Northern Nigerian Breaking News

SCORECARD: Has Nigeria’s education sector fared well under Mamman, Sununu’s leadership?

By Mojeed Alabi and Qosim Suleiman  

It is already one year since Bola Tinubu was inaugurated as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, marking the beginning of a four-year tenure of office after the two-term tenure of his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari.

While Mr Buhari, a fellow member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), had his manifesto anchored on his “change” mantra, Mr Tinubu christened his campaign promises “renewed hope”, pledging a turnaround of the country’s socio-economic fortunes for the good of the people.

As a former governor of Nigeria’s densely populated commercial nerve centre, Mr Tinubu has always been particular about talent and human capital development, which he planned to achieve through reforms in the education sector, according to his manifesto.

However, one year after he assumed office, observers say the president has gotten many things wrong in the sector.

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Mr Tinubu appointed a former Director-General of the Nigerian Law School, Tahir Mamman, as the Education Minister, and Yusuf Sununu, an obstetrician, and gynaecologist, as minister of state.

Some educationists accuse the ministers of giving the wrong advice to the president leading to problems such as the “arbitrary” dissolution of governing councils of tertiary institutions and agencies under the education ministry and the increase in fees across academic institutions.

READ ALSO: Tinubu makes fresh appointments 

“For instance, you can imagine that many agencies, including the National Universities Commission (NUC), are without substantive heads, and this has been limiting the decision-making capacities of their acting heads,” a university lecturer, Usman Bala, told PREMIUM TIMES.

Appointment of ministers

According to those familiar with the development of the president’s manifesto for the education sector, it was believed that Mr Tinubu would break the ministry into two units – one for higher education, and the other to oversee basic and secondary education. They had anticipated that “core educationists” who are familiar with the procedures and processes of the sector would be appointed as ministers.

Some educationists who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES suggested that Mr Mamman does not have a full understanding of the sector.

A retired official of the NUC, Nigeria’s universities’ regulatory agency, who does not want to be quoted, accused Mr Mamman of flouting admission regulations while he was the vice-chancellor of Baze University – a private university in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

“Being a lecturer, or a former DG of Nigerian Law School is not enough to be appointed as a minister. You can imagine that this man as a vice-chancellor of a small private university flouted the regulations and admitted law students above the quota allocated to the university. That is a former DG of Law School, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is expected to know better,” the source said.

PREMIUM TIMES in November 2023 reported how the Council of Legal Education, the regulatory body for law education in Nigeria, imposed a five-year ban on admission of students into the law faculty of the institution, citing a breach of admission rules during the tenure of Mr Mamman as vice-chancellor.

In response to the allegation at the time, an Assistant Director, Press and Public Relations at the education ministry, Obilor-Duru Okechi, said the minister’s reaction to the development would be released but it never came.

Meanwhile, Mr Sununu, who was drawn from the House of Representatives, where he represented Yauri/Shanga/Ngaski Federal Constituency of Kebbi State, was a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Minimal Access Surgeon at the Federal Medical Centre, Benin Kebbi, in Kebbi State. He has no record of administrative activities in the education sector.

Idowu Olayinka, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, said Nigeria is blessed with quality educationists who would have been able to guide the president appropriately in decision-making processes within the sector.

Governing councils’ dissolution

In what many described as a sweeping directive, President Tinubu on 19 June 2023, less than one month in office, ordered the dissolution of the governing councils of all federal tertiary institutions and the governing boards of the agencies and parastatals of government.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) described the president’s decision as illegal and obnoxious. The union said the directive negates the provisions of the University Autonomy Act, which it said gives the councils self-regulatory power.

The Chairman of the University of Jos chapter of the union, Chris Yilgwan, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) at the time, said if allowed to continue, such a trend would cripple the university system.

He said the dissolution contravened the laws establishing federal universities, adding that it would stagnate the progress of the institutions.

“The recent dissolution of the governing councils of federal universities by the National Universities Commission does not conform with the Miscellaneous Act of 2003 as amended. The Act provided a statutory tenure of governing councils of universities and so they cannot be dissolved at will like other boards.

