ASUU Strike: Turbulence at home, political office-holders’ children in smooth sail abroad
Today, Sunday, August 7, 2022, marks 174 days since the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) commenced, on February 14, 2022, a four-week “comprehensive and total” nationwide strike, which has grounded the Nigeria University System (NUS) thereby keeping university students at home for months now.
Despite this unfortunate scenario, there is still no end in sight, or any idea when this round of industrial action would come to an end, especially with last Monday’s extension of the strike by another four weeks.
While this happens, children of the political elite are enjoying their seamless tertiary journeys abroad. They are joined by children of the haves, including that of military brass hats, while offspring of the have-nots, the working class, and the majority of Nigerians are left to bear the brunt.
Among other things, the ongoing industrial action is a result of the Federal Government’s failure to meet the ASUU’s demands on the revitalisation of public universities; earned academic allowances; University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS); promotion arrears; renegotiation of 2009 ASUU-FGN agreement, and inconsistencies in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) payments among others.
According to experts, the craze for foreign certification, unstable academic calendar, mind-boggling underinvestment, sparse research facilities, and inadequate infrastructure, among other factors have contributed immensely to the gradual destruction of the country’s educational system.
Consequently, the number of Nigerian youths schooling abroad has been pushed up to nearly 80, 000. As far back as 2018, the exact figure was put at 76, 338, by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). It remains the highest in any African country.
The country’s failure to find a lasting solution to education tourism has seen Nigerians that are seeking international education, inadvertently invest millions of dollars in diverse educational jurisdictions across the world, especially those with an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Besides improved job opportunities, post-study work choices/permanent residence, obvious preference for foreign degrees by local employers, as well as flexible fee payment options, obsolete curriculum, and worsening insecurity in the country are also contributing their quotas to the haemorrhaging of the country’s economy through capital flight.
Interestingly, a host of European and Scandinavian nations are benefitting from Nigeria’s failure to effectively educate thousands of her youths within her boundaries.
Benefitting nations include war-torn Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Ireland, Finland, Estonia, Hungary, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, The Netherlands, France, Norway, Poland, and Sweden.
Before now, the United States used to be the most preferred study destination for young Nigerians, but of late, the United Kingdom holds that honour.
In fact, since 2015 when the UK displaced the US, the latter has continued to play second fiddle with Malaysia coming in third place.
As foreign education continues to deplete the nation’s resources amid a dire shortage of foreign exchange, data from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) indicated that Nigerians spent about US$221m on foreign education within three months, that is, between December 2021 and February 2022.
A breakdown of the data showed that while US$90.67m was spent on foreign education in December 2021, January and February 2022 gulped $60, 202,730.84m and $69.9m respectively.
A grimmer picture of the enormous capital flight that the education sector has suffered between 2010 to 2020, that is a period of 10 years, using the CBN’s balance of payment statistics, indicated that about $28.65b left the country’s shores through that channel.
With the exchange rate galloping at breakneck speed, experts are afraid that the country’s worse days maybe not be far away.
Echoing this concern in an earlier interview with The Guardian, the pro-chancellor of Chrisland University in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, lamented the severe impact of education tourism on the polity.
“Educational tourism results in capital flight at a time when we cannot afford it, and we are not getting a reciprocal inflow of capital.
“To be fair, sponsors of these children (seeking foreign education) are exercising their right to spend their money (as they wish), but it is harmful when considered in economic terms,” Olukoju stated, adding, “Nigeria is seriously haemorrhaging, and that flow is not sustainable. It makes us an economic and cultural appendage of the foreign recipients of our capital exports.”
Lawmakers Resist Violation Of Their Children’s Right To Foreign Education
WHILE children of most Nigerians have continued to suffer the debilitating consequences of the brutal and reprehensible violation of their rights to education, federal lawmakers have continued to resist any attempt to regulate how public officials’ children enroll in foreign schools.
The latest incident happened last March with the rejection of a bill to regulate the enrolment of government officials’ children by the House of Representatives.
The document titled, “A Bill for an Act to Regulate International Studies for Wards and Children of Nigerian Public Officers, to Strengthen Indigenous Institutions, Provide Efficient Educational Services for National Development; and Related Matters,” sponsored by Representative, Sergius Ogun, was rejected for the second time in four years.
Ogun, while leading the debate on the bill, at the second reading, explained that the bill if passed into law would reduce capital flight, reduce brain drain; strengthen/elevate indigenous academic institutions to meet global standards, ensure good welfare conditions for local academics, boost the economy, as well as encourage foreign-based professionals to return to the country to help develop the sector.
