POSITION PAPER OF THE EDUCATION RIGHTS CAMPAIGN (ERC) TO THE ASUU-NAAT-NASU-SSANU NATIONAL SUMMIT ON EDUCATION HOLDING IN ABUJA FROM 27 TO 31 OCTOBER 2014
This position paper by the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is aimed at highlighting the real roots of the crisis of the education sector in Nigeria and proffering the way forward. Also included is a perspective of the roles that trade unions, students and working masses can play in the process of rescuing the education sector from the abyss.
1.1. STATEMENT OF PROBLEMS
1.1.1. QUALITY DECLINE IN THE EDUCATION SECTOR: A STATISTICAL OVERVIEW
It will be restating the obvious to state that the Nigerian education sector is in crisis. However, a statistical x-ray of all the levels of education in Nigeria would provide a deeper insight of the enormity of the crisis that education is entrapped in. Nigeria ranks 142nd in health and basic education globally as well as 113th in higher education and training and was among the last 20 in the world.
Some research findings reveal as follows:
A. Basic education: Low enrolment and low quality teachers
10.5 million Nigerian children of school-going age are not attending school – highest in the world (Source: Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report 2012). According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report Index, 2011-2012, Nigeria was ranked 140th out of 144 countries in primary education enrolment. Enrolment of children into schools is as low as 12.0% in some states. 6 million of 36 million girls out of school world-wide are Nigerians.
Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world that has had to launch a boy-child education campaign. This was launched by the Federal Government in the South-east in June 2012. In 2008, Kwara State tested 19,125 teachers in Primary Four Mathematics; only seven teachers attained the minimum benchmark for the test in Mathematics. Only one of 2,628 teachers with degree passed the test; 10 graduates scored zero. The literacy assessment recorded only 1.2 per cent pass.
B. Secondary education: Students’ poor performance records
The President Jonathan Federal Government claims to be carrying out a “transformation agenda” in Nigeria’s economy and public education sector since 2011, yet Nigeria’s out-of-school children grew to 10.5 million over the same period.
The 2014 May/June West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), over 60% failure was recorded with just 31.28% obtaining credits in five subjects. This came on the heels of similar performances in the past two years. 36.57% and 38.81% had credits in five subjects respectfully in 2013 and 2012 editions of the same examination. Attempts are being made to dump the blame for this terrible failure on parents and teachers but the reality is that the fundamental cause of the failure is government underfunding of education. Other indicators in the education sector have continued to decline at the same rate.
C. Universities and other tertiary institutions
The rot in this sub-sector is reflected in the low quality of graduates. Nigeria’s university system is in a crisis of manpower. Instead of having not less than 80 per cent of the academics with Ph.Ds, only 43 per cent are Ph.D holders while the remaining 57 per cent are not. And instead of 75 per cent of the academics to be between Senior Lecturers and Professors, only about 44 per cent are within the bracket while the remaining 56 per cent are not. The staff mix in some universities is alarming. Kano State University, Wudil (established in 2001) is said for instance to have only one professor and 25 Ph.Ds.
There is an average of 4 abandoned projects per university in Nigeria with negative consequences for classrooms, laboratories, students’ hostels, and staff accommodation. Poor infrastructure adversely affects teaching, research, learning and students’ health and safety. The polytechnics and colleges of education are no better as they confront infrastructural problems and decay. Their products are subjected to inferiority in the labour market. Also there is 56.9% shortfall in the academic staff of public Colleges of Education translating into a shortage of 14, 858 lecturers. In a similar vein, there is 56.9% shortfall in the academic staff of public polytechnics and monotechnics translating into a shortage of 17, 548 lecturers. (Shu’ara, J. (2010) Higher Education Statistics – Nigeria Experience in Data collection).
1.1.2. UNDER FUNDING, COMMERCIALIZATION AND FEE HIKE
The Federal Government has never met the 26 per cent annual budgetary allocation recommended by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The highest the FG has allocated to the sector is 13 per cent. It would be recalled that the Academic Staff Union of Universities waged a six month-long struggle in 2013 for proper funding of education which forced government to release N200 billion into the University system.
