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Socialist Democracy Nov - Dec 2005

 

FRESH ATTACKS ON EDUCATION

Tuition Fee, Hostel Privatisation, Post-JAMB Test And Compulsory Student Insurance Scheme

By H.T. Soweto

For the umpteenth time, the irrevocably anti-poor Obasanjo capitalist government has again embarked on new waves of IMF/World Bank inspired attacks capable of pricing education out of the reach of Nigerian students, majority of whom come from poor working class families living in hardship and excruciating poverty. Once again, this latest agenda of government shows, in clear terms, that the pro-rich government of the day is not prepared to improve the lots of students unless it is radically challenged by an organized and popular resistance of Nigerian students nationwide.

The comprehensive policy of the government on education which grows out of its neo-liberal economic policies encapsulated in the NEEDS program has been mindless commercialization of education, privatization of hostels and the handing over of the responsibility for investment in education to profit-seeking private individuals, politicians and corporate bodies. To achieve this, the Obasanjo government has consistently cut public spending on education to a miserable 4.6% of annual budget from about 11% in 1999. This has given the managements of various institutions the excuse to charge obnoxious and prohibitive fees. For instance, the Committee of Chairmen of University Governing Councils, among other things resolved at a meeting some months ago that tuition fee must be introduced formally into public tertiary institutions of learning because of under-funding. But while not denying this obvious fact, it is entirely untenable and callously exploitative to compel students and their poor parents being daily impoverished by the anti-poor economic policies of government to provide required funds needed to run the institutions. Payment of tuition represents the height of exploitation as students are still groaning under the yoke of numerous obnoxious and prohibitive fees existing under different appellations, which the Institution authorities charge at their whims. Check any tertiary institution in the Nation; students pay an average of N10,000 to N60,000 every session as school fees alone aside feeding, accommodation, transport etc. Thus, an introduction of tuition without an improvement in the standard of living, where national minimum wage still stands at a miserable #7,500 per month will compound the already extreme poverty in the nation, stretch the resources of poor toiling parents to the limit and force out of school the children of the very poor. What is required is a free and qualitative education by allotting adequately from the enormous resources of Nigeria to education.

In tandem with this is also the directive by government that henceforth, all institutions must privatize their student hostels. As it is well known, student hostel is one of the crucial sections of the education sector mostly affected by the irresponsibility of successive governments to adequately fund education. Today, overcrowding, poor toilet and bathroom facilities, poor hygiene, collapsing structures and perennial crisis of epileptic electricity and water supply are the prevailing images of contemporary hostels in any public institution across the Nation despite astronomical and daily increases in fees. Unfortunately, this already lopsided situation will worsen if the hostels are taken over by profit-seeking private individuals and corporate bodies who will charge enormous and prohibitive fees while avoiding any massive long term investment in overhauling the hostel facilities in order to expand the rate of their profits. Perfect examples of this scenario abound in the host communities of our institutions where the most shoddy, unventilated and ramshackle accommodation costs a fortune. However, instead of privatizing the hostels or commercializing them extensively as UNILAG and U.I seem to have opted for by charging a whooping sum of N10,000 as in the case of the latter and an outrageous N18,000 in the former, the only effective solution is for government to commit public resources to renovate student hostel facilities in all the tertiary institutions and build more, especially in some non-residential institutions whose students have to seek accommodation among, often times, hostile communities whose rural mode of living cannot accommodate the boisterous way of live of students in general, thereby leading to clashes like the June 17 2005 mayhem in Ago-Iwoye in which some students of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) were heartlessly massacred!

Another issue is the student life insurance scheme, which some Insurance companies in league with managements of tertiary institutions and the fraudulent Hembe-led leadership of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) wish to impose on the generality of Nigerian students. According to a fake congress of NANS, it was agreed that all Nigerian students must start paying #1,000 each along with their school fees to a single insurance company Lead insurance HEIRS Assurance. However, this issue of insurance is merely a means to screen off the age-long neglect of the health sector by successive self-serving government and there is nothing the mass of poor Nigerian students can benefit from insurance except get swindled. The only insurance which can genuinely favour the mass of Nigerian students and the working people in general is for government to provide viable, functional and affordable health policy, renovation of existing hospitals, procurement of drugs and building of more hospitals in villages, communities and schools.

