By Anthony Kola-Olusanya
On July 1st, 2013, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on an industrial strike to force the federal government of Nigeria (FG) to implement the 2009 Agreement, which the later had signed with the union. The agreement, which was largely about the revitalisation of the university education system in Nigeria, is anchored on FG’s massive fund infusion into Nigeria’s publicly funded universities (federal and states owned).
Like previous agreements, the FG decided it wasn’t going to honour the 2009 agreement. This decision not to honour and respect an agreement it signed with ASUU was based on two reasons which includes; a flimsy excuse that the Nigeria’s economy will shut down, should the FG implement the content of the 2009 Agreement. Secondly, on the arrogance that the FG will appear weak should it implement the agreement it had signed with ASUU in 2009.
It is suffice to say that the FG took this decision after it had conducted the needs assessment towards implementation of the 2009 agreement through two separate committees like 2009 ASUUFGN Agreement Needs Assessment Committee and ASUUFGN 2009 Agreement Implementation Committee. The later committee would round up its work later in 2011 with a commitment from the President and other stakeholders on the FGN side promising that there would never be a strike in the nation’s public universities for a long time.
While the university teacher strike was going on, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation published its 2013 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) in October. Established in 2007, the IIAG is the most comprehensive collection of quantitative data on governance in Africa. The index is compiled in partnership with experts from a number of the continent’s institutions. It also provides an annual assessment of governance in every African country.
The IIAG provides a framework for citizens, governments, institutions and business to assess the delivery of public goods and services, and policy outcomes, across Africa. The index is classified into four categories namely; safety and rule of law; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity and human development. Today, the IIAG is recognized as the barometer for measuring government performance in Africa.
Overall, the index ranked Nigeria in 41st position out of 52 countries in Africa in relation to governance and leadership in Africa. The implication of this present ranking is that Nigeria ranked 9th when we talk about countries without good leadership and lacks good governance. The sad point of the ranking is that many countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone among others who are just coming out years of civil war, ranked above Nigeria. Besides the overall ranking, Nigeria also showed poor ranking in other specific arrears.
Within the West African sub-region, Nigeria also ranked a dismal 16th position out of 19 countries, overall in good governance and leadership. Of note is the country’s ranking in education, and human development, which are both sub-components of human resource development (HRD). Nigeria ranked 30th and scoring 49% below the African average (52.9) and lower than the regional average (52.5) for West Africa, in provision of education to its citizens.
With respects to human development, Nigeria ranked 33rd in Africa, scoring 52.7%, a score considered lower than the continental average (58.3) and 43.4 below than the regional average (52.5) for West Africa respectively. Before going any further, it is instructive to note that at the top three positions in Africa are countries Nigerians would categorize as small nations like Mauritius (82.9%), Botswana (77.6%) and Cape Verde (76.7%) in first, second and third position respectively. Whilst the top three leaders at the west African sub-regional level includes Ghana (66.8%), Senegal (61%) and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe (59.9%). At the bottom of the table on the continent are Somali and Chad at the sub-regional level.
What is responsible for these countries’ success in Africa and West Africa? Both Mauritius and Ghana cannot and do not earn as much as Nigeria, but unlike the self-acclaimed giant of Africa, the small African country – Mauritius education budget hovers around 13-15% of the annual budget in 2013. Ghana on her part allocated 33% of annual budget to education during the same period.
What this suggests is that these two countries placed huge emphasis on human capital development since only an adequately-funded education sector can guarantee as well develop the much needed human capital that will help transform these countries.
Sadly, Nigeria’s 2013 allocation to education is only a paltry 8% of the annual budget. In essence, the IIAG leading ranked countries at both the continental and sub-regional levels are doing some things which Nigeria is not doing; especially when one considers the federal government (FG) much vaunted commitment to ‘transformation agenda’ and the so-called vision 20:2020.
An assessment of the Mauritius economy revealed a concrete demonstration towards national development. It is an understatement to say that Mauritius has a strong human capital foundation developed through consistent and equitable investment in human development. The goal of the island country is becoming a knowledge economy.
This goal is not impossible given that education is free and has been expanded in recent years, in order to create further employment opportunities and ensuring inclusive growth. Return on investment in education, shows that around 90% of entrepreneurs are Mauritian nationals, and businesspeople had the human capital, education and knowledge needed to exploit market opportunities. Interesting too Mauritius is one of the least corrupt African countries.
