“What pains me is that, our politicians, top civil servants, traditional rulers, etc attended public school”
From ADESINA OLANREWAJU, Ibadan
If you happen to come across an elderly man weeping, take another look at him very well. He is likely to be Prof. Tam David-West, renowned professor of Virology, one-time Commissioner of Education in old Rivers State, Nigeria’s former Minister of Petroleum and Energy and later, of Mines, Power and Steel.
He is weeping for our bastardized education system. Recently, the Education Review ran into him literally weeping (going by the sound of his tearful voice), on a podium somewhere at the University of Ibadan, on the current strike embarked upon, nationwide, by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a strike which has paralysed academic activities across university campuses and caused great setback in our academic calendar.
We asked the man whose interventionist stance/actions are well-known and well-documented in our nation’s political history, why he was weeping. His answer:
“Government (Federal, State and local) in Nigeria today operates anti-poor policies and they are not bothered about public education,” he said. “Funding of public education is not given the proper priority it deserves because the children of those in government and their friends are being trained in private schools in Nigeria and abroad with looted public funds.
Nigerians must know that the politicians, top civil servants, traditional rulers and their cronies of contractors and patrons were beneficiaries of public education. Also some of them set up private schools and universities in Nigeria and abroad with looted fund from public coffers. That is why none of their children are in any public school in Nigeria. This explains why they are not bothered when public primary, secondary and tertiary institutions are shut.”
State of the nation
On hearing this, you felt like offering him your handkerchief to wipe his tears with. “For the first time, we have graduates at the helm of government but it has not brought a change and development to the state of the nation, he remarked. This shows that it is not the degree that makes you a good leader but the lives you are able to affect positively.
I’ve made a calculation of how much government spends on education. Although they voted 25%, they do not spend up to 10% every year of the resources allocated for education.”
Cry, cry for your beloved country, you seem to hear him say as he adds. “Around the world today, Nigeria spends the least on education but we spend the most on salaries of lawmakers. My brother, Ebele Jonathan, has 10 jets. What bothers me is, if this country is good, it is good for all of us. Our children should be better than us. Federal government illegally spends eight trillion naira every year on themselves.
The Fashola connection
“If we do not invest on education, the country is finished; we are rated as one of the poorest in education around the world. For the Finance Minister to say Federal government cannot pay the money they willing signed with ASUU, that sounds rude and shameful to the country.
When President Obasanjo engaged Okonjo-Iweala and she was paid in dollars, she was not sorry for the economy at that time. I see no reason why any lawmaker should earn more than a professor. As things stand today, a Nigerian senator can employ President Barack Obama four times.
But the best policies are the policies directed at the masses. We have the lowest minimum wage among all the countries of the world, yet Nigerian government cannot pay the N18,000 minimum wage.
“The case of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State is the most striking example. He enjoyed free tuition at the University of Benin, without which he would not have been educated.
Yet the same Governor Fashola turned Lagos State University (LASU) into a high cost fee paying university from N25,000 to N320,000, thereby throwing children of the poor who voted for him and who his government has refused to pay the N18,000 minimum wage, out of university education.
The new crusade
“It is time for Nigerians to rise up and defend their right. ASUU is fighting a noble cause. ASUU says improve education. I mean, this is the most responsible crusade everybody should support. Only a vagabond government toils with education and we must not allow a vagabond government in this country.”
All these have, obviously, combined to make David-West a very bitter man today. In his bitterness, he thinks not only about the cause of the strike but its colossal costs.
“The implication of all these strikes is disruption in academic calendars, falling standards of education at all levels, a high level of general insecurity and a bleak future for the current generation and the Nigerian Child,” he notes. “How many nations of the world could afford to have its universities closed for about 50 days? You consider the budgetary allocation of some countries of Africa like Ghana 31%, Cote D’Ivoire 30%, Uganda 27%, South Africa 25.5%, Swaziland 24.6%, Kenya 23%, Bostwana 19%, Morocco 17.7%, Lesotho 17% and Tunisia 17%. With Nigeria’s 8.43%, we are the lowest and this is not a sign of responsibility. This is why we say Nigerian government is not responsible enough. The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch without doing anything.”
The way forward
As the short chat comes to an end, you ask him the way forward. “Government appointees should have their children attend public schools in Nigeria,” he said. “Governments in Nigeria must fund education in line with international standard of 26% and make education tuition-free at all levels.
Funding education adequately means the repair and building of new infrastructures (classrooms with audio-visuals, furniture, hostel, electricity, water etc) in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions and the provisions of up-to-date facilities. Using stove to carry out experiments in the laboratory instead of Bunsen burner is not conducive for learning.”