Adamu Muhammad Hamid
The article ‘How to Make This the Last ASUU Strike’ attributed to Professor Farooq Kperogi gathered and prospered on social media platforms last week. I stumbled upon it on one of the WhatsApp groups I belong to and figured out that Farooq Kperogi actually authored it through his voiceprints of diction, style and eloquence which were all over the write-up. So you could figure out he was the writer even without having to read the byline of the article!
The piece was an attempt by the professor to suggest a lasting solution to the lingering abysmal of a strike that has ravaged Nigeria’s tertiary education sector, particularly the public university. I agreed with the professor’s diagnosis of the condition but disagreed with his treatment prescription because, in my estimation, he did not take into account certain prognoses. In his diagnosis of the problem he mentioned successive governments’ serial failure to sincerely honour agreements with ASUU; he said, “governments are too irresponsible, too indifferent to the future of our youth, and too unconcerned about public education to fund public universities and compensate public university teachers to the degree that ASUU demands- and that basic standard requires”. This description of the condition is apt. So he suggested the introduction of increased tuition fees as a solution.
The arguments pushed forward in the piece substantially hinged on theoretical (hardly practical) propositions philosophized in the article by a former vice-chancellor in Nigeria’s public university sector, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, and a BBC Hausa service interview of a former vice chancellor of the Federal University of Technology of Minna, Professor Tukur Sa’ad. Kperogi also made reference to a professor’s analogy, whose name he said he couldn’t remember. In fact myself, I have listened to Professor Sa’ad’s Arguments on the BBC program.
As I said, I disagreed with all these former VCs and the professor whose name was not mentioned by Kperogi. Let me begin with a dissection of the professor’s arguments. He said those who benefitted from free education have now come of age and should be able to pay more as tuition to sustain the system that produced them. Though Kperogi himself debunked some of the assumptions of this argument, he left out one big flaw in the argument. The professor assumed that all those who are now interested in public university education for their children must have gone through the free education of the 70s up to the 80s. I tell you millions of such parents were not opportune to attend it.. So how would the system have made them come of age now? According to the article, the professor went on to make an analogy that most people who enjoyed free education in those past times now pay way more money to educate their children in private primary and secondary schools than they do to send their children to public universities. This argument, on a surface level, looks true but is flawed and faulty for category mistake fallacy. If one compares the intellectual, infrastructural and equipment resources required to run a university to that which are required to successfully run a secondary school, there will be no two-way concluding that the tuition fees regime expected for those universities would be afforded by only a few parents in Nigeria. This is even in addition to government subvention. Farooq and I know the meaning of introducing partial funding of public universities through tuition fees; of course, it means an introduction of gradual withdrawal of the government from funding public universities and transferring it to parents. So it’s easier for me to understand Farooq calling for the privatization of public universities, pure and simple!
The two former VCs are of the opinion that tuition fees can solve the problem of the lingering ASUU strike. Particularly Professor Sa’ad recounted his experience of successfully managing FUT Minna after his governing council approved the introduction of higher tuition fees for him. The policy helped him to get out of funding difficulties and he was able to leave more than N1b in the coffers of the institution at the end of his tenure. Put together, another professor is also of the view that ASUU has a communist philosophy but is operating in a capitalist society. I have the opinion that, if one takes the objective of mass education for the Nigerian nation seriously, then one would have to discount all these arguments; the higher the tuition fee in public universities, the less opportunity is there for the commoners to take their children there.
In the article, he cited examples of how ‘sin tax’ and the system of tuition supported the university system in the US. But the professor should have balanced his arguments by also giving examples of countries like Germany, Netherlands, Brazil, Denmark and Finland, which provide free university education for their citizens. This is so that there would be no excuse for not educating citizens. Professor Ogunbodede was surprised that he paid N90 for hostel accommodation in the 70s at the University of Ife and the price is still the same now in the 20s; invariably suggesting, despite changes in inflation rate and prices of goods and services, the price of accommodation has not changed. To me, this would be the very legitimizing fact for the struggle of ASUU: doggedness to make tertiary education affordable to all categories of people in the country. Again, this also means that the university system is the only one that remains responsive to the circumstance of the common people. I kept wondering how the common people of Nigeria would understand Kperogi and these professor’s suggestion for introducing higher tuition to meet public universities’ funding in a country committing a quarter of its budget to its National Assembly members, and if a wife of a state governor was to travel 100km, nothing less than N30m was spent from public monies. These arguments, though appearing sound to those wearing capitalist lenses, are hardly taken seriously.