However, under the impact of an increasingly unstable world economic situation, the Nigerian ruling class’s continuing refusal to invest in social infrastructure while the country’s population is rapidly growing has led to a wave of attacks on public education. The government through University managements has denied students from poor background access to education. For instance in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State, the university made sharp increases in the fee regime in what was believed to be a means of retrieving the gains of the struggle waged by ASUU. This is in line with the grand plan to introduce tuition into federal universities as tacitly reflected in the resolution of the Committee of Pro-Chancellors recently.
The States controlled by the so-called “opposition” political parties are equally underfunding education thereby creating myriad of infrastructural decay and poor learning conditions. For instance, it took the united and tenacious struggles of students, education workers (ASUU, SSANU), ERC and mass of working people in Lagos state to force the Fashola regime to reverse the fee hike in Lagos State University. Ditto for the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) and other institutions in some of these “opposition-controlled” states. Hence, education commercialization has become a major policy as governments at all levels are cutting social spending as well as intensifying attacks on living condition.
2.0. STATEMENT OF SOLUTIONS
Having examined the problems bedeviling the education sector in Nigeria, this paper would move on to examine the solutions that is needed. However, it is the view of the ERC that while struggles must be waged to defend and improve education it must be clearly said that the fundamental solution lies in working people’s government that will mobilise the enormous resources of society to meet the urgent needs of all. Therefore the four staff unions (ASUU, NAAT, SSANU and NASU) that constitute the convening authority of this Education Summit must equally provide steadfast example for other trade unions in the education sector and the wider workers’ movement to follow in terms of rising up to the task of building a genuine working people’s political alternative.
2.1. ADEQUATE FUNDING OF EDUCATION
The abysmal low level of allocation to education must be reversed. According to the United Nations Education and Socio-Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 26 percent of the annual budgets should be allocated to the education sector. However, as stated earlier the highest that has been allocated to education is 13%.
ASUU fought a courageous struggle to force the hands of the Federal Government to commit more resources to the university system. A broader struggle involving all the staff unions, student movement and the entire labour movement working together is needed today to force the hands of governments at all levels to commit adequate resources to fund education.
2.2 AUTONOMY AND INTERNAL DEMOCRACY
Autonomy and internal democracy are essential to the University system. Unfortunately over the years government has interpreted the demand for University autonomy to mean that universities will also be responsible for their own funding. To make the University system operate without bureaucratic bottleneck and administrative curtailment, full autonomy must be granted to ensure that whilst Universities are funded by the State, they have enough independence in the election of their principal management officials and determination of other matters without undue interference by the State that acts as an arm of one or more factions of the ruling class. At the same time however, management of Universities, polytechnics, monotechnics, colleges of education, teacher training institutes must be democratized in such a way that elected representatives of students, workers, parents and communities are allowed in the decision making organs instead of the current bureaucratic manner, which breeds corruption and mismanagement, that tertiary institutions are run.
2.3. INFRASTRUCTURAL REPAIR AND DEVELOPMENT
An urgent repair of critical infrastructure is needed at all levels of the education sector. This would mean providing latest facilities for learning based on latest technological advancement. For instance, information technology devices are now being used for primary and post-primary education and a serious programme of revamping education must take into cognizance these advancements.
2.4. REMUNERATION AND PENSIONS OF EDUCATION WORKERS
What has been the most recurring crisis in the education sector has been the poor remuneration of both teaching and non-teaching staff in the education sector. A comprehensive policy of improved remuneration of the workers in the education sector in line with rate of inflation as well as a genuine pension scheme is urgently needed to retain the academic and non-academic staff currently in the system and attract new ones.
The current contributory pension scheme is exploitative and education workers’ unions must demand a reversal of these policies to a pro-worker and efficient pensions’ scheme in which workers would be paid living pensions that will take into account the rising rate of inflation. The new Pension Scheme has forced workers to contribute more mostly out of their meager salaries compared to the former scheme and this amounts to attack on workers living condition. In addition to pension, government must build social infrastructures aimed at providing security for all basic needs such as housing, food, health, education etc., for all including the aged.
