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Three years after Nigerians await Buhari on education emergency  

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Michael Omolewa

• Education not Buhari’s priority, say stakeholders
• Dialogue, mutual trust key to end strike in varsities

Three years after critical stakeholders proposed emergency in the education sector to address problems confronting it, President Muhammadu Buhari has failed to implement the proposal.

This, according to stakeholders is an indication that education is not a priority of the present administration.

Education minister, Adamu Adamu had in 2018 set up a Presidential Committee on Ministerial Strategic Plan to come up with proposals that would revive, revolutionise and refocus education programmes.

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The committee, led by seasoned historian and erudite scholar, Prof Michael Omolewa included Presidents of Academy of Science, Academy of Education and Academy of Letters, past Chairmen of committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, and seasoned academics.

Among areas of attention mapped out by the committee were issues of out-of-school children, promotion of adult literacy and special needs education, revival of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Technical, Vocational Education and Training, strengthening of basic education, prioritising of teacher education, capacity building and professional development as well as ensuring quality and access to tertiary education and promoting ICT and library services.

In addition to emergency declaration, the committee also suggested a mass education where teeming Nigerians would be made functionally literate.

The crisis in the country’s education sector is complex, critical and multi-dimensional. Before the 2015 deadline set for meeting Education for All (EFA) goal elapsed, there were manifestations that Nigeria was going to miss out in that global education race.

Nigeria’s education system is in crisis at all levels. Academic standard of most primary school teachers in the country is low

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Challenges confronting education at the basic and secondary levels include dilapidated infrastructure, inadequate or complete lack of teaching and learning facilities. All these lead to poor learning outcomes and abysmal failure rate in examinations.

Regrettably, three years after presentation was made to the minister, nothing has been done.

Omolewa told The Guardian that recommendations were passed to the minister, who expressed delight that people would have access to education, while the process would lead to mass enlightenment, greater understanding of issues and enhanced productivity by a literate citizenry.

Prof Omolewa who described education as key to national development said priority attention must be given the sector to achieve needed growth as a nation.

Although he noted that the paltry amount allocated to education in Nigeria seems to be replicated in every other sector, Omolewa said with improved funding and reviving the dreams in the Ministerial Strategic Plan, the nation will be better off.

On strikes and disruptions in academic calendar, Omolewa said the committee advocated dialogue among parties.

Besides, it recommended that a mechanism be put in place to ensure amicable and speedy resolution, based on dialogue, negotiation, mutual trust, respect, confidence, sincerity and sensitivity.

“Once you have these on the two sides, you can be rest assured that there will be peaceful resolution. Don’t forget that among ASUU too, there are those that are parents and are also concerned; there are those who are stakeholders, whose income is affected by non-performance in the school setting,” the recommendation read in part.

Speaking on the report and disruptions in academic calendar, Prof Omolewa, in a chat with The Guardian said: “What is desirable is a swift and amicable resolution of whatever conflict that could lead to strike at any level of the nation’s educational system.”

He said a situation where students ended up spending more than specified number of years in school due to disruptions in academic calendar, occasioned by strikes calls for concern.

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The historian appealed to all concerned, including government and various unions to embrace conflict resolution for peace to reign in the nation’s tertiary institutions.

A Professor of Economics at University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) Usman Abdullahi declared that the present administration has not done anything to address problems in the sector.

He wondered how a government committed to the development of the nation would neglect its educational system.

Prof Abdullahi lamented that successive governments have failed to plan, which was why the sector is in a pathetic state.

He said: “Whether the government declares emergency or not, the thing is that there is no plan whatsoever in place to actualise it.  If you declare a state of emergency and there is no way to address the emergency, what would you be doing? If the advise by the presidential committee on education is not in consonance with what government is looking for, it cannot work.”

Prof Abdullahi said people were looking forward to seeing some positive changes in the sector when President Buhari came on board but five years down the line, nothing has been developed to say that the sector is better off than when the present administration came on board.

“When they came, they met us at a point and I’m not sure that they have moved us forward, actually we have retarded,” he declared.

For Pro-Chancellor, Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Prof Ayodeji Olukoju, the current administration may be slow but there are other ministries, such as Transportation and Aviation that are doing well.

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Olukoju wondered why education is different if other ministries are getting things done.

He said:  “The minister has to own the recommendations; critical stakeholders in the industry, including National Universities Commission (NUC), Vice Chancellors, Committee of Pro- Chancellors and Academic Staff Union of universities (ASUU) should do something about it. The minister whose prerogative it is to push education agenda should be held responsible.

“We live in a country where we make a lot of noise and at the end, nothing gets done,” Olukoju added.

On his part, Prof Ayo Onalaja of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye said government declarations are never backed up with actions.

Onalaja said a government that places priority on education would not abandon recommendations by erudite scholars on how to move the sector forward.

He said: “As far as I’m concerned, government has not given education the priority it deserves in the scheme of things. It was true they said Nigeria situation was due for emergency but we didn’t see that being backed up by action. And when we call for emergency in the sector, we didn’t see the appropriate response from government. The problems are still there with us, government has been busy scratching the problems on the surface.”

He insisted that the sector needs holistic approach to solve the myriads of problems confronting it.

Public Affairs Analyst, Jude Nkwo lamented that government despite its promises has not matched his words with action.

“Are we going to see the promised 15 per cent of federal and state budget being earmarked for education in subsequent budgets? Is this declaration not mere sloganeering?

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Nkwo however noted that funding might not be a major challenge to Nigeria’s public education sector afterall, looking at unaccessed Universal Basic Education Commission’s (UBEC) funds by states.
“A similar thing is playing out in Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) where billions of naira still remained unaccessed by benefitting tertiary institutions.”

He added: “My greatest worry about Nigeria’s comatose education sector is corruption and lack of accountability by heads of academic institutions and examination bodies. Many of our public and private academic institutions do not fare better. A lot of malpractices and sharp practices go on in the sector.

But the Director of Media, Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Gong, said only the president has power to declare emergency in any sector.

Gong said the minister may have proposed a declaration of state of emergency in the education sector but it is the constitutional responsibility of the president to act on it.

He said: “If the minister had called for a state of emergency, it is no longer for him to declare that, it is for the president to evaluate and work on accordingly.”

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