The latest government fraudulent policy on education is the Post-JAMB test agenda. According to the Executive Secretary, National University Commission (NUC) Prof. Peter Okebukola, the need for individual Institution to conduct fresh screening of admission seeking students became necessary as a result of unbridled malpractices, which has marred JAMB examinations and thus, makes its result unreliable for judging the academic proficiency of students. However, going by the report of the Post-JAMB test conducted so far, instead of eradicating the malady of malpractices, the test has only shifted the arena of the fraud closer to the confines of individual institutions. In UNILAG where the screening was conducted, the question paper leaked a day before the examination! Apart from this, it has turned into money making venture for the institutions that charge students enormously for the exam. For instance, UNILAG invited over 46,000 students well above its NUC approved admission quota to do the examination at the rate of N2,000 each, ending up making over N92million. This also obtained in other institutions where it was conducted like FUTA, UNIJOS, DELSU and UNIBEN. While not condemning a genuine attempt to eradicate malpractices, it is nonetheless a fraud to again charge students and their poor parents who have already paid heavily for different examinations which most students had to take up to five times before succeeding. If the NUC and the tertiary Institutions wish to screen candidates, they should be prepared to take responsibility for the finances. Thus, the intervention of government that the examination should go for N1000 each is a shameless endorsement of the daylight robbery of students. Students, their unions and pro-students organisations should demand for an immediate cancellation of the fee attached to the Post-JAMB test and refund of those already collected by different institutions.

However, the germ of malpractice is a product of the desperate conditions created in admission as a result of limited spaces in the Universities in relation to the population of applicants. For instance, in the 2005/2006 admissions, over one million applied for admission but all the 73 Universities (including 23 licensed private ones) could admit is a mere 147,000 - about 15%. According to Prof. Okebukola, in the next five years, students seeking admission will increase to about four million. Unfortunately, only the children of the rich can afford the expensive private institutions thus making the bulk of admission falls on the public tertiary institutions, which have been totally abandoned by government. The public institutions presently are fast nose-diving into the comatose state of public primary and secondary schools. What all these facts have shown is that the country has no reason not to fund education at all levels. Nigeria, as the 8th largest OPEC producer of crude oil is incontrovertibly rich. As of now, Nigeria, according to the Finance Minister, Okonjo Iweala, has made over $12billion as excess profit from the daily sales of crude oil while the nation's external reserve stands at a record height of $29billion and is still increasing. But unfortunately, the Obasanjo government will not use all these resources to fund education because it also benefits from the dislocation of public institutions. Obasanjo himself has a private university of his own called "The Bells". Not only him, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the Igbinedion family and a host of other politicians use resources meant for public purposes to pursue private businesses of their own. At the same time, the Obasanjo government is irrevocably committed to corruption. While education is crumbling due to under funding, the government has disbursed a whooping $12.4billion to Paris Club creditors to settle a fictitious debt deal. And just few weeks ago, the Senate also approved about N40million to buy a bullet-proof car for the Senate president. These are just few instances of the reckless spending; corruption and profligacy of the Obasanjo government while social services like education and health are left to crumble.

Conclusively, it will take a determined, organized and popular struggle of Nigerian students nationwide through demonstrations and protests to fight back the attacks on education. Obviously, the treacherous Hembe-led NANS leadership, going by its pro-government activities, cannot be expected to lead this movement. The Education Rights Campaign (ERC), in alliance with progressive students' unions, civil society organizations and individuals should be prepared to spearhead these campaigns. However, the continuous attacks of Obasanjo government on education cannot be divorced from the overall neo-liberal policies of the regime, which has brought untold hardship, poverty and misery on the poor working masses. In actual fact, a lasting solution to the crisis in the education sector cannot be obtained unless the Obasanjo government, together with its anti-poor economic policies, is ousted through a social revolution of the toiling masses. In that wise, we must link our demands and protests with the call for a viable workers political party with alternative pro-masses programmes that will commit the collective resources of the country to providing social services, development of infrastructures, a better working and living conditions etc. this party must be built to wrenching political power from the grip of self serving capitalist politicians. It is only in this context that the struggle of Nigerian students can be crowned in genuine victory.

 

 

 

Socialist Democracy Nov - Dec 2005