Commission on Child Destitution, ASUU Strike and Education Sector

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By; Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

With the recent  passage for second  reading the Bill for an Act to establish the National Commission on Child Destitution in Nigeria,  it is now evident that  the nation  handlers’ have finally come to the sudden realization that history has over these years thrust upon our generation an indescribably important destiny – to complete the process of learning and modernizations  which our nation has too long developed too slowly, but which is our most powerful for world respect and emulation

 The bill, cited as “National Commission on Child Destitution in Nigeria, if passed, would provide the legal and constitutional frameworks for the eradication of child destitution in Nigeria. The bill would also result in taking formidable steps to mitigate the effects of the recurring cases of child destitution in the country.”  When established, the commission would serve as an intervention programme that would eradicate, rehabilitate and prohibit the menace of child destitution in Nigeria.

Without doubt, there are many reasons that qualify the development as a right step taken in the right direction.

First, separate from the painful realization that seventeen states in the country with the highest number of out of school Children, fourteen of the states are in the North, and  if the rate of out of school children is not curtailed,  would further worsen the insecurity that is currently bedeviling parts of the country, there is an accompanying believe that  the latest Bill when passed, will strengthen the already existing Universal Basic Education Act 2003,which among other purposes is aimed at  enforcing Quality, compulsory, mandatory and free education up to secondary school three or equivalent and other purposes.

 

Second is that successive administrations in the country have done very little in arresting the situation, a particular report in 2013, described as mind-numbing the awareness that about 10.5 million Nigerian children of school age are not enrolled in schools. Out of this number, the report explained that, about 9million, are children of beggars, fishermen and other less privileged people in the society.

                                                                                       

The survey further showed that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world, noting that; there is still a huge number of those who are in school, but are learning nothing, as schooling does not always lead to learning. In Nigeria, there are more non-learners in school than out of school. It concluded.

 

Regardless of what you hear or read on the pages of the newspaper, this piece believes that despite the proposed, National Commission on Child Destitution in Nigeria, it is still not an easy road for the Nigerian education sector but a tough and tumble ride. Even the practice of democracy in the country, contrary to earlier beliefs, has not helped to stop the pangs of challenges experienced by Nigerians in the sector.

 

Among many other comments in the recent past, I heard some say that across the globe, funding education now comes with a crushing weight that the government alone can no longer bear. To this group, it calls for public-private partnership and support from good spirited individuals to the rescue. Within this span, I have equally read an argument that our educational system is faulty just like every educational system is faulty. The United State Educational system they added is faulty, if there is no fault in any system, then, there is no improvement. They concluded that what we call fault is a challenge and that is the basics of development. To the rest, our educational system is not faulty as it remains one of the systems that is still very sound and applauded across the world.

 

To illustrate this believe,   the ongoing strike embarked upon by The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), to ensure the government stops reneging on agreements with the union, has more than anything else made it clear,  that the nation’s public universities, principally the Federal Government-owned universities are in trouble.

 

Aside from the fact that this is the second industrial action in less than two years, coupled with the fact that the system continues to frustrate the ambitions and aspirations of our youths; those that will provide the future leadership needs of the country, there are indeed, reasons that characterizes the current happenings as a troubling reality.

 

The most fundamental of the reasons is that the strike came a few days after President Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja while receiving members of the Nigeria In­ter-Religious Council (NIREC) led by the Co-Chairs, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, and the Pres­ident of the Christian Asso­ciation of Nigeria, Revd. (Dr.) Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, promised that the Federal Gov­ernment remains committed to honouring promises made to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to prevent disruptive strikes, engender uninterrupted academic pro­grammes and improve funding of educational institutions.

 

The second stems from the words of Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, President, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), who during a reported interview with the Channels Television, not only contradicted but proved as untrue the above pledge by Mr. President.  He ‘religiously’ explained how the FG has seamlessly become reputed for not keeping promises.

 

Let’s listen to him; For the past nine years or so, they have been giving us promises but once the strike is over, they relapse. While noting that his colleagues are tired of these promises which they don’t fulfill’, he added that what they want is action, maintaining that the union has sacrificed for the country’s educational system,  concluding that ASUU will not back down on the current industrial action, since the Federal Government has become reputed for not keeping to its promises.

 

Looking above, it is evident that If the time-honored aphorism which considers education as the bedrock of development is anything to go by and if the age-long believe that; with sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made -as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes, and projects remains a valid argument, then, we all have reasons not only to feel worried but collectively work hard to deliver the nation’s education sector. .

 

Specifically, these challenge comes in two forms; the first lays out the dilemma posed by the government’s underfunding of the public universities which as a consequence; impedes lecturers from carrying out scholarly researches, truncates academic calendar with strike actions, lace Nigerian universities with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities with the universities producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower demand by the nation’s industrial sector.

 

The second challenge stems from the first but centres more particularly on thoughtless demand for fees of varying amounts/proposed by the school authorities-a development that is financially squeezing life out of the innocent students and their parents.

 

The dilemma and menace posed by this practice indicates a considerably higher risk. And except the government commits its resources in getting to the root of the challenge, the potential consequence could be higher than that of other challenges currently ravaging the education sector.

 

By not taking the education sector seriously, one fact that the Federal Government failed to remember is that when human beings, through sound education, develop a higher order of thinking, the society gains an advantage in being able to anticipate emerging threats, they gain the ability to conceptualize instead of just perceiving. But when they fail to acquire or deny the need, they will also gain the ability to conceptualize an imaginary threat and when a group of people are persuaded to conceptualize this imaginary threat, they can activate the fear response as powerfully as the real threat.

 

This fact partially explains the current fears and insecurity that have recently enveloped the country. 

 

To further avert all these, governments at all levels must unlearn this attitude of  progressive non recognition of the right to education as a human right despite their membership of a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights where the right is respected.

 

Above all, the President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government must urgently commit to mind that globally; ‘the relationship between employers/employees is always strained, always headed toward conflict. It is a natural conflict built into the system. Unions do not strike on a whim or use the strike to show off their strength. They look at strikes as costly and disturbing, especially for workers and their families. Strikes are called as last resort’. And any government that fails to manage this delicate relationship profitably or fails to develop a cordial relationship with the workers becomes an enemy of not just the workers but that of the open society and, such society will sooner than later find itself degenerate into chaos.

 

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), A Lagos-Based Non Governmental Organization (NGO). He could be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.