Given the obvious reality of neglect of the education sector by the managers of state, as evident in the non implementation of the UNESCO recommended 26% of annual budgetary provision as minimum allocation to the education sector by successive government’s at both federal and state levels, the absence of welfare packages, including attractive remuneration to compensate appropriately for the critical role of teachers, the unattractive learning environment with its perennial ugly outlook of dilapidating physical infrastructure; it would not be preposterous to postulate that Nigeria could be heading towards a precipice. How very sad!
Although government, especially the Federal Government (FG), has continually defended its position on the premise that it has placed education on the concurrent legislative list and that besides its annual budgetary allocation to the sector, some of its agencies, the UBEC and ETF especially, play critical funding roles in the nation’s education sector, the fact remains that such interventions remain grossly inadequate: no thanks to the quantum leap in the nation’s population which has given rise to a teaming youth population hence the high subscription for formal education. Even at that, the need for compliance with the 26% of total annual budgetary allocation recommended by UNESCO has been underscored when the Etsu Nupe Commission recommended 30% and a former Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, while speaking at the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, in recent time, canvassed for 28% as minimum if education should assume its rightful place as the fulcrum of development.
In spite of these calls and recommendations to ginger governments to act to galvanize the education sector, it is quite pathetic to note that the various governments have maintained their abysmal allocation of less than 15% of annual total budgetary provision to the education sector for over a decade.
As we speak, only a handful of States have reasonably committed themselves to the uplift of education through laudable policy initiatives. Quite unwittingly, a good number of state governments have exacerbated the problem of the sector in their respective states through the non implementation of staff welfare packages negotiated between the FG and the Unions, as most of them usually have their academic staff who toil selflessly to train the nation’s manpower more poorly remunerated than their colleagues in the federal institutions, as if they are para-academics.
On the issue of the attitude of political leadership to education, the situation is more alarming in the College of Education system. Saddled with the responsibility of middle-level teacher training, it is the least subscribed by prospective seekers of higher education due to the obvious absence of incentives and very poor remuneration. Another pathetic situation could be observed on the issue of the FG determination to increase access to degree education, as evident in the recent pronouncement by the Minister of Education that four Federal Colleges of Education would be converted to universities of education. Laudable as the initiative is, it is obvious that some critical issues have not been taken cognizance of: i.e. the issue of spread for easy accessibility by the teaming Nigerian youths, the political expediency in siting of federal institutions which ensures that the various interest are catered for and very importantly the issue of the status of staff of the affected institutions. In more specific terms, available guideline from the NUC indicates that 70% of the academic staff shall be composed of associate professors and professors (40% and 30% respectively) what then becomes of the academic staff of these institutions? Given what is known of the programmes of colleges of education, which train teachers in specific teaching subjects some of which are not offered in conventional universities, would it not be more appropriate to borrow a leaf from the recommendations of the defunct Presidential Technical Committee on Consolidation of Tertiary Institutions, especially on Term of Reference no. 9, part of which corroborate the 1999 Yabani Report on Repositioning Higher Education in Nigeria, to simply equip colleges of education, selected from the geo-political zones, and upgrade them to autonomous degree-awarding institutions in their core teaching subjects. Afterall some of these colleges are eminently qualified and have been awarding degrees in affiliation with universities for decades.
Also it is necessary to draw attention to the issue of legislation. In this regard, the review of the appropriate law on the status of the colleges by the FG need address the critical areas of highlighted in the foregoing, among others. In similar vein, it is expedient to mention the case of the Federal Capital Territory College of Education. Since its establishment, neither the politicians nor the bureaucrats have seen the need to enact the enabling law. The Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) which oversees the college, unlike most states of the federation, deserves commendation for the provision of physical infrastructure in the FCT College of Education, Zuba. However, at this point in time when the current National Assembly (NASS) graciously passed the bill for the Establishment Act of the institution in July this year, the FCDA, quite unmindful of the implication of not concluding the process before the current NASS winds up, is still groping with the harmonization process. Definitely, the situation cannot be allowed to continue.
In the light of the foregoing, the new initiative being canvassed by the Joint Education Stakeholders’ Action Coalition, JESAC, is not just a necessity but an imperative option to address the obvious inattention to the education sector. A coalition of all national trade unions in the education sector, the JESAC seeks to explore the political avenue to provide lasting solutions to the myriad of problems that beset the education industry by identifying education-friendly transformational political leadership at all levels and mobilizing the support of the teaming members of the collaborating organizations across the country for the victory of such leadership in elective or appointive positions. Being coordinated by the CEO of Exam Ethics International, Chief Ike Onyechere, MFR, the body hopes to realize its dreams of evolving practical solution to the problems at the source. Invariably, observers are keen to posit that such would assist in curtailing the seemingly incessant strike actions of staff of the education institutions, particularly should the political leadership live up to expectation.
Nuhu is the Vice President of Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) & Chairman North Central Zone of the union
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