Where Common Sense is Not Common – By Olusegun Adeniyi
There is this story of a hardworking man who as usual arrived home from work very late to meet his young son in the sitting room waiting for him. “Why are you not asleep?” the man asked as he slumped on the sofa, tired. “I was waiting for you because I have not seen you in several days,” the boy replied before he asked with childlike
innocence, “Daddy, how much do you earn per hour?”
Irritated by the question, the man barked at his son to go and sleep but after a while, he realised he was too hard on the boy and felt remorseful so he went to his son’s room and met the boy still awake. “I am sorry son but I never meant to be hard on you. As to how much I earn per hour, I guess it would be about a thousand naira if one does a rough calculation. Are you happy now that I have answered your strange question?”
“Yes daddy,” replied the boy “but can you give me six hundred naira?”
The man was again baffled. He, however, decided to play along but as he handed over the money, the boy brought out from under his pillow some other crumpled naira notes and the man was infuriated again. “If you already have money why did you ask for more?”
The boy calmly straightened the notes and said “because it was not enough but now it is. Daddy, with this one thousand naira, can I buy one hour of your time?”
The moral of the question is that most often, we leave the most critical things unattended to as we run the rat-race of life. But as it is with individuals so it is with nations and nothing sums up that better than the way we place our priorities in Nigeria. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of the fifth month that students of our public universities have been out of their campuses following the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Yet I have not seen the same passion we devote to the politics of 2015 and the sundry scandals that have now defined public service in our country in the feeble attempts to resolve the logjam. To compound the problem, the supervising Minister of Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, was reported to have said last week: “the federal government is very concerned about the state of public tertiary institutions in this country. The federal government is really worried about the ongoing strike by ASUU and the strike would be resolved in a few months.”
The import of that statement is that a resolution to the crisis in our public university system is not expected in a matter of days or weeks but rather in “a few months.” How do we build a secure future for our children, and by implication, our country, with such cynical disposition to education, which ordinarily is the bedrock of every society?
Albert Hirschman’s book “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty” deals with how people negatively respond to failing institutions and the thesis captures the attitude of Nigerians to our public utilities and social services. Rather than fix the problems, our people would rather exit but it is a short-sighted approach that has serious implications for everyone. In the case of the education sector, for instance, the problem started from the primary school and then secondary school until we are now in a situation in which the desire of every parent is to send his/her children to universities abroad (including Ghana, Togo and Republic of Benin) or have them attend one of the elite private universities at home. But this approach to governance comes with serious consequences.
Nigerians like to talk about corruption and by all means we should–given its damage to our economy and national psyche. But what is often ignored is that we can easily link the reason why many people are on the take to our poor governance culture. Let’s look at it this way: if public utilities like electricity, water etc. are not working and everybody has to dig his/her own borehole and buy his/her own generator, the money for such expenditures would have to come from somewhere. The same goes for education. From primary to secondary and now tertiary institutions, most Nigerians would rather have their children and wards in private schools since the public schools can no longer deliver good education. So tragic is the situation that I in fact know many lecturers in our public universities, including respected professors, whose children attend private universities in this same country.
As I noted in a recent intervention on this page titled “ASUU and the Nigerian Dilemma”, the crisis in our public education system demands that we hold honest conversations about so many issues, including the state of infrastructure, curriculum models, instructional methods, staffing policies as well as available educational resources in terms of libraries, laboratories etc. and whether the current regime of free tuition can realistically be sustained. The challenge is so fundamental that even if some form of truce is achieved with ASUU in the coming days or weeks or “a few months”, I don’t believe that would give us any tangible result either in the short or long run. That is because there are also serious integrity issues which would require more than throwing some humongous sums of money at ASUU to resolve.
If there is indeed anything that exposes the extent of decay in our educational system, it is the damning report of the Presidential Visitation Panel to the troubled University of Abuja. The report reveals that the university was producing graduates that in fact never completed their degree programmes and 31 of such cases were identified in the 2003/2004 academic session. From admission racket to poor examination results record keeping to suspicious computation of students’ Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA), the report is indicative of how not to run a university. But we will be deceiving ourselves to assume that the well-documented lapses are peculiar to the University of Abuja—they are not!
However, anybody who has read the report would weep for what education has become in our country. For instance, on the admission process at the university, the panel report states: “Only the first 60 per cent of admissions adhered to the JAMB admission categories of merit, catchment and EDLS to a large extent, while there was no evidence of how the balance of 40 per cent was done except for staff and some concessional requests from outside the university. Nonetheless, the 40 per cent often exceeded the numerical value of the earlier 60 per cent as the final figure often exceeded by a large percentage, the carrying capacity of the university. It would be safe to say that the second-tier admission exercise for a so called 40 per cent violated JAMB guidelines in every aspect…”
For sure, the challenge of public education system is not restricted to our country, it is a global problem. But the difference between our country and other societies is that people don’t just fold their arms or resort to escapism. They confront the problem head-on. We deceive ourselves to imagine that as a nation, we can wobble and fumble our ways into the future. Therefore, it is time we rally to resolve the ASUU crisis so that our students can go back to their campuses. After that, we can then begin a serious conversation about public education in Nigeria.