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Dr R. A. Olatoye
Published August 23rd, 2009

Having watched with keen interest the drama that is unfolding since ASUU strike commenced three months ago, I, also being a stakeholder cannot but make few comments. The strike has no doubt almost paralyzed the higher education system. I estimate about two million students and university staff who are in active and productive stage of their lives are at home. The already tight and narrow gate to the ivory tower with limited space is made tighter and narrower as the queue of qualified candidates seeking admission gets longer at the university beautiful-but-narrow gate. I donít think posterity will forgive sycophants who benefit from such stalemate. Many of our active youths are now probably engaging in prostitution, armed robbery, militancy and internet scam. What a paradox for a nation that is giving amnesty to repentant militants.

The handwriting is already on the wall for discerning souls. Those who cannot see the heavy cloud can hear the sound of torrential rainfall and those who cannot hear can see the cloud and feel the cold. Like a patient under excessive influence of anesthesia, the public primary schools have fallen into a state of unconsciousness not even responsive to the needs and taste of many illiterate parents. As if this anesthesia has a contagious effect, public secondary schools caught it and also fell into a state of coma. In no time, like the spread of a wild fire at the peak of harmattan period, the anesthetic effect also caught the most senior patient, the higher education system. Who on earth could have administered this dose of anesthesia that makes our educational system to be in the present state of slumber? If this long state of unconsciousness eventually translates into death, it may be a sort of vicarious death for the survival of the healthy brother, I mean the private universities. Perhaps some of the doctors that administered this excessive dose have some interest in these private universities.

I am still finding it difficult to understand why a country that sells an estimate of 2 million barrel of crude oil per day at the present rate of at least $ 65 per barren cannot finance health and education sector more than she is presently doing. Oil export accounts for more than 80% of our income. At the rate of N150 per dollar, $65 is N9, 750. Now multiply N9,750 by 2 million. This is an estimate of N19.5 billion naira every day! What do you get in a year? I know the government is very faithful to the comparatively few political office holders as they go home every month smiling and wishing their tenure will never lapse. The money that should be spread out to pay millions of workers has been raked to satisfy the privileged few. Citizens, like a helpless hen watching her chicken being clutched under the cruel claws of a hawk in the sky earnestly wait for their deliverance. Who is our Messiah? Who will deliver parents who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant amount being charged in the elite private universities? Parents watch their children every morning brush their teeth, eat and sleep with no where to go.

I partially agree with the Federal Government position that it can not be forced or compelled to sign agreement on behalf of the State Government. I agree partially because when it comes to accreditation, the National University Commission set up by the Federal Government is involved using uniform criteria for both Federal and State universities. Federal Government does not see anything wrong in this neither does it see anything wrong with Joint Admission and Matriculation Examination Board conducting the same entrance examination for candidates seeking admission into all universities. But when it comes to responsibility, the Federal Government does not want to take a lead. What then is the way forward? An illustration came to my mind. Signing of marriage register in the registry shows that a couple has married legally and officially. But strictly speaking, many marriages had ended up in divorce though, the marriage register was signed. I now conclude, marriage is more than signing an agreement, it requires commitment of those involved. It is better Federal Government still refuses to sign an agreement it knows will not be honored later. The effect of deception is incessant strikes in no distant future.

I think this problem requires holistic solution. It is better this strike still lingers for the next few weeks if a permanent solution will be sought and found. Of course, there is need for compromise on both sides (ASUU and FG), but there must be sincerity and commitment to a path of progress before areas of compromise can be negotiated. Then we have a win-win negotiation in the interest of the nation especially our teeming youths. When five banks were in distress about two months ago, the CBN governor took initiatives to bail them out with a loan of N420 billion naira. The Federal Government would not mind dipping hands into the excess crude oil account to raise money to ensure generation of 6,000 megawatts of electricity by December, 2009. The State and Local Governments were carried along. Why canít the same thing be done for education which is the bedrock of sustainable national development? After all, whatís sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.

There is no better time than this for education minister, Dr Sam Egwu to call a solemn assembly. Call the ASUU and FG negotiating team back for discussion. Practically speaking, governing council members alone cannot negotiate if governors and concerned commissioners are absent. Let all the state governors, their finance and education commissioners be in attendance. Let representatives of governing council from each Federal and State university be in attendance. The ministers of labour and productivity and his counterparts in Finance ministry are expected to be present. The members of the senate committee on education should be invited. I will be happy if our beloved vice president will find time out of his tight schedule to participate or at least declare the assembly open. He should also be there with the secretary to the Federal Government to represent the presidency. Letís also invite our experienced fathers and mothers to advise us; eminent citizens like Professor Babs Fafunwa, Prof. E. A. Yoloye, Prof. PAI Obanya, Yakubu Gowon, Emeka Anyaoku, Zulu Gambari and many others. The meeting can last for two or three days. If each state sponsors its representatives, the amount this meeting will cost the Federal Ministry of Education to host should not be too much to bear.

What should form the agenda of the meeting? I want to give suggestions, Dr Egwu can add or delete. Issues like funding and cost sharing, role of ETF, curriculum reform, ICT use, brain drain syndrome, public-private sector participation in education, staff quality, lack of space for qualified candidates seeking university admission, infrastructure decay, integrity and accountability in the sector and social vices in our tertiary institutions to mention a few should be discussed. There may be provision for public hearing during the assembly. Recognized bodies like parentsí and studentsí associations should be given opportunity to make their inputs.

On a final note I want to appeal to ASUU and FG, letís stop grandstanding. Where two elephants fight, the grasses do not only suffer, they may die prematurely. Letís channel a path of progress by calling a solemn assembly. At a point during the solemn meeting let there be compromise on both sides if possible and where necessary. Let there be sincerity and truth during and after this solemn assembly.

Dr R. A. Olatoye wrote from Institute of Education, Olabisi Onabanjo, University, Ago-Iwoye through 


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