustering by both sides, the cause of the lecturers who have been blackmailed, bullied and maligned would eventually be recognized and addressed by the government that had been deaf and dumped in the past (7) months that the industrial action has lasted.

And one would have thought that nerves are calming on the government’s side of the divide due to the intervention by the speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and his team who recently engaged with ASUU leadership and pleaded with it to await his consultation with the president when he returns from the recently concluded United Nations General Assembly, UNGA meeting in New York, USA.

But, contrary to my high expectations, those at the helm of affairs in the education sector and labor authorities seem to have been determined to continue be in a dog-in-the-manger mode.

And the signs that the ice between ASUU and education authorities might have been thawing reflected by the recent retraction of the order by the government via the Nigerian Universities Commission, NUC for lecturers to go back to the classroom, have turned out to be a mere mirage as FGN has maintained its hard stance which is akin to chasing a bull into a China shop with disastrous consequences.

It is disappointing that a real end to the fiasco in the education sector which one had thought is imminent due to NASS intervention may not happen after all as the report that it has just been presented to president Buhari last Wednesday, would in all likelihood, be a mere palliative measure.

The assertion above is underscored by the belief that it may not deal with the fundamental challenges besetting the education sector in ways that the crises would not reoccur soon after.

To restore the lost glory in the education sector, more fundamental actions that go beyond the treatment of the symptoms rather than the disease must be taken.

In my previous media intervention on the strike action titled “ASUU Strike: Lessons From Averted Train Workers Strike In USA” published in both social and traditional media platforms on September 20, 2022, l made a case that government is overburdened and is obviously unable to sustain funding university education.

But FGN has continued to fail to tell itself the truth since 2009,when it entered into the contentious agreement with ASUU that it knows it would be unable to fulfill and which is one of the recurring bones of contention in the current seven months old strike.

Recently, the chairman of the committee on finance in the red chamber, Senator Solomon Olamilekan affirmed the incapacity for government to sustain funding higher education when he made the enlightening revelation during the committee’s recent interactive session with revenue-generating agencies of the federal government by lamenting that the university system generates between 15-16 billion naira annually which it spends, yet the federal government pays lecturers salaries and also provides funds for other recurrent and capital expenditures.

With a federal government’s budget deficit estimated to be in the region of eleven (11)trillion naira and a very high debt-to-GDP ratio of 20.6 percent as at March this year ,one needs not be a rocket scientist to figure out that the FG which is unable to pay civil servants without recourse to bank loans,would not be able to continue to carry the burden of paying salaries to lecturers.

One significant point in senator Olamilekan’s observation that struck me is that universities generate as much as N15-16b which they spend based on their whims and caprices. It suggests that the vice-chancellors of universities and the governing councils may be complicit in the rot in the tertiary education sector.

And he emphasized that the FGN can no longer afford to take responsibility for the wages of university lecturers which is in harmony with my proposition that students should be granted loan to pay their fees.

And I wonder if the FGN team involved in the process of resolving the labor crises in the education sector took notice of the revelation.

Why must the FGN continue to bear the burden of paying lecturers which is recurrent expenditure and also provide funding for capital projects in our universities?

Given the above scenario, what role are vice chancellors and governing councils of universities playing in the alleged malfeasance in the higher education sector of our country?

That is one question that deserves an urgent answer.

Clearly, the reality that is staring everybody in the face which the authorities in the higher education space has failed to admit is that funding of university education in Nigeria by the FGN is not feasible.

Even in advanced and industrialized countries like the United States of America, US universities are not funded by the federal government directly as we have been doing over here and which has become unsustainable.

While it is correct that states fund their universities, they do so in creative and imaginative ways.

This is why there are ten (10) state-owned universities in the state of California, the USA which is the biggest and richest economy in that country.

They include the University of California, UC Los Angeles, UC Berkely, UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvin, as well as UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz not forgetting UC San Francisco which is a for-graduates-only university.

Most of the funding for the institutions is sourced from students fees just as other sources of funds are from revenue-generating activities of the universities-like the town-meets-the-gown business collaborations, and the kindness of charitable organizations and individuals by way of endowments of chairs as well as the support of robust alumni with a large membership of about two (2) million.

Why can we not adopt in Nigeria such a system that has worked very well in the USA?

The bottom line is that in light of the dwindling revenue generation into the treasury arising from the degenerating capacity of the country’s ability to be productive which is due to the alarming rate of insecurity pervading the country, coupled with a bloated civil service that is inefficient in service delivery, it is a question of time before the leakages would collectively drain the national treasury.

If you add that to the high cost of maintaining a full-time legislature, it would be clear why Nigeria is insolvent right now.

Is it not striking and at the same time damning that the bloated nature of the public service is a crippling malaise that had long ago been identified by ex-chief of staff to president Olusegun Obasanjo and former head of the civil, Mr. Steve Oronsaye led commission that recommended the downsizing or rightsizing of the civil service?

