A students’ body, Alliance of Nigerian Students Against Neo-Liberal Attacks (ANSA), has called on the Federal Government to stop the commodification of education and honor the 2013 agreement it reached with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The body also called for improved funding of the country’s education sector and an end to government hostility to free speech.
ANSA’s position was made known in a statement jointly signed by Messrs. Sanyaolu Juwon, Adeyeye Olorunfemi and Oseriemen Patrick, National Coordinator, National Secretary and National Public Relations Officer respectively.
The group argued that the commercialization of education is deliberately targeted at putting education beyond the reach of the poor and ridding the government of its responsibility of funding education.
“It is the general agreement of government at all levels to intentionally underfund education and you can observe from their respective demeaning demeanor towards the education sector. The statements credited to governors like Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State in January and Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State in February 2017, in which both took a very hostile position against education funding, are more than enough evidence,” ANSA stated.
The students’ body also drew attention to Kogi State, where tertiary institutions have been shut for months, as well as Oyo and Osun states, where academic activities at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology in Ogbomosho have been hobbled because of the inability of the two state governments to provide adequate funding despite receiving tranches of Paris Club Refund from the Federal Government.
ANSA argued that the Muhammadu Buhari administration is as hostile to the education sector and as its predecessors. It noted that the administration allocated over N1.1trillion to service 17,300 public officers and another N125billion for refreshments for 469 members of the National Assembly, but allocated a measly N50billion as capital intervention to the education sector. The students’ body branded the Buhari administration as a self-serving one, saying the President spent over N10billion for medical treatment abroad. It equally reasoned that the government destroyed the country’s public health institutions by underfunding, arguing that the medical bills incurred by the President was enough to build five top-tier hospitals in the country. “Unfortunately, the amount budgeted as capital fund for health and education (N51 and N50billion) is N25billion less than the amount budgeted to provide refreshments for National Assembly members. These people destroy public services with the hope that they can always seek solace in oversea services since they have stolen public money,” raged ANSA.
The body also criticized the allocation of 6.3% of the total budget to education, pointing out that it falls way below the UNESCO-prescribed minimum of 26% of total budgetary allocation for developing countries.
ANSA declared its support for the ongoing industrial action embarked by ASUU, blaming it on the government’s failure to honor the agreement it freely entered in to. The group insisted that the task of funding education remains the exclusive responsibility of government and on that basis, called on the Federal Government to immediately honour its agreement with ASUU.
“Recall that the union, in 2013, embarked on similar strike action to demand a fulfillment of the agreement the government signed with it in 2009. The strike, which lasted six months, eventually got government into a voluntary agreement with ASUU on 11 December 2013. The agreement contained very crucial chapters aside those of the stepwise payment of owed earned allowances. It also consisted of modalities for the immediate payment of N1.3trillion for the purpose of urgent revitalization of the lopsided and failing structures of government-owned universities,” recalled ANSA.
The sum of N1.3trillion, ANSA equally recalled, is supposed to be paid in installments over a six-year period. The students’ body said the N200 billion, paid in 2014, has been the last and only payment made by the government.
The refusal of the government to adequately intervene, noted ANSA, is responsible for the decrepit infrastructure in various institutions in the country.
“The libraries are either inadequate or contain books relevant only to the middle ages. Conditions of living and learning are terribly backward, with hostels trying too hard to meet the standards of some of Nigeria’s best prisons. Attempts by vibrant and courageous unions to battle this ignoble menace has always been met with stiff resistance by vindictive administrators of tertiary institutions,” said the group. It noted that protests over campus decrepitude got the authorities of the University of Lagos to rusticate 11 members of the institution’s students’ union. Two of such, Adeyeye Olorunfemi and Mohammed Olaniyan, still remain rusticated.
The group also accused university vice chancellors, polytechnic rectors and provosts of assisting the government to execute an agenda of commercialization of education through extortionate hikes in school fees. The body noted the victims also include six final year students of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, who were expelled for protesting draconic policies.
Most recently at the Federal College of Education, Akoka, Lagos, ANSA noted, students of the institution provided very robust opposition to hike in school fees and succeeded in getting an 80% downward review. Not unexpectedly, the management of the institution set up a vindictive panel, which recommended the expulsion of student activists, including the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Public Relations Officer of the Students’ Union.
Another source of displeasure for ANSA is the decision of government to muzzle free expression, especially through monitoring of anti-government posts on social media. This, said the group, is aimed at intimidating the populace into silence.