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Low Patronage May Ground Private Varsities – Abubakar

Professor Lawan Abubakar is the Coordinator, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Bauchi zone and Dean, School of Engineering, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi. In this interview with SUZAN EDEH, he spoke on issues of funding of education, sex for marks, and award of First Class grade by private universities, amongst other issues. Excerpts:

The struggle by ASUU is basically about proper funding of public education sector, what is your take on this nagging issue?

The issue of funding of public education as far as this government is concerned is nothing to talk about. This government assumed office in 2015 and has not performed better than its predecessors. ASUU’s position is that the government must fund education to the tune of 26 per cent minimum standard credited to UNESCO. Unfortunately, this government inherited 11.2 per cent allocation to education and in 2016, precisely, the government reduced it and in 2017 it came down further to 8 per cent. In 2018, it dropped again to a mere 7 per cent and we have continued to challenge the government.

As far as I am concerned, the government has failed in funding public universities appropriately in Nigeria

A school of thought has attributed the drop to the economic recession. Do you share in this sentiment?

No, we are not demanding for the entire budget of the nation to fund education. For example, last year government budgeted N6 trillion and this year it was N5 trillion because of the recession, our position is that of the N5 trillion, set aside 26 per cent of it to fund education. If it is N10 trillion, 26 per cent of it should go to education, not 11, 8, or 7 per cent.

So, it is not about the recession but about the quantum of the budget allocated to fund the education sector such that it will guarantee meaningful educational growth and development. If education is properly funded all other things will follow naturally.

In your assessment, which areas would you want the government to give immediate attention?

Any quick intervention by the government should be directed in the area of Infrastructure upgrade where public varsities are still lacking. It is so bad that students lack enough sits to take lectures. Thank God the struggle is producing results though not at the levels we envisaged.

The interventions have started coming. We did that in 2013, the government itself came up with the NEEDS Assessment, an on the spot assessment and quantification of required funding for intervention. Unfortunately, the government has not fulfilled its own part of the obligation. The government was supposed to fund education to the tune of N1.3 trillion for six years and in those six years, the government only released 0.2 trillion naira, while 1.1 trillion naira is still outstanding. Visit campuses of public universities you will be amazed at the level achieved with the fund released so far.

That is a pointer that should government live to its financial obligations, Universities will look different.

What is your general assessment of the education sector in Nigeria?

Education in Nigeria has come a long way really but we still have a lot to do as far as the sector is concerned. At the basic education level, people have assumed that there are no problems because of the large presence of private operators. However, the reverse is the case in the public education that has turned out to become a shadow of itself. It is also not rosy in the private sector because of the proliferation as it is considered a sector where quick money can be made.

What you find in private primary and secondary schools is an assemblage of less qualified teachers that are engaged to teach. Observant parents that have noticed the challenge have become teachers. This is because to do otherwise is to allow the child to turn out worse.

The public sector calls for more attention and I want the government to pay deliberate attention to the situation.

The problem facing education in Nigerian can be likened to a cycle of confusion. The public sector is nothing to write about while the situation in the private sector challenge is also about the engagement of unqualified teachers. What they do is to hire one or two qualified personnel as cover up while others appear to be delivering the job. The damage may not manifest immediately until the child gets to a higher institution meaning that the foundation is faulty.

What is the current situation with public universities?

The tertiary institution sector remains the only level of education that is still breathing and with a standard that we are struggling to sustain.

The public tertiary institutions can still account for a good number of qualified and best brains. Whereas the reverse is the case in the private tertiary institution sector as they are still struggling because the average Nigerian cannot afford the huge tuition.

That explains why private higher institutions are struggling as a result of low patronage, they are struggling to survive and that is where the standard of learning has been compromised.

A large number of the first class turned out by private universities is basically about patronage. Private universities are turning out too many first class graduates while the reverse is the case with public universities where very few make first class and second class grades.

All these are attempts to attract patronage but then patronage is a problem. The public tertiary institutions are still surviving because of the activities of the unions in polytechnics and universities that served as the watchdog and advocate of proper funding to ensure the standard is sustained. As it I,s funding is still a major challenge in public universities.

It is regrettable that academic activities in public universities are now handled with levity due to government lacklustre attitude to funding that has eroded the quality of learning in public institutions.

It is a dangerous development and a threat to education in Nigeria because it may lead to a collapse of the system if care is not taken.

Comparatively, where do we stand in global rating?

Honestly, our universities are better than schools in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Sudan and other places where our students are running to for admission simply because they cannot cope with the high learning standard locally and within a short period they return with fanciful classes of degrees.

So, really something is wrong with the standard as is evident when they seek employment locally. As a Dean and member of the appointment and promotions committee at the University, there are pieces of evidence of poor performance by graduates with degrees from outside Nigeria. Graduates from Nigerians universities perform better than their counterparts trained in Malaysia and other places.

Really, the standard is not as bad as it is being portrayed. Recently, I received a report from an Oil and Gas company about the superlative performance of a second class graduate of ATBU. Even our third class graduates are doing well in industries.

So, the standard here is even better when you compare with the much-touted standard in such Universities.

The deployment of academics for election purposes has not brought sanity into the polity as some are alleged to collect bribes and doing the bidding of the government. What is your take on this?

Well, our polity really is a little bit challenging. It is still politics of money but it used to be worse than what obtains presently. INEC in 2011 approached university lecturers to assist in election duties through the platform of ASUU. We mobilised our members in 2011 and participated in the election. The aftermath was not encouraging. Thus, a decision was taken never to participate in INEC organised elections. Our politicians are not yet ready for free, fair and credible elections, our politicians are absolutely not ready for that.

What could be responsible for professors doing the bidding of politicians considering their status?

Some of the politicians may not see it as a dirty job, for most of them; the professors are just returning officers. The results of an election that took place elsewhere are only submitted to the professors for the announcement. That is, they are responsible for collating the outcome. They may not have participated at the polling units, but to me, they should know that what happened at the polling is a reflection of the result from such polling units. If you are just a collating officer, it is the result that comes before you that will be added up and announced.

What about corruption at the ivory tower?

There are mechanisms now in place for monitoring that and I must commend the government of the day. If we use the money in the universities to check all the leakages, the society will be better off.

What message do you have for politicians?

The message for politicians is that they should know that time is changing and Justice is catching up with all electoral misdeeds or electoral irregularities because the reforms are real.

To our colleagues, our lecturers, follow the ASUU principles of election duties, use your discretion, use your judgments and if you feel that you cannot be in control when you participate, the best is to leave it.

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