Is it not mind-boggling that a school that -has over 5,963 members of staff, is paid N8.5b annually as salaries, and conducts only one exam annually?

Clearly, it is a symbol of the root cause of the decay in the education sector. And there is likely to be many more such institutions in public service.

The discovery that a tertiary institution that generates an estimated N410m annually remitted only N30m to the Federal government’s consolidated revenue account as noted by senator Abiodun Olujimi during the earlier referenced parley between the senate committee on finance and revenue-generating agencies, is a very disturbing malady afflicting the public service.

My suspicion is that the nearly 6,000 number of employees of that agency that conducts only one exam annually at the cost of over N380m is outrageous and there may also be ghost workers on the pay roll of which FGN sinks N8.5b annually as staff emoluments.

Using the mismanagement of funds in the referenced institution as a barometer or yardstick for gaging the inefficiencies in the public sector,it is likely that other similar institutions in the education sector are also as wasteful because of lack of oversight by the education ministry and the ministry of finance which should ideally engage private accounting firms to audit Ministries,Departments and Agencies,MDAs from time to time for probity and accountability.

Typical of government,the Oronsaye proposal to streamline the public sector had been in abeyance for about a decade and half since it was first proposed,as it had been buried in the so called grave yard of Government White Papers,until the incumbent government recently resurrected it for possible action in light of the futility of hoping that it would be able to generate enough revenue to meet all the unrealistic expectations and demand of MDGs,including the massive funds budgeted for the sustenance of members of the National Assembly who most men and women of goodwill in Nigeria have long concluded constitute an unnecessary drain pipe on the already distressed treasury of our beleaguered nation.

As part of the popular call for a reduction in the cost of governance owing to huge over head expenditure of FGN,at worst,most Nigerians are yearning for the services of our parliamentarians to be on part time basis,as is the case with members of boards of corporations whose impact in their organizations remain robust despite their not being engaged on full time basis.

At best they are baying for a drastic reduction in the hefty emoluments and perks for the law makers.

In some Scandinavian countries,for instance ,teachers earn higher salaries than the legislators.But Nigerian legislators earn higher salaries than their counterparts in the USA.

Some would even argue that our legislators are the highest paid in the world.

Dear readers ,l urge you to not take my words as the godspell truth on the matter of salaries of teachers in Sweden and Denmark ,but check it out through a simply google search.

Obviously,in the referenced countries, teachers reward is not only in heaven as we believe in Nigeria,but priority is accorded teachers here on earth owing to their critical role in molding the young minds put in their care into champions equipped to take over leadership,hence they are very well remunerated.

Without heeding the call for less profligacy in government via scrapping of ministries, departments and agencies with overlapping functions and drastically reducing the humongous cost of sustaining the unwieldy National Assembly,NASS,it is a matter of time before our country becomes a basket case like Venezuelan suffering from oil curse which the N4 trillion naira petrol subsidy in 2022 budget portends and symbolizes in Nigeria.

It is rather appalling and heart wrenching that the hemorrhaging situation of the treasury of our country is being further worsened by the activities of international crude oil theft syndicates that are literarily draining the oil pipelines of products such that investors in the sector like Tony Elumelu, Chairman of HElRS holding recently raised alarm that perhaps up to 80% of the crude pumped into the pipeline don’t get to the final destination due to the rupturing of the pipeline and siphoning of the products by organized criminal elements in the oil/ gas sector.

Without a doubt,there is need for change of tack by the leaders of government who as a matter of urgency and in order for our country to survive,must pivot our country from a consuming to a producing one.

It is an existential reality whose time has come and which Labor Party,LP candidate,Peter Obi has appropriated and converted into his campaign slogan,but which all the presidential aspirants must make the fulcrum of their campaign.

Mr Godwin Emefiele, Central Bank of Nigeria governor recently revealed that about nine (9) trillion has been invested as intervention funds in various sectors of the economy and over four (4) trillion has been recovered with most of the balance not due for repayment.

There is therefore proof of concept that loans work and interventions in critical sectors by the government can be efficacious.

Presumably, the N9 trillion is exclusive of the multi trillions applied as petrol subsidy in the past seven years.

Is it not rather disappointing that one critically important sector that is yet to receive attention for financial intervention like other critical sectors such as farming and electricity generation and distribution amongst others is the education sector?

Unlike the humongous sum of N4 trillion pumped into the oil/ gas sector to subsidize petrol pump price in budget 2022, with a consequential negative effect on the economy, as it amounts to subsidizing consumption, intervention with funds in the form of student loan in the education sector would amount to subsidizing production which would, in the long run, be beneficial to the economy and the entire society.

