By John Ekundayo
“. . . Will the state and federal government continue to fund education while the universities remain at the apron strings of governments … It has been this weapon of strike … How far has it taken our educational system? How has our educational system fared? ASUU should stand down on this and see this as the realistic time to begin to talk about autonomy of our universities.” (sic) – Dr. John Ekundayo, TVC News, 27th August 2022 (available on YouTube)
Samuel Ekundayo was just completing his first degree in a United Kingdom (UK) university. The whole programme was run in Singapore. The degree awarded was as though he attended the university in the main campus in the UK. It was done in record time! As he was concluding his first degree in Engineering Business Management, he applied for his master’s degree in Knowledge Management in the Singapore Government owned Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. It was supposed to be a one-year programme. He was offered admission. This columnist, his father, was counting months, and was surprised when Samuel mooted his writing of the final examination. It was just into the 10th month of the programme! In essence, he concluded the programme before the end of the 11th month!! Hungering for more, he was offered a PhD admission in Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand, to read and research about Information Communication Systems in 2009. He completed his PhD in 2012. It would be intriguing and interesting to state that Samuel Ekundayo left the shores of Nigeria in April 2006. He left after completing 2 sessions out of a 5-year mechanical engineering programme at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Nigeria. It is unsettling and appalling to state that his classmates that he left behind at LAUTECH were about graduating from the 1st degree programme while Samuel Ekundayo had completed his PhD in New Zealand. Figuratively, that is the peril of attending a public university in Nigeria: it is a seeming life waster of some sort! Any other option for parents and guardians who could not afford private university or overseas education? This columnist, being a missionary in Singapore, at that time, facilitated Samuel Ekundayo’s story for there was no way for me and my wife as his parents to have required resources to afford the cost of his education.
As the dust is settling on the calling off of the nagging and hurting strike embarked upon by members of embattled Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), definitely there are “lessons learnt” in the whole saga that going forward should be a sad reminder to all stakeholders concerned in the protracted imbroglio that it was reproving route not to be treaded again: no, not in the future!
Gbajabiamila: Shining Like Stars, But …
It was regrettable and shameful that the duo of the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu; and Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, failed to dutifully and sagaciously address the lecturers’ grouse with the government. It was an apparent ego boosting that the citizens could perceive throughout the 8 months of the lecturers’ intransigence. This was more discernible taking cognizance of the apparent playing the ostrich role of the Minister of Labour and Employment. It was turning into a campaign issue that the opposition was already using against the ruling party, yet a sitting minister and politician was indifferent to the chances of his party melting before his very eyes! Possibly he needs to be asked pointedly: where does Dr. Chris Ngige belongs or on whose side is he standing? Any wonder, in his interview on “Politics Today” on Channels TV he was taciturn in endorsing the APC flag bearer in the February 2023 presidential election, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Can anything good come out from Nazareth? This was the initial reaction of many Nigerians when the Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, waded into the seemingly intractable imbroglio between ASUU and the Federal Government. However, in empathetically and painstakingly listening to the embattled lecturers, he and his colleagues at the green chamber were able to amplify their grouse through to the top echelon of government at the centre. It was an upbeat Gbajabiamila that first of all hinted the nation that there would be light at the end of the tunnel. It was on record that many believed to the contrary as similar interventions had somersaulted earlier. In a jiffy, the coast was cleared for ASUU to call off the strike and the Federal Government too adjusted the incalcitrant position of “no work, no pay” rule that the Minister of Labour and Employment exploited and explored to poison the minds of the lecturers whilst unduly prolonging the strike. As at the time of going to the press, universities have started announcing the resumption dates with the benignly beleaguered and battered students elated to be back on the campuses after almost a session of unwarranted cessation from learning. It is commendable on the part of the Honourable Speaker and his men even as the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Waba, valued this mediatory role of the parliamentarians. Is it yet Uhuru? This columnist does not think so.
Education Stakeholders: Agenda Setting for Autonomy is imperative!
Without being told, ASUU should know that the country is tired of playing the strike option to show discontentment to the government’s non-conforming or non-compliance to mutual agreement. Whilst this columnist is not holding brief or defending the government, it is high time for all major stakeholders in tertiary education to put heads together and discard the hitherto awkward, antiquated and atavistic arrangement of our universities depending on government subventions to service these tertiary institutions. It is high time our universities ran autonomously: whether owned by state or federal government. This is the practice in developed and sane climes and countries. This is why there is no occasion for lecturers and administrators in such institutions downing tools. In essence, universities’ calendars are strictly adhered to and students pass out as scheduled with qualitative cum didactic impartation. What is the approach to be employed to realize this? The stakeholders should come together under an umbrella and exploit the window opened by the leaders of the National Assembly in resolving the apparently intractable infraction of the eight-month strike. This time around, advocating for realistic autonomy of the universities: whether owned and operated by states or federal government. The dialogue, discourse and debate should commence in earnest so that the incoming government by May 2023 will sooner or later not find herself enmeshed or entangled with similar or sorer strike. However, the governments – state and federal – should be sincere and be ready to let go of the aprons’ strings of these institutions. There could be a transition window from partial autonomy to full autonomy which should be mutually agreed upon. This could span from two to three years. At the attainment of full autonomy, each university should source for its funding for all cases: academic, research, administrative and sundry expenses. Equally, each institution should dictate what fees to be paid by categories of students and simultaneously determine what it would pay her staff. Going this route will give room for creativity and innovation as it is the norm in the running of universities in developed climes and countries. This way, the expected pathway of honour for our universities characteristically exhibiting and exemplifying the cherished gown, crown and town decorous demeanour will be positively perceived and achieved. I am looking forward to a time, similar to the story of Samuel Ekundayo shared at the outset of this essay, when an Ade or Chukwu or Musa will commence and conclude a UK degree in partnership with a Nigeria university or alternatively earned a double degree joining the two universities at it is the norm in developed climes and countries. This is what inculcation of full autonomy would address and bequeath. It is doable!
Ekundayo, Ph.D. can be reached via 08155262360 (SMS only) and [email protected]