In view of the over 40 years of the existence of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), its continuous relevance in the 21st century has to be discussed taking into consideration all the adversities Nigerian students have suffered through this scheme. The current effort to commercialize it through the introduction of a N4, 000 charge must be strongly rejected while the welfare, including allowance, of Corp members must be greatly improved. However, we of the ERC hold that NYSC should be voluntary without any consequence for graduates who may not wish to partake in the scheme.
Another examination for candidates who have passed Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and known as Post-UTME was introduced a few years ago by force by universities against the background of the corruption and failure of examination bodies like JAMB and WAEC. However the ERC feels that the additional cost of the Post-UTME cannot continue to be borne by students and parents. It is unfair! By virtue of the introduction of Post-UTME, parents now have to pay enormous amounts for at least three different examinations in a year. In many Universities, Post-UTME has now become a means of raising additional funds to the detriment of students and their poor parents. We suggest that the cost of Post-UTME should be borne by the Universities.
2.7 HND AND BSc DICHOTOMY
The dichotomy between HND and Bsc. certificates is a false and artificial dichotomy which is being maintained by the government and private employers of labour in order to downgrade the skill of a section of the population so they can pay cheaply for it. This explains why HND certificates holders doing the same job as BSc holders are paid less and have less chance of ascending to the top of their career. It is also a reflection of a sick imperialist-dominated economy that depends on the export of raw materials, importation of finished or semi-finished goods and without any serious plan for industrialization. The ERC proposes that the summit should uphold the demand of Polytechnic workers and students for the elimination of this dichotomy.
3.0. A NATIONAL EMERGENCY ON EDUCATION
The crisis in the education sector is not only alarming, it is a disaster that will set back Nigeria’s human and economic development for decades thus mortgaging the future of generations unborn if it is unchecked now. However the ERC is convinced on the basis of the material wealth of this country and the resourcefulness of its people that within a ten- year period much of these problems can be resolved and the education sector restored on a path of progress if clear people-centered policies are propounded and a vigorous drive for their implementation is set off.
This will require the implementation of a free education policy for all and the mobilization of all the required resources of society to accomplish it at all levels. The question if often asked: how will Nigeria get money to fund free education? The situation in the education sector is dire. Extreme problems they say require extreme solutions. To this end, the ERC supports the call for the declaration of a state of emergency on education and the adoption of the following steps to set the education sector on the path of revitalization within a period of ten years:
(1) Immediate increase in the allocation to education to 26% (with capital allocation taking nothing less than 60% of this) of annual budget.
(2) Declaration of free education at all levels. How will this be funded? We propose the following:
(a) For government to adopt as state policy that all political office holders must enroll their children in public schools. For this principle to be included in the criteria for election at all levels of governance and for appointment into key public offices in the ministries and parastatals. It is unjust for political office holders who cost the country trillions of naira for their monthly salaries and upkeep to then use our money to cater for their own children in private schools while our public schools are in decay.
(b) For a drastic cut in the excessive pay and emolument of all political office holders. No political office holder must earn more than the wage of a skilled worker with the understanding that any legitimate incidental expenses will be covered by the state. Any political office holder that cannot serve the country on the wage of a skilled worker should be asked to vacate the post for those who can. Establishing the principle that a politician is not more important than a University professor is vital in the process of rejuvenating our education system and attracting the best to take up teaching appointments. The amount recovered from this cost-saving exercise should be invested in public education and other social infrastructure to meet basic needs
(c) Tax the rich and wealthy corporations to fund public education. The huge profit locked in the vaults of multinational oil companies, telecommunication giants and industries if heavily taxed by government will go a long way to provide much of the needed resources to fund quality education. Much of this wealth is being wasted by individual CEOs and their friends and relatives to finance obscene life styles anyway. The exponential growth of market for luxury goods like jets, fast cars, yachts in Nigeria while over 10.5 million children are out of school is the height of societal injustice. An initial bold step in this direction should be to drastically review the Tertiary Education Tax Fund (TETFUND) from 5% of assessable profit of companies to a progressive education tax that starts from 5% as a baseline and then rises progressively to as much as 25% depending on the size of the assessable profits of local and multinational companies.
