What exactly is the motive behind this rally?
The rally you are witnessing today is just the kick-off because it is a struggle that is meant to spread across the country. We are determined to shut down the country until the current government accords education its rightful priority. You need to access the latest NEEDS assessment report of public and private universities to appreciate the depth of the rot in the nation’s education system. So, for us in JAF it is a straight campaign to save public education. Now Nigeria is battling with insecurity but we all know that insecurity is caused by the absence of social welfare and good education. Thus, when you have an irresponsible government in place, a pressure group like JAF will force it to be responsible because, public funds must be used for public good.
But it is said that the rot in the sector wasn’t started by the current administration; don’t you think government should be given more time to address those issues?
The UNESCO has set a 26 percent set standard for education across countries of the world and it may surprise you to know that Ghana operates at 31 percent while South Africa earmarks about 38 percent of its budget for education. Why is Nigeria different? What we currently have is a paltry eight percent. You see? This Jonathan Presidency is the most irresponsible. To show how irresponsible the current government is, ASUU has been on strike for about six weeks and this government has not deemed it fit to hearken to the union’s demands.
But as I have said before, this protest is not about ASUU and ASUP or the college of education union, it is about the totality of Nigerian education sector. Most of the requests being demanded by ASUU are not new but are products of two years’ consistent struggle championed by the union which lasted between 2007 and 2009. You will remember that there was one Jonathan committee sometime in 2009 when the late Yar’adua went on medical trip either to Saudi Arabia or Germany. You will remember that nothing actually came out of it until the late president came back and personally took charge of the committee. It was the outcome of that effort that gave birth to what ASUU is demanding now.
Many Nigerians are concerned that incessant ASUU strikes have done more harm to the sector and are asking ASUU to adopt an alternative dispute resolution method?
It is clear that lecturers in tertiary institutions can go on strike for many weeks and months without government being bothered. Of course we are not surprised because alot of people in governments, either at federal, state or local government have unfettered access to the treasury. This made them and some of their friends to set up private schools at all levels of government. We know what their children are doing with the stolen money because they can afford the fees for the schools. And they are not bothered about the children of the poor who are attending public schools. Ironically many of those in government today are products of public schools.
So for how long do you hope to press government on this?
We have other rallies slated for different zones of the country. We are to be in Kano next week. Thereafter we will head to Owerri as well as Abuja among other places. And after succeeding with such awareness rallies, then the nation can witness mass protest that will force the government to pay adequate attention to the education sector.
Do you think with the wave of insecurity in some parts of the country, Nigeria will be able to cope with nationwide rallies?
Will the issue of Boko Haram and the militancy have been there if government had properly invested in the education sector? I just can’t understand it that the budget for security this year alone is about N1.8 trillion. Imagine if such amount is spent on the education sector, I mean at all levels – primary, secondary schools, Colleges of Education, polytechnics and universities.
What we are doing now really is to sensitise the populace. When the education of Nigeria was good, we had Akinola Aguda who went all the way to become the Chief Judge of Botswana. Today, we are inviting Israelis and all sorts of people to come and run our economy for us. Where do we go from here?