By Ugo Onuoha
The choice of the date for the commencement of the latest and ongoing strike of the Academic Staff Union of (Nigerian) Universities (ASUU) was uncanny. The one-month warning industrial action commenced on February 14, 2022. Yes, February 14. In parts of the world, probably most parts of the world, February 14 is usually a day many people set aside for effusive expressions of love, real and contrived. The acts of love on that day come in varying forms, mostly vain and carnal. And some with consequences many moons after.
It’s is unlikely that the choice of February 14 by ASUU to strike was a coincidence. The leaders and members of the union cannot by any stretch be regarded as frivolous people. Therefore, I wager that ASUU chose the so-called lovers’ day for the latest round of strike to demonstrate love for its members, love for the university system, love for students, love for parents, and love for Nigeria. If ASUU’s ongoing strike is driven by love for stakeholders in the education sector, then it must be tough love. And in the affairs of man, tough love can be discomfiting in the present but enormously beneficial in the long run.
But the lingering question is, how can the frequent and organized and orchestrated and callous and insensitive recurring disruptions of teaching, learning and research in government-owned universities become beneficial in the fullness of time. It is not likely to be. The inevitable outcome, unless something gives now, is that Nigeria is headed toward a harvest of sorrows, disasters, weeping and gnashing of teeth. The uncomfortable truth is that we have started reaping the harvests. Or how do we explain the rapid rise in crimes and criminalities across the country: terrorists attacks and kidnapping for ransom in the North East and North West, separatist agitations in the South East and cyber crimes and blood money in the South West? In the Middle Belt, it has been a litany of blood, tears, sorrow and death occasioned by the terrorism of herders on farmers, while bloody militancy is just a scratch below the swampy mangrove of the Niger Delta region.
Somehow, our successive governmental leaders have refused to take heed of the variants of stories that the best and easiest way to destroy a country is not through bombs and rockets and missiles, but by the destruction of its educational system. The following quote or variants of it had been attributed to various universities. But one thing is common, all the universities where variants of the quote had been reportedly pasted are in Africa. The one I will use here was said to be in a university in Uganda. It read: “Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in examinations by students.”
In the case of education in our country, especially at the government-owned universities, all these vices exist. And even more. By commission or omission, we have, over the years and through various methods, been lowering the quality of education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. The institutions that train teachers for primary and secondary schools have been neglected. The requirements to be a teacher have been lowered. The recruitment process has been bastardized. The self-esteem of teachers has been dealt a deadly blow. Teaching has become a profession for the forlorn and those who can’t find employment elsewhere. Those who stay in the profession hardly earn a living wage. And they are not alone because the majority of civil servants earn miserly wages. So, teachers across the spectrum of our educational system have become petty traders who hawk their wares before their pupils and students. Some teachers, especially at the tertiary level, compel patronage from students. As part of their survival strategy, teachers impose illegal levies on students, with dire consequences for those who fail to perform.
The vice of cheating in examinations is rampant. And it is not a recent phenomenon. In 1977, which is about 45 years ago, the nation was gripped by a widespread leakage of some examination papers of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). It was such a national embarrassment that a judicial panel of inquiry had to be set up. If my recollections have not failed me, the panel was headed by Justice Solomon Sogbesan. But to what end? Sex for marks is commonplace in our universities and, wait for it, secondary schools. ‘Sorting’ used to be a byword in our universities but it has crept into our secondary schools. Sorting is simply students buying expensive gifts for their teachers in return for the award of good but unearned grades.
The greater tragedy is that the Federal Government constitutes the greatest affliction to education. On average, in the last 22 years, the government had allocated barely 6 per cent to education in annual national budgets, a far cry from the 15 to 20 per cent recommended by UNESCO for countries like Nigeria. Meagre as it has been, a sizeable chunk of the allocation is routinely stolen by bureaucrats and sundry administrators. The looting has not abated, because nobody cares and there are no consequences for those who had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
In the face of these failings, segments of the younger generation of Nigerians are beginning to question the value of formal education. They have watched their peers, as it were,leave the university with good grades only to pound the streets of the cities for jobs that are not there. In any case, some of the so-called good grades had been procured through sorting and sundry gratifications. The holders cannot defend them.
Since 1999, academic activities in government universities have been disrupted at least 16 times due to strikes by ASUU. The count would rise if you add the stoppages orchestrated by other unions such as the Non-Academic Staff Union. Let us briefly highlight what Nigeria would reap from the ongoing destruction of education and the churning out of half-baked and barely baked graduates. Already, we have started experiencing frequent collapse of buildings, some of them while under construction. It would only get worse. Poor quality health care professionals would only mean that seeking medical care in hospitals and clinics would be riskier than it is today. It could mean that the journalists you have hitherto relied upon for factual news would become purveyors of falsehood. In addition, your money is likely to become increasingly unsafe in the custody of the banker or the bank worker. You are likely to end up in the bottom of the lagoon for using that bridge constructed or supervised and certified okay by the product of our compromised educational system. We are now lamenting the quality of leadership among the current governing elite. The inevitable deterioration in quality would be better imagined than experienced when today’s products of our schools join their ranks.
The truth is usually unpalatable but it must be said. In our educational system and elsewhere, sufficient seeds that will turn the country to a Hobbesian state where life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” have been sown. The signs are already writ large. In a letter to a newspaper editor about 30 years ago, one young man requested for one thing from the reading public: a one-way flight ticket out of Nigeria. Thirty years after, you can only imagine the level of desperation to bail out from what is feared to be a vessel destined for shipwreck. Do we really care?
Culled from The Sun