The lawmaker said: “This bill is proposed against the background of fallen standards in our educational system and the need to bring the sector up to speed with global best standards. Unfortunately, as a result of the inability of the government to provide quality education in its public educational institutions, Nigerians have resorted to private schools and foreign schools for their education.
“The United Kingdom, United States of America, Ukraine, Ghana, Malaysia, Egypt, and South Africa, just to mention a few, have become choice destinations for Nigerians in search of quality education.
“The trouble with this is that most of those who patronise private-owned educational institutions, or those who travel abroad to study are children and wards of Nigerian public officers. These are the officers who should take responsibility for the building of our public institutions.
The lawmaker continued: “For me, this would yield a counter-product result in our drive for national development. I believe that public officers should be subjected to the utility of the public institutions which they are responsible for building and maintaining,” adding that “reports show that Ghana alone gets N160bn of Nigerian students’ funds, while the United Kingdom gets N80bn from Nigerian students. About 75, 000 Nigerians are said to be studying in Ghana, paying over $1bn annually for tuition fees and upkeep.
“Most of these Nigerian foreign students are children/ward of public servants and political office holders who ostensibly cart away public funds to private use. It is against this background that this bill is designed to regulate this practice and position our educational system for global competitiveness,” Ogun stated.
Ogun continued: “As I speak now, students of Nigerian universities are sitting at home doing nothing due to the strike action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, in protest against poor remuneration, poor infrastructure and poor conditions of service, under-funding of universities, delay in the payment of the elongated salary structure amongst others.
“These and other sundry issues will be addressed when this bill is passed into law and its provisions properly implemented. We may not be able to quantify the worth of quality education in terms of its impact on the individual, family, and nation. But there is no gainsaying the fact that without quality education, a nation has no future.”
Expectedly, a handful of Ogun’s colleagues criticised the bill, stressing that the contemplated restriction amounted to an infringement on the rights of the affected children.
They also insisted that not all government officials sponsor their children’s education in foreign schools with public funds.
“The proposal offends the fundamental human right, which guarantees freedom of movement, Representative Chinyere Igwe said, adding that “most public officers that send their children to school abroad don’t do that with public funds. I also don’t agree that is the reason the educational system in Nigeria is failing. I urge him to withdraw the bill.”
“It is against the constitution in terms of discrimination. My children have the right to be educated anywhere in the world. The bill should not see the light of the day; he should just step it down,” Nicholas Ossai added.
Protests, Interventions Still Of No Consequence
AS average Nigerians continue to inconvenience themselves by mopping up available resources to send their agitated wards and children abroad to continue their education, many are stridently deploring the Federal Government’s perceived insensitivity to the plight of students, lecturers, the NUS, and indeed the entire education sector.
Depressing and unfortunate as the entire ASUU strike conundrum appears, some are of the view that neither university teachers nor the Federal Government suffers the debilitating effect of bad governance more than the undergraduate children of these average Nigerians whose academic lives have been punctuated.
Sadly, as the government gets more confounded on how to resolve the debacle, children and wards of frontline public office-holders have continued to graduate even as teenagers from western varsities.
While the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has reached out to many prominent groups and individuals, including the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to intervene and resolve the conflict, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), backed by some civil society organisations and students, recently organised a nationwide solidarity protest in support of the university teachers.
However, while Tinubu said that he shed tears that students were at home, instead of school, he pledged to intervene in the lingering strike and facilitate a quick resolution of the matter.
“I am assuring you that we are not going to use the back door, because our leader, Buhari, has shown his lamentation and as a result of that has left the door open for our intervention,” the former Lagos State governor said.
But quickly, the umbrella organisation of Nigerian youths, the Nigerian Youth Union (NYU), noted with dismay, Tinubu’s promise to intervene in the prolonged strike, describing it as a mockery of the situation.
NYU President, Comrade Chinonso Obasi, in a statement, said: “It was with great pain and revulsion that we, the Nigerian Youth Union received that mockery of a promise from no less a political merchant than Bola Tinubu.”
He alleged that Tinubu’s offer to mediate amounted to political gimmicks and playing to the gallery.
Buhari’s Two-week Ultimatum Notwithstanding, Status Quo Remains
AFTER asking Nigerians to prevail on university lecturers that are their friends to return to work for the sake of undergraduates, President Muhammadu Buhari’s half-hearted attempt to resolve the ASUU impasse, also saw him on July 19, directing the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, to resolve the prolonged strike and report back to him in two weeks.
