•A look at the education sector under his administration in the past year
By Sam Otti
As you look at the cover photograph on this page, we could guess the question going on in your mind: is President Muhammadu Buhari also among the prophets? Is he among university eggheads that are distinguished from lesser intellectual mortals by academic gowns? If he is not, why is he then dressed in one? And, why is he being addressed as a doctor?
Lest we forget, he, along with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State and Aliko Dangote were, last December, conferred with honorary degrees (honoris causa) by the Kaduna State University (KASU), at its convocation. The President himself was conferred with honorary doctorate degree, an honour which was, afterward, mired in controversy as it was said to run contrary to the decision of the Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU), of which KASU VC, Prof. William Barnabas, is a member and signatory, “not to honour with honorary degree anybody holding political office (elected or appointed) while such officers are still in service.”
Next to this reason was the argument that Kaduna State University was not competent or qualified to award honorary doctorate degree to anybody. “A university shall not award honorary degrees if it has not graduated any PhD or has no postgraduate school or programme,” National Universities Commission (NUC) which listed 22 of 40 state universities as having approval to run masters and PhD programmes, noted in its website. KASU, which was established about 10 years ago, is not among the 22 listed state universities.
Controversy aside, by virtue of that conferment, the President qualifies to be called a doctor. Before he rode to power last year with the mantra of change, his promise to turn around the critical infrastructures in the country was applauded in every region. Among those critical sectors is education that was rumoured would get a huge allocation in the 2016 Budget.
But when it was all over, out of the N6.06 trillion earmarked for 2016 Budget, Interior Ministry got N513.65 billion, Power, Works and Housing N456.93 billion, Defence N443.07 billion, while N403.16 billion was allocated to Education sector.
Even before the passage and signing of the budget, tongues had been wagging that the education sector suffered a drop in allocation. For instance, N306.3bn was allotted to the sector in 2011, N400.15bn in 2012, N426.53bn in 2013, N493bn in 2014, N492bn in 2015, but N403.16bn in 2016. Critics argue that Nigeria’s most important sector remains under-funded, as the appropriated sum would not reverse its festering rot.
From University Back to College of Education
Buhari sets sail on stormy water when he downgraded four colleges of education that were earlier upgraded to university status by his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. The affected colleges were Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo; Federal College of Education, Kano; Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri; and Federal College of Education, Zaria.
A letter from Mrs. H.U. Abdullahi, Acting Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Education, obviously acting on the orders of the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, and addressed to each of the provosts of the affected colleges made it clear that the conversion, from College of Education to Federal University of Education “has been put on hold. By a copy of this letter you are directed to revert the institution to its original status.”
In its reaction to the frustrating development, the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, blasted the federal government for keeping the upgrading of the college in limbo while the Imo House of Assembly passed a resolution asking the same federal government not to revert Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, to its former status. It further mandated the state governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha to meet with the President, Muhammadu Buhari, and the Federal Ministry of Education to exhaustively discuss the matter at a higher level. But at the end, nothing came out of the efforts.
A statement issued by the Public Relations Officer of COEASU, Adeyemi College of Education, Dr. Olaniyan Olaoluwa noted that “it is saddening that up till this moment, Adeyemi College of Education and the other upgraded colleges are still in limbo, pertaining to reversal of their upgrading as universities, which was put on hold since 2015.
“While the sheer enormity of financial and sundry realities of transformation of the four Colleges of Education into full-fledged universities is not opaque, it is believed that enough time has passed for proper reconsideration and planning, for effective take-off of the upgraded institutions.
“Such an action would be a crystal clear indication of the government’s seriousness to pursue its manifesto on Universal Basic Education vigorously, bearing in mind that quality teachers produced in the upgraded universities of education would facilitate accomplishment of this laudable goal.”
Protests erupted at the Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, deriding the FG decision to abort its university status. The Executive Secretary of National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), Prof. Joshua Monday, who made government position known in Owerri, warned staff and students, who have been resisting the downgrading of the institution, to have a rethink.
