Political leaders in this part of the globe rarely seek or listen to candid pieces of advice. Most times, they take decisions or copy others especially the developed countries. There used to be a president in this country who once said that, he didn’t need advice from those paid as advisers. Therefore, to advise a ruling government in Africa on good governance, rule of law or how to spend the country’s resources for the good of the citizens from outside the government cycle seems more like having a conversation with a deaf. More so, if the ‘so-called’ adviser is doing so from shores miles away from the country in question, the advice is most likely to blow in the wind until it becomes a moonlight tale for younger generation. However, the twist and turn of events surrounding the outbreak of coronavirus have made governments across the world to focus more critically on two major areas, education and health.
In this regard, the statement the other day by Abebe Selassie, director of African Department (AFR) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who, while presenting the Sub-Saharan African regional Economic Outlook in a virtual meeting of the IMF/World Bank in Washington counseled Nigeria and by extension the ruling government to deploy the 3.5 billion USD emergency loan being processed for the country to strengthen infrastructure in health and education sectors respectively. Indeed, the advice is not only timely but cogent and one a listening government would not hesitate to embrace. This is not because it is coming from such an organisation like IMF, but, by historical facts. Education is the soul of a nation and the key to its secure future. Even as a solid foundation in the health sector will benefit the country in countless ways. Of course, the saying that a healthy nation is a wealthy nation is not an imagination but a fact. The hard earned tax payer’s money that African leaders squander on medical tourism abroad would be channeled to other meaningful projects if the healthcare sector is well funded and equipped. However, seeking education in Nigeria, for its own sake is a great pleasure. This is because one would find more than enough of the unknown to engage an entire lifetime in researching and breaking records in scientific findings. But the disappointment one confronts on the journey to enlighten and ventilate the mind and be educated in Nigeria is telling. You will be surprised to find fetters of bottleneck as you encounter hurdles created by no other than the government of the day. One of such hurdles is the federal government continued nonchalant attitude towards education and the constant face-off between government and university teachers that usually results in a strike.
At the moment, the federal government is marooned on a fantasy Island believing that Nigerian university lecturers under the auspices of their umbrella body, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) will call off its current strike just because it chickened out by releasing lecturers withheld salaries over ASUU’s rejection of the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS) among other unfulfilled demands. Over the years, ASUU has been using strike to demand improved salaries and general welfare, better funding for all university programmes and activities, including the equipment of laboratories, and libraries. Also, among the demands is that a greater percentage of the annual budget should be appropriated to universities. Of course, these issues are by no means new to the comity of nations talk less of any stakeholder in the Nigerian education sector. This is because they have always featured in the numerous demands and grievances of the university teachers for decades. Although the call for emergency on education and health is not new, the matter appears to have gathered fresh momentum in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. On their part, the IMF gave the advice perhaps with the fore knowledge that the nation’s educational and healthcare sectors are in grave dangers and need urgent funding to meet up with international standard. It is by no means certain that such gesture will improve facilities in both sectors and help the nation in its research for the vaccine to fight the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic and other related diseases.
Perhaps in a bid to save face and make people have negative perspective of ASUU, the ruling government chose to compare the crisis in the nation’s education sector with that of advanced countries. Ignoring the fact that in advanced industrial societies the government always fund institutions and draws support from their pool of scientists to address any health issue or pandemic challenges such as the world is currently experiencing with COVID-19. But in Nigeria according to ASUU’s president, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, “It is Nigeria that will look up to them. China will not look up to Nigeria to ask for health workers to assist them…all the Chinese doctors they sent to us to address the challenges of COVID-19 are products of a university system”.
So far, the ASUU and federal government brouhaha has been a cross between a farce and pander feast. Since the ASUU strike began, the damage done to the education sector has been disastrous and mind-boggling. To avoid further downturn and devastating effect on the education sector and by extension the nation both sides need to compromise. But for that to happen, the federal government and particularly the minister of education must have a positive rethink, turn over a new leaf and humanely do the needful to rescue education. Again, to paraphrase professor Ogunyemi who said, “To address the challenges in other sectors, you need a functional university education, not these mechanical approaches to the universities…and government policy of tokenism”. It is unfortunate that the ruling government needs to be reminded that education and health are key sectors in the life of a nation. Therefore, they require adequate funding without any hue and cry from stakeholders in the sectors. It seems obvious to point out that the federal government will have to first purge itself from self deceit, bogus spending and flamboyant life style. Even as we hope that the ruling government would listen and use the IMF loan to uplift education and health respectively. However, it is important to point out to the Buhari administration that before the 2019 elections, it wholeheartedly distributed funds tagged “trader-moni” with fanfare to market women and men from a foreign advice as condition to return of looted funds. If one may ask, did President Buhari listen to that advice to score cheap political point and win the peoples heart to vote his government on second term? Anyway, one hopes that Buhari would not drag his feet but hearken to the IMF’s advice and act decisively to achieve the best for Nigerians and etch his name in gold.