The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on February 14 began a four-week nationwide strike. In this interview, the National President of the union, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, tells GRACE EDEMA (of PUNCH) that the strike will be called off when the government implements all the demands of the association
What are those major issues in the Nigerian universities, under the revitalisation demands?
The major challenge in Nigerian universities has to do with salaries. The number one issue is about laboratories. In a typical science-based course, you are to have a one-hour lecture and a two-hour laboratory practical, but we have a situation where there are no laboratories where you can do the practical. So the children are just taught theories. As I said, it is a one-hour lecture and a two-hour laboratory practical, but now lecturers are forced to teach three-hour theories, trying to simulate what a practice should be, which is not supposed to be. Two is the teaching environment. A lecturer is in a hall that ordinarily should take a hundred or two hundred students, but during a lecture, you have 500 to 1,000 students.
One has to do with students having no seats to sit down. Some are hanging on windows. Some are sharing seats; and most importantly, there are no teaching aids or audios so that those students would hear what you are saying. So you are forced to raise your voice to teach 2,000 students. And that’s particularly stressful for the lecturers. Three is, you have too many students in a hall. So the students do not have access to the read lectures they are having. And then, we also have a shortage of lecturers. The NUC (National Universities Commission) Secretary said recently that we had just about a thousand lecturers in Nigerian universities, all through the universities whether they are private, federal, or state universities. And you have close to two million students. When you have added the undergraduates, postgraduates, and others, then more than two million students are being taught by these lecturers. Lecturers are stressed doing excess of what they should not be doing. Then you also have the infrastructure. The hostels are also horrible. Some would have to stay 15 to 20 kilometres away from the school for them to get accommodation at a cheaper rate. How do they come to school and go back?
These are some of the critical problems we have in these university systems that you don’t have when you go outside of the system. You either stay in a hostel or you stay in a hostel close to the university. These are the issues we have in Nigerian universities. Then you have an issue with light. You might be in a university for 24 hours and there is no light from power distribution companies and the university cannot afford diesel at this present rate. They are not well funded. Then you have internet connectivity. How many universities have appropriate Wi-Fi that makes the students have access to the online lectures. These are critical issues we have in Nigerian universities that we are asking the government; that there is a need to upgrade them so that the students, just like every student all over the world, will have appropriate teaching and learning.
How do you want the government to solve this revitalisation of universities demand?
One, we have asked them to increase the present budget to education from the present five per cent to six per cent to 15 to 25 per cent as we have in those countries that take education seriously. That’s what we are asking from them. Two, in our last agreement, we also evaluated all the issues and agreed that it was high time the government devoted N1.3tn to Nigerian universities spread over six years. The N100b released during the era of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, little or nothing has gone to the system. If they had released the money religiously as they agreed then, (N220bn per annum), the Nigerian university system would have been far better than the way it is and it would have been attracting students from outside the country. And they would come here and pay in hard currency to our universities as a way of self-funding the systems. Today we pay to other universities but others don’t pay to us. Every month these leaders are raising money for the railway but have no interest in the universities which they all schooled. And we as a union of lecturers have told them they could raise the money without going through your budget system.
There are a lot of charges you have today. You have stamp duty. You have all sorts of things. The Value Added Tax has increased recently. You can say let me devote 30 to 40% of this new tax you have introduced that is yielding so much money; – VAT, stamp duty, and what have you. Let government devote 30% of such fund to fund education and we would have resolved this problem. Even 20% of VAT would resolve all these problems.
Was the N200b promised by Jonathan’s administration fulfilled at all?
Yes, they paid one tranche, they released one tranche of N200b, although we found out that they took the money from TETfund which means they took it directly from the university and gave it to the university, which is nothing.
What are those things you want the incoming government to implement in the education sector come 2023?
Very simple; make education your number one priority; Primary, secondary, university. Today, the public primary and secondary schools are dead. I hope you know. Two, some of these so-called private schools you have today, if you go and check, you see beautiful results from those schools. Meanwhile, JAMB has become the same thing, and people are just getting whatever they like. Let those people come to the universities they score zero, because, for the private schools, their interest is to get more students, for them to get more students, many must pass. And that’s why today when you check degree-awarding institutions, you find out of 1,000 students 200 and above having First Class. If I give you First Class, more students will come. There is no university in the world out of 1,000 students and 200 and something will make First Class. It will never happen anywhere in the world. I can be quoted. But it happens in Nigeria, and nobody is raising the issue. You have 600 students, 100 have First Class because you want more students in your school. So the next regime must take education as the number source of funding. Two, that they should patronise Nigeria. Let me give you an example, this IPPIS (Integrated Payroll and Personnel information system), they are talking about, the money Nigeria has spent on IPPIS, in the past five to six years, is more than what ASUU is demanding.
But do we need to call somebody from outside to come and buy a payment method? All government needs to do is call the University of Ife; call the University of Ibadan; call ABU (Ahmadu Bello University); call BUK (Bayero University Kano) and say develop this thing for us. The problem is we don’t believe in the universities. The universities want to build a house, you don’t need to go and hire a contractor, hire consultants; all those sets of human beings you have them in the system. We have them in the departments; those who teach these people. Do you need to award a contract of N1m or N10m and then you go and advertise? At the end, the whole money is gone. They should patronise the universities. It didn’t take six months to develop UTAS (…….). It didn’t take more than four months. UTAS is by all standards better than this their so-called IPPIS, which was not tested before being used and creating problems, as reported by the Auditor-General of the Federation. As we are speaking now, the human resource of the IPPIS is still work-in-progress. And Nigeria bought the IPPIS around 2007 or so. IPPIS we paid for more than 13 years ago, which means they have not even finished it.
Some people believe ASUU shouldn’t have embarked on another strike. What’s your take on that?
My take on it is very simple, any day we stop fighting for the system, between two or three years, Nigerian universities will be like primary and secondary schools you have today where the teachers refuse to fight and all the children have left public primary and secondary schools for private. If we stop fighting today, within the next five years, we will be like the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. Today, are you enjoying PHCN? We don’t have light but we are paying new bills. Nigerian railway was one of the best in the country, but today do you have Nigerian Railway? We allowed it to collapse because the union refused to fight. Nigerian Airways used to be one of the best airways in the world. But today we don’t have any Nigerian Airways again. What we are saying is that if any day we stop the fight, our universities will be exactly like the primary and secondary schools. Parents will now be forced to pay millions of naira to put their children in private schools.