But like most other ultimatums of his, appointees ignore them without consequences.
A former media aide to Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, Salihu Tanko Yakasai, agrees with this, just as he labelled President Buhari as being “weak.”
In his reaction to the elapsed two-week ultimatum, Yakasai tweeted: “I’ve never seen a weak president like @MBuhari. He gives directives to his appointees and they ignore them without consequences.”
Yakasai added: “He gave two weeks ultimatum for ASUU strike to be resolved, nobody took him seriously and the time has elapsed. Shamefully embarrassing to say the least!”
Ugwuoke Nnamdi, a parent and an economist is in sync with the view of Ganduje’s former aide. He insists that Buhari is not only weak, but insensitive to the plight of the led.
His words: “How a president manages to keep around non-performing aides/appointees is what beats me hollow. The world already knew that Education Minister, Adamu Adamu is Buhari’s long-time friend. But after failing to discharge his duties in the ministry credibly, he should have been relieved a long time ago. But what do we have, a minister that is still in office and unconcerned about the plight of university students? We also have a minister that is now ignoring his principal’s ultimatum the same way that a former inspector general ignored Buhari’s directive and heavens did not fall. Having said that, there must be a way of getting public officers to commit to educating their children at home. This will force them to perfect the country’s education system.”
Shedding light on what transpired within the two-week ultimatum given to the education minister, by Buhari to resolve the university teachers’ strike, ASUU told The Guardian that it never had any formal communication from the minister.
The union, which accused the Federal Government of not taking it seriously, hence the prolonged industrial action, however, restated its determination to return to work immediately after its demands are met.
“As far as ASUU is concerned, the strike can end tomorrow, as we have finished the negotiations. Let the Federal Government call us tonight that we should come tomorrow and sign the agreement, we will be there,” ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke said.
But in responding to claims that things have gone downhill very fast under Adamu, and that the ministry has remained largely incommunicado while the ultimatum lasted, the Director, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Mr Ben Goong, claimed that the minister held talks with the leadership of the union last Tuesday.
“The minister met with ASUU on Tuesday August 2, at the ministry. He even, out of his simple nature, saw leaders of the union off and personally opened the door of the bus they came with for them to enter. It is really out of place for ASUU to say that the minister is yet to officially reach out to them after the directive by the president. I am telling you this as an eyewitness, he met with them on Tuesday.”
Goong further claimed that the president did not issue an ultimatum, but that at a meeting with the president, Adamu requested to take over negotiations with ASUU, promising to achieve results within two to three weeks.
He explained that the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the president, Garba Shehu, had clarified that, “during the meeting, the Minister of Education requested that the Minister of Labour hands off the negotiation to allow him (Adamu) lead and conclude what he started earlier on with the ASUU.”
Politicians’ Children In Smooth Sail Abroad
AMONG politically exposed persons (PEPs), ranging from councillors in local councils to the president, it has become something akin to a status symbol to send their kids abroad to acquire high-quality education.
Indeed, high-quality education abroad, including in the UK, the United States, and Canada is an expensive purchase desired by many, but unaffordable for most Nigerians.
But for the political elite, it is also a family tradition and a sought-after means of passing down their family’s preeminent social, political, and economic status from generation to generation.
In 2016, Aljazeera’s Dennis Martine asked President Muhammadu Buhari why his children were schooling abroad, and not in Nigerian universities, he responded thus: “Because I can afford it.”
A review of publicly available data on past and serving senior Nigerian politicians that have held office since the return of democracy in 1999 revealed that most of them have sent one or more of their children to private boarding schools and/or universities abroad.
During this period, for example, virtually all presidents, and vice presidents followed this unfortunate tradition.
About half of current and former state governors have also sent their children to school in the United Kingdom.
A thorough scrutiny of current and former senators, members of the House of Representatives, ministers, top military officers, and other senior government officials would almost certainly throw up hundreds of additional examples of PEPs whose children attended foreign schools, especially American and British schools.
Mathew T. Page, in “West African Elites’ Spending on UK Schools and Universities: A Closer Look,” which he authored revealed that, “West African students are a modest, but growing share of the British international education market —a sector that UK policymakers hope to expand post-Brexit.
“As of 2016, the export value of UK universities was £13.4 billion. Independent primary and secondary schools collectively brought in £930 million from overseas students—a 48 per cent increase over 2010.