I am aware that some countries in Southeast Asia have public universities which are more expensive than their private universities But such countries as Malaysia are way different from Nigeria. Malaysian educational policy goes beyond its citizens to target international customers. And in Malaysia, there is a robust economic system such that all citizens can afford food, shelter, transport, healthcare and university education. Tuition in Malaysian public universities does not discriminate against any citizen. The case is not the same in Nigeria.
Some of the solutions marshalled out by the article that the tuition fees to be introduced should be of the tier system, segregating students who enrolled from private schools to pay much higher (because their parents afforded private secondary schools for them) than those who came from public secondary schools. Part of the solutions also proffered was for there to be dedicated funds for brilliant but poor students. For these suggestions, I think Professor Kperogi can be excused if the way he reasons was affected largely by environmental factors- he rose through the ranks to a professorship in American society, which has one of the most developed systems. But for the two former VCs this reasoning cannot be excused because, as former professors and VCs they should know the Nigerian society better than the rest of us. Any attempt to segregate certificates from private schools and those from public schools would mean ministry and secondary school officials who can facilitate students’ transfer from private schools to public schools at SS 3, have a greater fortune to be rich. SS 3 level would experience a massive exodus of students to public schools, and some parents could just pay their ways for their sons and daughters to sit exams in public schools. This is one! And the idea of creating a Fund for brilliant but poor students is excellent in ideal societies, and I know it worked in many places, but let me recount one of my experiences so you might understand my apprehensions. I am aware of a state in Nigeria in which one of its past governors heeded to a genuine idea of establishing a school for only orphans of less privileged families. His government spent handsomely on the care of the feeding and schooling of the children. The children are fed on diets not afforded by the best private schools around. Now as years went by, I was authoritatively informed that permanent secretaries and high government officials declare their own biological children as orphans and take them to school. So in a country that operates this way what would be the metrics for determining actually brilliant children who are poor?
In the article under review, Professor Kperogi justified the idea of higher tuition fees because it has the propensity of actualizing the much-yearned autonomy for universities, which would ensure each university operates independently, thereby leaving each university to sort it out with its council. Literally in the Nigerian context, this means while some universities would manage to operate, many others would spend years on strike because of the insensitivity of councils. This again would mean the end of ASUU, since ASUU would hold together for as long as it is one union struggling for common goals. Those who are conversant with how universities are run know how much the managements spend whenever the council is visiting. The hypothesis here is if such councils are aware that a lot has been generated by a university through tuition fees, the councils would now have a bigger prey.
There is also this magical idea by the article that it’s not reasonable, because of disparities in living expenses across different locations, to pay the same salary for professors working in universities in Lagos and Abuja and those operating in universities in rural Nigeria. The article suggested autonomy of universities would help them to pay according to the living costs of the city and its operation. To me, this also is a wrong analogy. The better suggestion would have been for the government to raise the salary of these intellectuals to make it possible for all of them to operate even in the cities with the costliest living expenses. Moreover, though living expense is one of the considerations in pay, it’s not the major one. Intellectual and training requirements of tasks and their complexity are mainly the basic considerations. So, is the intellectual requirement needed for teaching students in Lagos different from those of Gashua?
Conversely, I totally agree with the article’s suggestion for a pay rise for lectures that are intellectually more productive and pedagogically more innovative. Though the systemic competition to filter the better ones would be a way difficult one, it is achievable even in universities with affordable tuition for the common man.
That many Nigerians and I respect Professor Kperogi’s intellectualism and down-to-earth investigations to reveal the truth, given our situation of successive near to fail governments and government insensitivity to the masses’ conditions and aspirations, I would rather he strikes the nail on the head. We have a moribund civil society which does not care no matter how bad governance is handled. Civil society was reticent when the former CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, now Sanusi II revealed that a quarter of Nigeria’s budget goes to the National Assembly. This is while the public education and health sectors remain comatose. Civil society was indifferent and looked away when public universities remained closed for 8 months because of the ASUU strike, as though all was well. Kperogi must rise to the occasion by calling on civil society to wake from slumber by taking the struggle of ASUU to another level. They must insist our laws and systems prohibit anyone in government as a politician or civil servant from taking their children abroad for tertiary education. Private entrepreneurs can take theirs to Yale University, University of California, Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford, or any university most expensive anywhere. At least nobody nurses doubt the source of wealth for people like Dangote, at least no one can claim they milked the government to take their children abroad for studies. Private people whose children are already abroad schooling and who now happen to occupy any political office must not take their next child abroad even after leaving office. Please do the maths to compare what people in government spend yearly for their children’s schooling abroad with what ASUU is requesting for the betterment of public universities to accommodate the children of the common man. When the nonsense with us stops, tuition fees can raise to better the system.