“The governing council is the highest decision-making body of every university, and once it is dissolved without immediate replacement, it stalls every major decision in the university. So, we consider the dissolution as inimical to the progress of the university system and call on the federal government to rescind its decision.”

Though the government recently reconstituted the governing councils of the tertiary institutions, lopsidedness immediately observed in the list led to a directive for its review, and the indefinite suspension of the inauguration of the council members earlier slated for 31 May.

Consequences of President’s decision

True to Mr Yilgwan’s claim, the nation’s tertiary institutions have continued to suffer the consequences of a lack of governing boards for one year as substantive heads could not be appointed for various organs of the institutions, while recruitment of staff has also been stalled.

In fact, in some institutions, where the tenure of the vice-chancellors, rectors or provosts has ended, the appointment of their successors has led to controversies and even industrial actions by workers.

At the University of Abuja, there was recently industrial unrest as the local chapter of ASUU declared an indefinite strike after accusing the university administrators of taking decisions specifically reserved for the governing council.

READ ALSO: Police raid kidnappers camps, arrest two ex-convicts, others in FCT 

ASUU in UniAbuja accused the university administrators of carrying out recruitments, promotions and initiating the process of appointing another vice-chancellor, roles reserved for the university council.

To address the crisis, the government recently mandated outgoing heads of institutions to hand over to one of their deputies who would take charge in an acting capacity pending the composition and inauguration of new governing councils.

A vice-chancellor of one of the universities, who does not want to be quoted, told PREMIUM TIMES that the directive by the government that recruitment of staff by the institutions should go through the minister in the absence of governing councils “is not only complicated but also breeds corruption.”

The vice-chancellor said: “Since 2016, there has been an embargo placed on the recruitment of staff across the institutions and in exceptional cases, we are made to seek waivers from the office of the Head Of Civil Service Of the Federation, Federal Character Commission, Bureau of Public Procurement, among others.

“Each of these organs to give the waivers is in the habit of forcing their candidates on us, and at the end of the day, if we need 50 people, we would only be able to employ a maximum of 10 based on our needs. Others, who may have no connection with what we need will then be forced on us. The minister will send his list too. So what is the basis?”

At NUC, out of about 12 directorates, 11 of the appointed directors are serving in acting capacity simply because there is no governing council in place. So there is stagnation everywhere, an official of the agency told our reporter.

Fees increment

Meanwhile, in the last year of the Tinubu-led administration, almost all Nigerian universities have hiked school fees, most of them by more than 100 per cent. Though the trend began before Mr Tinubu came into office, it continued well after he directed the universities to stop arbitrary increases in the fees payable by students. The Nigerian government maintains that its universities remain tuition-free.

Some of the institutions that have increased fees include the University of Maiduguri, the University of Benin, Ahmadu Bello University, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, the University of Lagos, the University of Jos, the University of Abuja, and the Obafemi Awolowo University.

The hike in fees led to protests by students across different universities who demanded that the management of the universities reverse the hike, especially given the cost of living crisis in the country.

However, the university administrators maintained that they needed more funding to run their institution as allocations from the government continued to dwindle and expenses continued to rise due to inflation.

Attacks on schools continue

Meanwhile, the worrying trend of mass abduction of students continued under Mr Tinubu. The ugly phenomenon started a decade ago –with the abduction of over 270 school girls in the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State– and peaked in the past few years, particularly in the north-western part of the country where banditry is rife.

Terrorists, locally called bandits, have abducted close to 2,000 students in the region in the last four years.

In January, bandits abducted two students of Alqalam University, a private institution in Katsina State.

In March, three students of the University of Calabar (UNICAL) were kidnapped in a hostel on the campus.

Also, in March, bandits abducted more than 200 students from the LEA primary and secondary school in Kuriga, Chikun Local Government Area, Kaduna State. The students spent more than two weeks in captivity before they regained freedom.

Last month, nine students were kidnapped in Ughelli, Delta State. They were released two days later.

