Labour raises alarm over fresh move to privatize unity schools
The Federal Government has set machinery in motion to sell off 110 Federal Government Colleges (FGCs) otherwise called unity schools.
SOLACEBASE reports that this is coming about two decades after plans by the administration of former president, Olusegun Obasango, to sell the unity schools was botched.
Organised labour, under the auspices of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), which raised the alarm, on Wednesday advised all those interested in running secondary schools to build their own.
ASCSN Secretary General, Joshua Apebo, in a statement, drawing attention to the renewed clamor to privities the Federal Government-owned schools throughout the country, argued that in civilized climes, philanthropists and other good-spirited individuals and groups build standard schools, hospitals, etc., and donate for public use.
“But in Nigeria, portfolio-carrying investors always connive with greedy politicians to convert public companies and institutions into their private estates under the dubious public-private partnership model.
“We, therefore, urge the trade union movement, royal fathers, religious organizations, civil society groups, parents-teachers associations, student unions, leaders of thought, men, and women of good conscience in the country to unite as they did more than 10 years ago in order to prevent a situation where the FGCs will be sold to few parasitic individuals,” he said.
The statement recalled how the unity schools were conceptualized due to politics and ethnicity.
“Appalled by politics of ethnicity and bitterness which characterized the first Republic, the then prime minister, Tafawa Balewa, in 1966 conceived and set up three FGCs, one at Okposi (later moved to Enugu) for Eastern Region, another one in Warri for Western Region and the third one in Sokoto for Northern Region to be unifying institutions for Nigerian children from all parts of the country irrespective of their social status and tribes so that they would grow up as better citizens and see themselves as Nigerians having interacted closely with one another during their formative years.”
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It posited that once the schools are ceded to private entrepreneurs, they would become money-spinners and be out of the reach of millions of Nigerian children whose parents and guardians could not afford exorbitant fees that would be imposed apart from the fact that thousands of teachers and other workers would be thrown into the over-saturated labor market.
“Once education becomes a commodity only for the rich, it will be a violation of Section 18 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which stipulates, among other things, that the government shall direct its policies towards ensuring there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.
“Indeed, Section 18 (3) provides that the government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy and shall, therefore, provide free, compulsory and universal primary education; free secondary education; free university education; and free adult literacy program.”
The union also recalled that while the struggle by the union and other well-meaning Nigerians to retain the unity colleges between 2005 and 2010 raged, the then minister of education set up a committee, headed by Jonathan Zwingina, to tour all the FGCs and make its recommendations.
According to ASCSN, while presenting its report to the minister of education on March 12, 2009, in Abuja, Zwingina stated, among other things, that funding of the unity colleges appeared to be the single most important factor because some stakeholders see the maintenance of the colleges as expensive and wasteful and had even called for their privatization.
The Zwingina committee then said: “The fact is that national integration is so important that we cannot place a limit to the cost of sustaining it.
“Those complaining about the cost of national integration should reflect on the comparative cost of national disintegration. Presently, the institutions sustaining integration in Nigeria are the National Youth Service Corps, the federal unity colleges, and federal departments and agencies that have staff all over the country.
We should, therefore, not take this effort for granted but must continue to sustain and encourage their growth and expansion.”
ASCSN secretary general explained that during the struggle to forestall the sale of FGCs, the union embarked on a seven-week strike, did intensive media campaigns, and engaged lawyers, apart from a series of correspondences and meetings with government officials.
“It was discovered then that those who have been penciled down to buy the schools wanted to convert the vast expense of land and the structures therein into hotels and shopping malls to make profits because they do not have the interest of millions of students at heart,” Apebo said.
The statement, however, noted that communities that donated the land have vowed to retrieve their land because they were donated to build schools for Nigerian children and not for the privileged few to make money.
The union accordingly urged Nigerians not to stand by and watch the FGCs sold to the privileged rich and thereby mortgage the future of millions of Nigerian children.