by Abdulwaheed Musa
There is no better predictor of a nation’s future than what is happening in its classrooms. A country’s success depends largely on the knowledge, skills and competencies of its citizens. It is therefore not surprising that countries with higher education levels seem to enjoy greater economic prosperity and national development. Education inspires creativity and fosters innovation. It provides the youth with necessary skills required for favourable competition in the labour market.
Against this premise, developed and committed developing countries do have education blueprint that provides a comprehensive plan for a rapid and sustainable transformation of their education systems. Unfortunately, we cannot boast of this in our country.
Recall that my colleagues in the Universities have only recently gone back to the classrooms after a prolonged strike action. The whole essence was to let the Government show some level of serious and continued commitment to education. Polytechnic lecturers are yet to call off the industrial action embarked upon for nearly a year now.
As a comrade, former student leader/President and ultimately a patriot, I am compelled to lend my voice to the ongoing students’ struggle against school fees increment introduced in Lagos State University and other Universities currently under similar conditions. At the moment and within the confines of my herculean engagements outside the shore of Nigeria, I believe there is no better way to show solidarity and exhibit camaraderie from my end.
Furthermore, I’m favourably disposed to meaningfully contributing to the development having experienced and led a similar struggle in the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State in 2006. Since this piece is not about what transpired during that time, I’ll like to go straight to the point.
Lagos State Government recently increased the school fees of its University from N25, 000 to N250, 000. Out of the over 15,000 Lagos State University (LASU) students, this unpopular action has forced over 1,000 of the students to drop out. This is according to the President of LASU SUG, Comrade Yusuf Nurudeen.
A popular saying has it that ‘if you think education is expensive, then you can try illiteracy’. Apparently, illiteracy is not an option. Education, all over the world, is no doubt expensive. However, what governments of seriously minded countries do is to make access to education very affordable and in some cases, free through strategic planning, well integrated policy and implementable systems. It requires the collective efforts of different sections of the country. They are, however, usually planned, encouraged and coordinated by the Government.
In such places varieties of scholarships are granted to very good students by the Government and University authorities. President’s Award, Rector’s/VC’s Scholarship, Niche–Area Scholarship, (Post)graduate Assistantship etc. Resources are pulled together for sponsorship of less privilege students. Endowments are created and funds are made available for other categories of students. Furthermore, loans and similar facilities of nearly zero percent interest rate are made available to be taken by parents and/or the students. Repayment is made easy: monthly deduction from the parents’ salaries or repayment after graduation by the students since they are, in some cases, job secured or getting a job is almost a certainty.
Philanthropists, well-meaning individuals, companies and corporate bodies are also not left out of arranging funds and grants to students. Even the religious bodies; churches and mosques also have roles to play. Sadly, our churches do not falter in tithe collection but care less or not even care at all about helping others. Most mosques don’t even have any organized way of wealth collection and distribution, even though the Quran is unambiguous on institutionalization of zakat, its collection and endowment.
While I don’t hold the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Fashola wholly responsible for why we do not have the above highlighted working schemes and systems in our country, I hold Mr Fashola responsible for not thinking it through before he smashed such unrealistic and frivolous fees on the LASU students. I fault him for not showing enough concern about how he expects the students to actually come out of this and pay such increased fees. Abi, how else do we explain why the government is charging as high as N250, 000 for University education in a state where the minimum wage is only a paltry N18,000?
No doubt, the Governor can sway some people in his attempts to justify the hike. But I consider this as way of putting the cart before the horse. What kind of infrastructure are on LASU campuses? What is the condition of the Lecture Halls, class rooms and the Laboratories? I am sure they are nothing short of the decayed types that characterize every Nigerian Universities. We need to see the commitment on the part of the state before such fees can be deemed necessary.
What is the percentage of the annual budgetary allocation to education in the state? Has it matched the UNESCO’s 26% recommendation or not? In any case, is the budget being creditably implemented? Are the students seeing all such on the ground? Not until when Oga Fashola has been able to wet the ground with all the aforementioned, his hike move will continue to raise dust in the midst of students and their parents.
In his N489.7 billion budget estimate for 2014 presentation, the budget details revealed that Education only has N77.4 billion, representing 15.8 percent of the budget estimate. UNESCO didn’t just recommend the 26% from the blues. It is in cognizance of what it takes to give education sector the desired and deserved attention. So, Lagos State Government and of course, others need to stem the tides.
Unless this issue is wholly and holistically looked into, cases of outrageous hike in school fees will likely continue. That way, students will always react and protest and incessant closure of our citadels of learning will never seize to end; thereby compounding the problems of the already battered education sector.
I genuinely share the agony of LASU Students. I canvass for and support all forms of non-violent struggle geared towards making our Governments at all levels to do what is right and quite very imminent.
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