By Elizabeth Osayande
Education reporters in Nigeria, under the aegis of the Education Writers Association of Nigeria, EWAN, recently staged a peaceful protest to demand the immediate reopening of public universities in the country which have been shut down for months due to the industrial action embarked upon by staff unions, especially members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
The peaceful protest, which took off from the Lagos State Television, LTV Complex in Ikeja, saw the journalists heading for Lagos State House of Assembly complex.
Speaking on why the event was organized, the EWAN Chairman, Mr. Mojeed Alabi, said it was basically to present the association’s letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. He added that the association was also calling for reforms in the education sector.
The letter read:
“Apart from poor allocation to the sector, EWAN is also not proud of the quality of your appointees to man a sector as sensitive as education, which is regarded as the fulcrum for national development. Your administration, like others before it, has continued to encourage policy somersaults, inconsistencies and poor commitment to the reform expected in the education sector. Rather than strengthening the existing academic institutions, your administration has also continued to announce the establishment of more schools, satisfying only political interests and not the sustainability of such institutions.
Today, at a time Nigeria is considering merging agencies and departments of government, your administration is in the process of establishing another commission for the purpose of coordinating activities of senior secondary schools.
This is nothing but a misplaced priority, Sir. On moral and academic corruption in the education sector, your administration has also done little or nothing to rein in the bad eggs. The recent pardon of politicians earlier jailed for corruption is a clear sign of the deception in your administration’s campaign against corruption.
Our demands, therefore, are: immediate reopening of the universities; improved budgetary allocation to education; end to proliferation of academic institutions; end to politicization of education; appointment of a competent hand as education minister among others.”
Also speaking, a lawyer, who is also a Principal Partner, Jiti Ogunye Chambers, Jiti Ogunye, noted that the struggle for the reopening of the nation’s tertiary institutions must also seek a revamp of the education sector.
He said: “I join EWAN to seek the reopening of our universities that are plagued by strike, and all other deformities. And in the long term, I call for the reform of our educational system. Reopening of our universities is not a means in itself but a means to an end. It is to have qualitative education. An education that is productive can make our young people employable, not only in this society but outside the shores of Nigeria.”
“In the past, when the brain drain started, a lot of Nigerian academics left for overseas. But when they left, that was the marked difference between what was happening then and now. Their certificates and qualifications were not second guessed. Now, if you have people who go overseas for greener pastures, they subject our university graduates to tests. So our stock has fallen. That struggle that has been for a long time must continue. It is a struggle we must continue to fight and hope we win.”
In her remarks, the founder, Concerned Parents Educators Network, CPE, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde, called on relevant stakeholders to see to the reopening of universities.
According to her, the continuous stay of Nigerian children at home is dangerous and exposes them to vices.
“I stand as a representative of over 241,000 Nigerians, scattered in various parts of the world. Our reason for associating with EWAN is that we are concerned. We believe that the Nigerian child deserves better. We are worried that our universities remain closed. Even countries at war, have their children in school. We all love Nigeria. That’s the reason we all are here today. We want a better society. We also know it is not going to come without reforms in our education sector. It is dangerous to continue to close our universities. It is dangerous for us, for our children who are studying getting involved in things we cannot talk about. It is dangerous for us not to occupy and engage their minds. We don’t want idle minds in our society. That is why we are calling on the government to open our universities. Let our children go back to school.”
The Special Adviser on Education to the governor of Lagos State, Mr. Tokunbo Wahab, who received EWAN’S letter on behalf of the governor, promised to deliver the message. Wahab, who explained that the state’s tertiary institutions were running, however, called for a change of the narrative on the part of ASUU.
“In Lagos State, you can confirm that our institutions are up and running. However, I feel the pain of parents across board. I will deliver your message.”
“With due respect, you can count how many times our children have been in school. It is not good enough. However, let’s look at why things are not working. ASUU needs to be called to order. It is not every time we go through this narrative. What have we done to our system? We are churning out half baked graduates, they are not even half baked, but quarter baked or not baked at all. And these are questions we should be asking ourselves which are affecting the whole strata of our education, except in Lagos.”
Reacting to the demands of EWAN, the Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudasiru Obasa, who was represented by the member representing Ikeja 11 Constituency, Adedamola Kashemu, noted that the state would collaborate with the federal government to address incessant strikes by university workers.”
Representing the Speaker and the House, I understand the plight of parents, workers and our students who are sitting idle as a result of incessant strikes. It ought to be a thing of the past. We do realize that, and we are very certain, especially the Lagos State government, to collaborate with the federal government to put an end to this situation,” he said.