The gloomy reality, whose scenario, people and groups particularly the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), have been painting for a while is gradually crystallising – either Nigerians like it or not – considering past and current governments’ policies among which is the recent signing of a bill into law to establish a Students Loan Fund (SLF) to provide interest-free loans to Nigerians seeking higher education. We will not dwell on SLF’s merits/demerits since a lot has been said about them. However, it must be said that the unavailable, never-meant-to-be-available and deliberately-designed-to-fail SLF scheme – with a failed foundational progenitor traced to 1972 – is a smokescreen for more enablement of those managing Nigeria’s public universities to increase fees, therein. For clarity, we are not talking about “school fees” here. This ‘breakfast’ will still come! The ‘cooks’ in the ‘kitchen’ are very busy with it! Succinctly, Nigerian governments are increasingly clearly disinterested in funding public education in an under-developing country! Public universities are gradually being privatised through the backdoor! It is as simple as that! We really pity the deplorable conditions of Nigerian public universities and precarious situations ‘good’ university administrators will have to contend with owing to this ‘privatisation’ policy!
Political bigots, many with slavish bigotry, are arguing that it is too early to criticise the new governments; that is their opinion but we agree with Abdul-Ganiyu “Gani” Oyesola Fawehinmi (1938–2009) who told us that activists should not only talk when things are bad but also when they appear ‘good’ so that those in charge do not loose ‘good’ focus. We are aware, and agree, that involving in public commentary is not necessarily about popularity contests. That realm is not for a tea party! Stating it as is can attract pointless backlash from political attack dogs! Knowing this will give peace of mind to a public commentator. Get us right; we adore those with constructive and productive criticisms. Knowledge acquisition may be used for self-first but should not be strictly for self-alone because no matter the latent and active efforts you put into acquiring it (knowledge), your genes were inherited from some ancestors. The genes (and environment) are not yours! They are communal! Certainly, there are trade secrets that need to be paid for, but even so, any knowledge that does not contribute to the advancement of humanity is at best useless! These might be part of the reasons why the capitalist countries of this world structured their economies in ways that eventually disallow a few from holding their countries perpetually hostage.
Back to issues generated by SLF. We are surprised that some parents and students are now complaining about the new fee regimes being dished out by public universities. This is closing the stable door after the horse has bolted! It is not coming to some of us as a surprise! We have alerted the public, concerning this, in the past! We know of persons saying that increased fees in public universities will banish industrial disputes into oblivion! We are excitedly waiting to see this come true! Are some students not the ones asking “who school epp?” Are they not saying “school na scam”? Were they not the ones insulting their lecturers in the social media during trade disputes between government/university management and ASUU? Were some corrupted students’ representative bodies not the ones collaborating with tyrants to sabotage ASUU’s struggles? These are struggles that always take care of students’ interests! Did National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria not “…..propose the payment…..per session for each parent to assist government in making more funds available for universities?” Why the groaning? Why complain?
We know of vice-chancellors, members of university councils and management teams that discreetly and blatantly disparaged ASUU’s struggles as needless restiveness. We are now asking them in pidgin: how market? The aforesaid are some reasons a number of ASUU members are now reasoning that their union should henceforth focus only on their welfare. This reasoning is understandable but has its pitfalls already well-identified by enemies – within and outside public universities! Undoubtedly, demands for improvement of workers’ welfare is important and should be part of what to be placed on the front-burner; but (as academics/scholars) this should always be strategically done with tactical analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to immediate, short- and long-term goals. For instance, there are academic courses (relevant for national development) that will loose patronage as admission into public higher educational institutions will be driven by the ability to pay! What happens to such courses? Your guess is as good as ours! By the time Nigerians realise the importance of such courses, it may be so late that the country may end up depending on expensive expatriates! We should be very careful today!
In other words – for those saying ASUU should focus only on their welfare – watch your back because you may eventually end up not having a justifiable platform to negotiate this same welfare in future if the plans of the earlier-mentioned enemies succeed! Those guys are smart and believe they are smarter than academics! We will not talk too much on this. We expect lecturers especially those that are still ‘young’ in the system to use their tongue to count their teeth! We rest our case! Irrespective of criticisms, ASUU will not abandon the stakeholders in public universities. Therefore, everyone should wake up and support all efforts aimed at fighting ‘sharks’ that are obviously advantageously positioned to consume Nigeria’s public universities! Concerning the unavailable and never-meant-to-be-available SLF whose criteria for accessing has, ab initio, disqualified almost, if not, all poor students, it is clear that federal government’s main target is, plainly, increment of fees in tertiary educational institutions. Unfortunately, this will lead to mass dropout of those who cannot pay in “…..a country where the staggering population of out-of-school children – especially in northern Nigeria – is already a threat to future developmental potentials!” The people in government do not appear to care about negative implications of this on national security!
Fees increase in public universities justifies all governments’ never-ending irresponsibility of inadequate funding of public education. It has been governments’ wish to shirk this non-justiciable constitutionally-supported responsibility! What is government, really, for in this part of the world? We regret to inform those (especially the poor) who still allow themselves to be deluded with the elusive illusion called SLF, that it only exists in the (fertile) imagination of those who designed the deception! If you are expecting SLF to be of benefit to the poor, we are telling you in pidgin that “una just dey play”! Get serious! To be sure that we know what we are talking about, listen to Nigeria’s current president’s Special Adviser on Policy Coordination (who admitted that she had not read the Act setting up SLF). She said that “…..the provision of the students loan scheme, if people see it as not meant for the poor, well, it is meant for someone, and someone will benefit. It may not be for the poor, but there is a whole huge bracket of Nigerians that will benefit from it. And that is what matters…..” Did she communicate? Yes, we think so!
Analysing the above-quoted comments and stating our understanding, we believe that the designers of SLF know that it will eventually not be available, so they crafted criteria stating almost unattainable conditions (for the poor) that will definitely lead to its inaccessibility! Simple! Critical analysis of the criteria for accessing this SLF, by the discerning, will reveal that NOBODY is actually qualified for the loan! The reality on ground does not support any good thing coming out, from this SLF, for the poor people! It is the same white elephant project! This is a road Nigeria has traversed in the past! The story has not changed and will not change anytime soon! The only difference, this time, is that the intelligence and technology to be deplored in vandalising this scheme by the same people in government (and their cronies) have significantly improved! Education is an inalienable right! This is well recognised by forward-looking people bearing in mind that there are those that may not need university education to be ‘successful’ since ‘success’ is relative! University education may not be for the educationally unqualified but its inaccessibility, by brilliant students, should not be given space to occur, solely, for being indigents!
Erakhrumen currently teaches at the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.