Some of the credentials that President Jonathan displayed before Nigerians as a proof of his experience and by extension competence to handle the job of a president, was his possession of a PhD and a claim to be a lecturer. Nigerians saw his coming on board as a golden era for the education sector in the country after many years of motion without movement under past administrations.
Disappointingly, from when he assumed office, first as an Acting President, then as a substantial President, till now, many months after he was re-elected as President, the lecturer-turned President has not brought the desired revival to the education sector. The President appears to have become submerged in the bliss of the office of a president and has forgotten the pitiable situation of the sector from where he used to make a living.
Tertiary institutions are supposed to be ivory towers, and the products of such institutions are supposed to be intellectual giants; but quite sadly, Nigerian universities and other tertiary institutions have been churning out half-baked graduates because those on the saddle have refused to find appropriate and lasting cure to ailments threatening the existence of these ivory towers. Countless reports have classified Nigerian universities and other tertiary institutions among the worst in the world.
Since December 2011, the Academic Staff Union of Universities has been on strike over the refusal of the federal government to implement the contents of the agreement the government reached with them. As a former lecturer, it is expected that the President should understand ASUU and the cause they are fighting much better. It is expected that as someone that has passed through that route, the President should be more aware of the dearth of requisite facilities in the universities, that he should be more aware of the disadvantages of having a break in the academic session due to strike, and it is expected that the President would have done all within his power to prevent the strike in the first place. But as it is, all he has done is turn his back on his colleagues and allow them to battle it out with the Ministers.
It is against the backdrop of the foregoing that many found it very vexing, to say the least, that President Jonathan recently decried the poor African and international ranking of Nigerian universities. He is reported to have said that the recent ratings which indicated that “no Nigerian university is among the top 10 providers of tertiary education in Africa, not to mention globally”; was unacceptable. The question is; how can Nigerian universities be rated among the best when there has not been any visible or sustainable effort to provide the needed facilities in these universities? How can Nigerian universities be among the best when students are made to stay more at home than in the school, how can the universities be among the best when those in charge of the resources that would have been used for the development of these universities and their cronies are diverting such funds into their private accounts and for their personal usage?
Many have argued that the non-implementation of the agreement reached with ASUU, the poor handling of the resultant strike and the absence of any tangible formula by the Jonathan’s administration to better the Nigerian universities, when weighed against his condemnation of the low rating of Nigerian universities; is worse than the case of a hypocritical father who, though well and able to, does nothing to help his ailing child, but constantly reminds him that he has failed to meet up with his peers.
Choosing the elite occasion of the 41st convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, to speak about the poor rating of Nigerian universities may have been very convenient, but to discerning minds, it amounted to nothing, more than an attempt to score a cheap political point – that of displaying deep concern for the wellbeing of the universities. Whether this was achieved is still very debatable. More so when one considers that the community that he was addressing had presented some demands geared towards achieving what he was talking about, but which he, till that moment had refused to meet, which had resulted in the disruption of their academic activities. What a contradiction. It is better imagined what was going on in the minds of the staff and students of that institution when the Minister of Education Minister, Prof Ruqqayatu Rufai, was reading the President’s address.
Now that President Jonathan has openly accepted that Nigeria “cannot be a great nation on the back of poorly trained youths… for this reason…the transformation of our nation must start in the classrooms”; it should be very clear to him that he has just tied himself with a very strong rope and has also taken a vow, which will turn round to hunt him if after his tenure, the rating of Nigerian universities still does not improve.
He is reported to have said that, “Transformation is not just another slogan; we cannot tolerate the attitude of ‘business as usual’; let me assure you that our decision to support the education sector is resolute; we will continue to work until our universities become centres of excellence.” Such expression of commitment had been heard many times before from past Presidents, but Nigerians greatly want the President to “practice what he preached”. What is expected is immediate, physical and aggressive plan of action to turn things round for the better in the universities.
As a man that has read up to a PhD level, there is no doubt that President Jonathan is fully aware that a sound education system is the key to the transformation of Nigeria’s economy to make it competitive. It is therefore incumbent on him to empathize with his colleagues, sympathize with the suffering Nigerian students and show in concrete terms the commitment of the Federal Government under his leadership to bring about the desired transformation in the country’s education sector. Nigerian universities will definitely be among the best in the world if the President shows the same dogged commitment to the development of these institutions like he did to the removal of the subsidy on petrol.
Kudos to the National Assembly for extending the retirement age of Professors to seventy years; the Federal Executive should take a cue from this and work to meet the demands of ASUU which, to a large extent, are geared towards making the Nigerian universities better. There is great need to get the students off the streets, up from their beds and out of their homes; back to the class.
The President is said to have canvassed increased private sector collaboration and participation in funding education in Nigeria and also urged university administrators not to rely only on funding and allocations from the government but to increase their internal revenue generation efforts. This advised is in no way condemnable and is worth being given a serious thought by those concerned.
President Jonathan had promised to transform Nigeria and the mandate given him to rule was basically so that he could actualize this promise. As it is, since its inception, his administration has mostly brought headache to the head and bitterness to the minds of Nigerians. Undoubtedly, it is only by attaining an acceptable level of performance that he will receive the praise of Nigerians. Now that he has identified an area that Nigerians have been seriously longing to see made more efficient, the expectation is that he will, with all his might, work to ensure that Nigerian universities meet international standards.