On the contrary, the latest values of Human Development Index (HDI) which provides a country’s measure of human capital development (in areas such as income, health, and education) show that Nigeria is ranked 156 with the value of 0.459 among 187 countries. The value places Nigeria in the bottom, meaning that Nigeria is considered to have low level of human development. The comparative value for Sub-Saharan Africa is 0.475 and 0.694 for the world average and this places Nigeria a little below the continental average with an HDI of 0.471.
Comparatively, two issues among others speak to Nigeria’s dismal overall performance on the continent and in the sectional areas of education and human development in this year’s IIAG rankings. One is the lukewarm posture of the FG lip service to educational development. Second is the gross underfunding of the educational sector.
These two issues underscores our poor performance even areas in which Nigeria is noted to be doing well in forty–fifty years ago. As well, both issues are directly linked to the ongoing ASUU strike which is about to enter the sixth month. Another pointer to this dismal performance is that no serious country desirous of meeting its developmental goals don’t allow its university teachers to go on strike to pressure government to do what governments in other sister African countries do without pressure or prompting of any union.
A search through the internet failed to reveal any strike action by the university teachers in the IIAG top countries on the continent. In the West Africa sub-region for example, the university teachers across Ghana on Monday, August 1, 2013, embarked on a nationwide industrial action to protest unpaid market premium.
The notice of strike served on the Ghanaian government prompted an emergency meeting of the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) was called in order to avert the strike.
In addition, the deputy minister in charge of tertiary education, Okudzeto Ablakwa would later assure university teachers their outstanding premiums will be settled. The strike action was resolved within a few days. What we see in this approach and prompt response by Ghanaian authorities when compared to Nigeria’s is an example of good governance and leadership. Little wonder Ghana is attracting students from all over the world including Nigeria to her universities.
Meanwhile, rather than provide leadership by either preventing or resolving the strike, FG has continued to play the roulette game with future of the teeming youths in public universities across the country. Instead of addressing the issues of non-implementation of 2009 agreement it signed with university teachers’ union, the federal government has continued to behave like the proverbial ostrich that buries its head in the sand by pretending that all is well with the public universities system. Although, President Jonathan in November had personally intervened in the fifth month of the strike, events following the meeting with ASUU have further exposed FG’s unwillingness to respect and be bounded by its own proposal.
At this juncture, it is necessary for the FG and President Jonathan to know that Nigeria didn’t get this all-time low in one year. The crisis of the educational sector, vis a vis university education and by implication human development occurred as a result of the decades of neglect, massive funding cuts as well as gross under-funding has been with us for many decades.
The same way, I would like to note that Mauritius, Botswana and Cape Verde did not just appear as African top three countries, but after years of serious planning and commitment towards greatness.
President Jonathan needs to be aware that sacking all university teachers in one day does not portray him and his regime in good light. Indeed, for a government who is laying claim to a transformation agenda built on the back of the vision 20: 2020, mass sacking of university teachers will not only deny Nigeria the much needed human capital, his transformation agenda and vision 20:2020 will also suffer monumentally.
So rather than waste time sacking the university teachers, the federal government and President Jonathan need to be concerned about how to improve Nigeria’s position on the IIAG from 2014 and beyond. The FG need to stand up and confront the monster called under-funding that has reduced the once enviable Nigeria’s public universities to a shadow of itself by huge funds towards the revitalization of universities. Doing this, will lead to cascade of gains for the country, for which the FG and indeed President Jonathan can celebrate.
Chief among the gains will be brain-gain for the universities. Furthermore, Nigerian universities will become the place to go for Nigerian youths who are daily leaving the country for study abroad never to return and the nation would have saved the best for human resource for the country. In addition, foreign students will also return to Nigerian universities with the educational sector reaping some foreign exchange from the international students.
I have concentrated on the educational sector and indirectly university education because of the multiplier effect of such benefits investment for any country desirous of growth and indeed greatness. The successes and gains of investing in education including universities would naturally reverberate through the whole system in unimaginable ways. Finally, I urge President Jonathan to sit again with ASUU and resolve this crisis once and for all.
Mr. President Sir, ASUU’s demands which includes adequate funding to revitalize the university system, progressive increase of budgetary allocations to the education sector to 26 per cent, transfer of Federal Government property to universities, setting up of research and development units by companies are strategic to Nigeria’s growth and development.
Therefore, there can be no other alternative than to resolve this lingering crisis, except you, Mr. President, and indeed your entire administration is satisfied with Nigeria’s continued ranking among the lowly performing governments of the world.
Anthony Kola-Olusanya is a teacher and citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.