The document further explained that the UK government’s 2019 International Education Strategy aims to increase that contribution further by increasing international student numbers by 30 per cent and upping the sector’s value to £35 billion by 2030. The strategy specifically mentions Nigeria as a UK education market opportunity, noting that “the demand for skills across Africa is significant and we must ensure that UK providers are in the best position to play a competitive role in meeting that demand.”
Since the return of democracy, elected officials, from both the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) frequently brag on social media by posting images of their kids graduating from these pricey universities. Fees in these institutions range from N10m to N17m per session, or £22, 460 to £39, 150.
Five of the eight children of President Buhari were schooled in top UK. varsities, including Buckingham University, and University of Surrey. Buhari’s youngest daughter, Aisha Hanan Buhari Jnr, in 2019 graduated with a first class degree in photography. Earlier on, Zahrah and Yusuf, graduated from the University of Surrey, United Kingdom.
The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, is also included. When his son Fiyinfunoluwa graduated from Warwick University, the photographs were out there on social media. Earlier on, his first daughter, Damilola, bagged a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, United States.
The PDP presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who owns the American University of Nigeria (AUN) in Yola, Adamawa State, 2016, celebrated the graduation of his daughter from a foreign university.
Contrary to claims by many politicians, including lawmaker, Representative Chinyere Igwe, that “most public officers that send their children to school abroad don’t do that with public funds,” just as he added that politicians sending their children abroad were not responsible for the failing educational system in Nigeria, experts have argued that the quest for foreign degrees by the children of politicians could handicap the country’s socioeconomic development, by enabling capital flight, amplifying foreign exchange and currency pressures, and reinforcing educational disparities.
A former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who also served as governor of Kwara State, celebrated the graduation of his son from the London School of Economics, just as a former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, ranks top as one political elite whose children earned degrees from abroad.
The governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, who prides himself as a reformer, came under fire from Nigerians when he announced his daughter’s graduation from a foreign university.
The immediate past Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, who gave “free” education to all Imo indigenes in the state’s owned university, did not send his son there for his degree, but to universities abroad.
One of his sons, Amen graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from American University at Southern Methodist University Dallas Texas USA.
Obinna Amaechi, the son of the ex-Rivers State governor and immediate past Minster for Transport, Rotimi Ameachi, recently graduated from Simon Fraser University, Canada.
Obinna was joined at the institution, by his father for the convocation on June 13, 2022.
Nyesom Wike, Amaechi’s successor was also in a joyous mood, last month when his son, Jordan Nyesom-Wike, graduated from the University of Exeter, in the United Kingdom.
Jordan graduated with Second Class Honours, Upper Division in law, and his family members, as well as governors Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, and his Abia State counterpart, Okezie Ikpeazu, were on hand to celebrate the dude.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) recently criticised politicians for showing off their children that are studying abroad, while the ASUU strike lingers for months.
While presenting a letter of complaint to the leadership of the National Assembly recently, the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, decried that children of the less privileged were denied quality education in Nigeria.
“No reason is good enough for the children of the working class and the poor to be at home for one day, whereas their (political elite) children are graduating from Nigerian private universities and abroad. They have the audacity to post them on social media so that we can see,” he said.
He said the Federal Government must do the needful to respond effectively and promptly to resolve the issues affecting the education system.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), also recently called on the National Assembly to enact a law that would stop government officials from sending their children abroad to study.
ASUU President, Osodeke who made the call, said that government officials must be compelled to enroll their children in Nigerian universities.
According to him, making it compulsory for public office holders to enroll their wards in public schools in the country would force them to fix the challenges in public schools.
Osodeke said, “We are hoping that the government will make it mandatory that if you accept any government appointment, your children must attend universities in Nigeria.
“The National Assembly must formulate a law that if you take an appointment, your children must study in the country. If you know that your children cannot be here, then there should be no need to accept government appointments.”
On its part, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) said that for the recurring industrial actions by ASUU to end, politicians and government officials must be banned from sending their children to foreign and private universities.
HURIWA described the quick resort to strike by ASUU as “lazy and irrational” since its members can as well adopt other proactive and constructive alternatives to strikes like publicising the schools and names of children of Nigerian public office holders schooling in Western Europe, Canada, and the United States.
HURIWA National Coordinator Emmanuel Onwubiko, in a statement on Wednesday, emphasised that until the children of public officers have no educational alternatives both at home and abroad, the perennial strike by public university lecturers won’t be earnestly resolved by those in power.