Imagine the number of brilliant Nigerian youths whose parents can not afford to pay for their higher education and as such drop out of the production process!

Does that not amount to leaving a lot of value on the table which is not optimal?

A return to student loan regime would automatically bring the indigent book-smart Nigerians, who could have been left behind, back into the production loop.

Indeed it is a malady or even a national tragedy that we have been putting up with by not adopting students loan policy which countries like the USA have been harnessing to the hilt and with huge beneficial outcomes.

On that note, l would once again like to implore President Muhamadu Buhari to direct the CBN to intervene in the education sector via provision of loans to students.

That would enable students pay the universities fees that are market rate,which they can apply in managing the institutions without recourse to the government for lecturers salaries etc.

That is because the institutions would have obligations to the lecturers in terms of payment of salaries and emoluments and provision of a conducive working environment for them,so that the students would get real value for their money and everybody would be happy.

Owing to lack of space and time,I would not indulge readers in the arithmetic of the process of introducing students loans program which relevant authorities can easily seek out and learn from, especially since such a policy had been implemented in the past as detailed in a piece by my good friend and brother,chief Lawson Omokhodion on the back-page of ThisdayNewspaper of September 23, 2022 titled: “Let’s Return Nigerian Students Loans Board”.

In the referenced article,he made a compelling case for the return of student loans policy, the positive values of which he recalled with gusto and nostalgia.

“As we speak,three previous laws are important in the attempts to provide a solution. In 1974, the federal military government of General Yakubu Gowon,promulgated the Nigerian Students’ Loans Board decree to provide funding to Nigerian students based on loans repayable in 20 years after graduation.

“According to Omokhodion who was the pro-Chancellor and chairman of the governing board of Ambrose Alli university, “In decree No. 50 of 1993, the federal government promulgated another legislation to establish the Nigerian Education Bank. And in the year 2004, the University autonomy bill was passed which vested in the university governing councils the rights of employers of staff of universities. It is now time to activate the essential elements of the three legislations and solve these funding problems once and for all time as most countries have done”.

Omokhodion, who is obviously, like me enamored by the concept of students loan program,concluded by stating that ”The 1974 legislation is the biggest example of these federal laws because it was actually put into effect and students benefited immensely from the funding relief that resulted from the implementation of the provisions of the law.”

Given how the military government under general Yakubu Gowon rose to the occasion in 1974 with a robust response to the yearnings of the public by establishing students loans board,is it not such a paradox and irony that Democratic regimes since 2009 have been deaf and dump to the cry for a change in the style and substance of management of the education sector in alignment with the present financial incapacity of government?

In my earlier referenced article titled: “ASUU Strike: Lessons From Averted Train Workers Strike In USA” published September 20,l had pleaded with president Buhari to make haste while the sun still shines on the administration by taking the required steps to introduce students loan,before he exits office on May 29,2023.

Hence l was delighted to subsequently read Omokhodion’s detailed narrative about how to rescue the ailing education sector which was once very vibrant by taking readers back to the good old days of student loans in Nigeria while highlighting the benefits.

Of course, the authorities are yet to heed our persistent calls for change in tune with the dynamics of time between the good old days when our country was economically buoyant and now.

Nevertheless,without further ado,l would like to also once again plead with Education minister, Adamu Adamu, minister of state, Education, Goodluck Nana Opiah, Labour minister Chris Ngige and minister of state, Labour my good friend, Festus Keyamo, to give peace a chance,by being more conciliatory and less aggressive with the aggrieved lecturers as they currently appear to be doing.

As a win-win solution to the debilitating feud,they should give the concept of student loan the utmost consideration that it deserves by encouraging mr president,Mohammadu Buhari to direct Godwin Emefiele,CBN governor to plough some intervention funds into the education sector that would be made available to students in our higher institutions.

That in my considered opinion is the simplest and most realistic solution to the perennial ASUU strike and frequent shut down of our stifling education sector which is on the verge of being eclipsed by darkness with all Nigerians as victims,irrespective of whether the children of the rich and powerful are schooling overseas or the kids of the less privileged are stranded at home.

That is because willy nilly,our youths not privileged to enjoy education at home would make life in Nigeria look like hell on earth for all of us by taking to criminal activities such as banditry, kidnapping for ransom and ritual killing of fellow humans for money,vices that would make life unbearable for everybody residing in the country.

So,it is in the enlightened self interest of the authorities to do the needful which is -get our youths back into the classrooms in the higher institutions sooner than later.

It is doubtless that granting students loans to pay market rate school fees to higher institutions remains the best initiative that can burnish the legacy of the outgoing administration and l urge president Buhari not to leave that value on the table so that he can earn the accolades of Nigerians rather than face the ire of posterity.

Onyibe, a former commissioner in Delta State, writes from Lagos

To continue with this conversation, please visit www.magnum.ng