“The decision to revert the four Colleges of Education that were upgraded to Universities of Education by the last federal administration to their former status, was not influenced by any person or group of persons within or outside the colleges, but was taken by the President in his wisdom”, he said.
No Forex for Overseas-based Nigerian Students
The anger over the downgrading of the institutions was yet to subside when 13 Vice Chancellors of the Goodluck Jonathan-established federal universities, had their appointments terminated by the federal government, an action that inflamed tension in the sector. He was to stir more hornet’s nest when he noted in a television interview with Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based but world influential Arab TV station, that Nigerian students studying abroad will no longer be given foreign exchange, a move which has seen the wards and their parents going through intense suffering, with some resorting to buying from the neighbouring Ghana.
“Those who can afford foreign education for their children can go ahead but Nigeria cannot afford to allocate foreign exchange for those who decide to train their children outside the country,” the President said in the interview. “We can’t just afford it. That is the true situation we are in.”
Six New Universities Coming
But efforts to increase access to university education got a boost when the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu on Tuesday, May 10, 2016, disclosing that President Buhari would establish six new Universities of Science and Technology in the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. In addition, there would be new technical schools in each state of the federation, as well as vocational centres at the wards and local government levels.
His words: “You know, we have a problem of access; if you look at it last year, millions of canidates sat for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) but, only a few were offered admission.”
The Minister added: “We still need to build more universities to create more space for those who want to get in. The fact that the six new universities are being created for science and technology underscores the decision by the government to put more emphasis on science. Whether we agree or not, oil has limited time before it finishes; the whole economies of the world are going towards the knowledge economy. Actually, it is the cultivation of science, technology and engineering studies that will drive the economy in the future.”’
Prof. Sherifdeen Tella, a seasoned economist and former Vice Chancellor, Crescent University, Abeokuta, is hardly impressed by the creation of new universities in the face of serious under-funding of the existing ones.
“There is nothing wise in that,” he said when Education Review sought his opinion. “The problem with our leaders is that everybody that comes in would like to do something for the record. They should build on the existing ones and see how to improve them. People will still give them the credit. I don’t see the need for new universities now. What he has to do is to find out the problems facing the existing universities and come up with ways of addressing them. Creating more universities would only add to the existing problems of the existing tertiary institutions.”
Stakeholders’ Assessments of Buhari Administration
Apart from this announcement that is yet to be actualized, which remains, at best, an expression of intention, critics say that Buhari administration has not achieved much in the growth and development of the education sector in the one year under review. They recall that he also promised to recruit in 2016, 500,000 teachers (holders of bachelors and NCE (Nigerian Certificate in Education) certificates to teach at the primary school level so as to address the chronic shortage of teachers in public schools across the country as to strengthen the quality of education being received by pupils at the basic school level.
“We also will partner with state and local governments to recruit, train and deploy 500,000 unemployed graduates and NCE holders,” he said while addressing a joint session of the National Assembly during his presentation of the 2016 budget. “These graduate teachers will be deployed to primary schools, thereby, enhancing the provision of basic education especially in our rural areas.” Critics said he is yet to fulfill the promise although they argue that it is not late for him to do so.
“I will not be in a hurry to judge this administration with the degree of high expectation we had when it was coming on board, giving the enormity of problems confronting it,” Prof. A.O.U. Onuka, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Education, University of Ibadan, noted. “With my little experience, until you get to a position, you may not fully understand the import of the requirement of the office. As such I shall give the administration some benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, while the administration has not recorded much in terms of infrastructural development, the economy, education and several other sectors, it had recorded some appreciable feats in the fight against insurgency and in the anti-corruption crusade and possibly in foreign affairs and direct foreign investment whose impact is yet to fully manifest.”
Prof. Tella agrees. “He inherited a collapsed system,” he explained. “He is trying to solve their protracted problems that had crippled the system. Although nothing concrete has been done, that does not imply that he is not working.”
The Minister of State for Education, Prof Anthony Anwukah, confirmed Tella’s observation when he said, in a chat with Education Review, that they had been operating with the budget of the past administration. He pleaded for patience from Nigerians, assuring that they would speed up performance with the 2016 budget in the coming year.