(d) Public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy like crude oil production, finance, industries and agriculture under workers democratic control and management. For as long as Nigeria’s economy is dominated big and multinational companies whose preoccupation for engaging in production is to make profit, we will continue to lack the resources to invest in public education and other social needs because a good portion of resources that should be invested are already being taken out of the economy by the private sector in the form of profit. This is made worse by the fact that, given the domination of the world economy by imperialism, the Nigerian capitalists generally have a “take the money and run” approach, investing only in things that can give them an immediate profit. But by nationalizing the local and multinational oil companies, banks, energy, telecommunications and other industries, agriculture under workers democratic control and management, it will be possible to begin to implement a rationale plan of development that will ensure that Nigeria’s economy grows to the benefit of the people instead of the bank accounts of a few individuals and corporations as we have presently.
However by nationalization and public ownership, we do not mean a return to the era of the highly bureaucratized and mismanaged state-owned corporations like NITEL and NEPA. These corporations were owned by the capitalist State but were run in an undemocratic and bureaucratic manner such that they became ineffective after a few years. However as the power sector now demonstrates, privatization is not a credible alternative as well. To avoid this kind of debacle is why ERC is calling for public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy while stressing the need for their democratic control and management by the working people to ensure that these nationalized corporations work for the need of society.
(e) End capitalism. For the establishment of a democratic socialist Nigeria under which rule it would be easily possible to mobilize all resources to ensure the provision of free and quality education at all levels as well as other essential social services. The reality is that every of the steps outlined above as ways to ensure public education is free run into conflict with capitalism. The ruling class will not accept a pay cut willingly neither will they accept that the commanding heights of the economy be placed under public ownership and democratic control. To implement any of these steps will require the uprising of the working class, students and poor masses and a relentless struggle to end the capitalist system and to establish in its place a democratic socialist system. The struggle for free education is therefore bound inexorably with the struggle to end capitalism in Nigeria.
This summit will not have succeeded if all that will happen at the end is simply to submit its recommendations to the Federal government to implement. The same government that routinely fails to implement agreements reached with trade unions should not be trusted to willingly implement the recommendations of this summit.
Therefore the ERC hereby suggests that the recommendations of this summit should be transformed into a CHARTER OF DEMAND and a united movement involving ASUU, other workers and students unions in the education sector, the wider labour movement and civil society be built to begin an immediate and earnest campaign for these demands through rallies, protests, strikes and boycotts. We propose that a one-day strike and mass protest of all the unions and civil society groups should be strongly considered in the new year to launch this charter of demand and begin to struggle to win improvement in the condition of public education at local and national level.
In any case, the above highlighted solutions are not fully achievable within the current neo-liberal capitalist system. The unwillingness of different regimes in power to meet the demands of workers as shown in periods of industrial action is a convincing confirmation of this.
What is urgently needed by way of reiteration is for the trade unions in the education sector and other genuine progressive forces to rise up to the challenge of building a mass genuine working people’s political alternative. Such a genuine working people’s political alternative must be armed with a comprehensive programme of placing the commanding heights of the economy under democratic working class control. It is only by such a genuine working people’s political alternative coming to power and galvanizing the enormous resources of society to meet the urgent needs in the education sector as well as other key sectors that there can be a leeway for the working masses.
We of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), in this respect, support the initiative of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) which was initiated by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) as a step towards the building of a broader mass genuine working people’s political alternative. The Socialist Party of Nigeria made a submission of its application to the Independent National Electoral Commission and has met all conditions for party registration under the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010(2011 as amended) with the aim of standing genuine working class candidates in the coming 2015 general elections and beyond. However, the Independent National Electoral Commission has refused to register the SPN claiming to have “terminated its registration” apparently because it poses a working people economic and political alternative which is a threat to the system. We urge trade unions in the education sector and the broader workers’ movement to support the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) in the battle for its registration as a step towards posing a sharp working class alternative to all the moribund neo-liberal policies of all the pro-rich political parties.
We call further on the Academic Staff Union of Universities in particular to take active steps in respect of its call for a new and genuine workers’ party, with all the lessons learnt from past efforts in spearheading an appropriate Political Conference involving the wider labour movement in the struggle for the formation of a genuine mass working people’s political alternative.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator National Secretary