Education budget

Mr Tinubu’s 2024 education budget increased compared to the previous year’s allocation. He budgeted N1.54 trillion, representing 6.39 per cent of the total budget for the education sector.

However, more than 70 per cent of the budget was allocated for the payment of salaries and other overhead expenditures. Less than 25 per cent was allocated for capital projects.

The budget also falls short of the 15 – 20 per cent recommendation by the global education agency, UNESCO.

READ ALSO: Councilor takes 120 out-of-school children back to school in Kano  

According to ASUU National President, Emmanuel Osodeke, a professor, the education budget is too low for a significant change in the sector.

Mr Osodeke said his union had expected the president to earmark at least 15 per cent of the entire budget to the education sector.

Students loan

Perhaps Mr Tinubu’s most popular initiative in the education sector is the student loan. Barely a month in office, he assented to the Access to Higher Education Bill, thereby institutionalising the provision of interest-free loans for students in tertiary institutions.

The government said the initiative would take off in September 2023, three months after it was signed but it failed. Mr Tinubu also promised it ‘must’ begin in January but that deadline also failed.

In February, the bill was sent back to the National Assembly for reenactment, expunging some stringent conditions initially attached to obtaining the loan. Mr Tinubu signed the new bill into law in April, and the operation of the Nigerian Education Loan Fund has since kicked off.

Industrial harmony?

Also, the Tinubu administration appears to have made decisions that may bring about industrial harmony in Nigerian universities, which has been rare in the past decade.

In October, he announced that the government would pay ASUU members four of the eight months’ salaries withheld by the previous administration of Muhammadu Buhari. Mr Buhari withheld the lecturers’ salaries in 2022 when he invoked a ‘No Work, No Pay’ policy against the striking members of ASUU. Mr Tinubu’s government paid them in February.

Mr Tinubu also recently constituted the governing councils of the tertiary institutions less than a week after ASUU threatened an industrial action.

Experts speak

The immediate past president of the Association of Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Anderson Ezeibe, said Mr Tinubu’s performance in the education sector has been ‘underwhelming’, adding that he is not optimistic ‘going forward’.

According to him, there has been no visible investment in the sector to drive optimism. “Staff are still owed arrears of earned emoluments, there is real dilapidation in infrastructure and the current status is hardly encouraging,” he said.

Mr Ezeibe noted that while Nigerian academics are arguably the least paid in Africa, students are groaning as fees continue to rise.

He also faulted the introduction of the student loan scheme, expressing doubts over the sustainability of the scheme.

“Our preference is a grant for the students, not loans. The prevalent economic situation does not guarantee the sustainability of the scheme,” he said.

The former ASUP president said Mr Tinubu’s ‘illegal dissolution’ of the tertiary institutions’ governing council left the institutions ‘in confusion and operating in illegality’.

“The reconstitution of the same councils after nearly one year was mostly an exercise to satisfy politicians and contractors without meeting the specifications required for tertiary education governance at such a high level. There have not been any significant changes in basic and post-basic layers of education too,” he added.

“I am not optimistic going forward. The education sector has not been insulated from the usual and damaging politics in the land. Laws are still flouted through arbitrary appointments in the name of politics.”

The National Coordinator, Congress of University Academics (CONUA), ‘Niyi Sunmonu, also said the recent appointment of university governing councils did not correct the ‘illegality’ of dissolving them ten months ago.

He said the councils can only be dissolved if the members have completed their tenures or at least committed infractions that may warrant their dissolution.

“To dissolve that council in the first instance,… ran against the University Autonomy Act of 2003.

“For a democratically elected government, you should not be seen flouting any part of our law no matter how insignificant it appears to us as a government. Before you dissolve the council, it’s either the council has finished its tenure and you reconstitute another one or there are issues that the council has that warrant the dissolution,” he said.

“What we have now is the reconstitution. Having reconstituted, what we expect is that the government would do what is necessary with respect to providing the council with all it needs for the university and by extension, tertiary institutions to work without interruption of academic calendar.”

This report was first published by PREMIUM TIMES.


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