The President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, is unhappy with the country’s dependence on foreign nations for direction on socio-economic policies and actions. In this interview with MOJEED ALABI, he speaks on the current figure of out-of-school children, poor budgetary allocation to education and the need for alternative to the Nigeria’s leadership.
The Federal Government has just confirmed UNESCO’s new 8.6 million statistics of out-of-school children from the earlier 10.5 million. Doesn’t this sound good for Nigeria’s education sector?
Nigerians must not be deceived by this new statistics. We must see it as part of the game of deception going on; they want to use fake statistics to placate Nigerians and advertise themselves as a progressive leadership. So, forget all the statistics being bandied around, they are fake and are meant to placate the people, especially at a time the general elections are around the corner.
The reality does not support the reduction in the number of out-of-school-children. If you ask me, I will tell you we cannot have less than 15 million Nigerian children, who are out-of-school. All the indices support this fact. For instance, even South-West that is not confronted by the menace of Boko Haram insurgence and the large scale herdsmen attacks as witnessed in the north is also not free from the scourge of out-ofschool children.
It is unfortunate that this is a region that used to be at the vanguard of free and compulsory education. Today, if you walk the streets of Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Ogun, Ekiti and Ondo States, you are confronted by the sight of schoolaged children, in their multitude, who hawk banana, oranges and all sorts during school hours.
These are children who are expected to be in school, but they cannot because their parents could not afford the new developmental fees introduced by these governments. So, if the situation is so in the west, what do we talk about the north that is ravaged by the activities of the insurgents and the herdsmen? Is it in Benue, Borno, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Southern Kaduna, Plateau or Zamfara that several communities have been sacked? What happens to schools in those communities? When you claim Boko Haram has been decimated, where are the constant bomb blasts coming from? What about our colleagues from the University of Maiduguri and other institutions abducted by the Boko Haram? What about the more than 90,000 people in Benue occupying various school compounds as refugees? Therefore, the phenomenon of out-of-school-children is a reflection of the general crisis in the country.
This is a country without adequate planning for people, be they young or old. And because of that, we are governed by the rules of the tongue. You see, unlike in the early ‘60s when we used to have developmental plans, now what we have is what they call strategic plans and they only put some statistics together to placate us.
Today, they just roll out plans that do not match the philosophies and goals of the nation. If you look at Chapter 2, Section 18 of Nigeria’s Constitution, you would notice the objectives of the country’s education. But these objectives have been neglected by the people leaving us to only wander around.
How do you react to this year’s education budget?
Do you know what Nigeria calls budget? It is a game of deception. The recent analysis that we conducted, we found out that everything is just about deception. Let me give you the analysis of the university system, since August 2017, the Federal Government has not released a kobo as running cost to any of the federal universities. And this is the same government that would warn the universities against charging levies and fees. It is all over like that. Yet they are building more universities because to them, it is more glorious to say they have certain number of universities than talking about the qualities of those institutions. These Briton Woods institutions have imposed what they call Envelope Budgeting System on us. And what does that mean? This implies that on education Nigeria cannot spend more than 7 per cent of its budget, and on health you cannot spend more than two per cent, and on agriculture you cannot spend more than three per cent. Which country in the world would allow external bodies to determine that for it? Nigeria needs minimum of 20 per cent on education. You see, a country should be allowed to determine its priorities. But, here we are not allowed to do that. This is happening because we have a very weak leadership, because they lack the political will to challenge these ‘busy body’ imperialists.
What is your assessment of the socio-economic situation of the country?
The economic environment is becoming harsher than before; our governors are not responsive and the local government councils are as good as non-existent. The government prefers white elephant projects to funding education, which is the foundation for real socio-economic growth and development. So, it is not surprising that today, our healthcare facilities are in comatose, roads are impassable, our rail system is still flaunting locomotive trains. So, the whole situation is a disaster.
Are you saying there has been no difference from where we are and where we were coming from?
Let me tell you, the current leadership, when it came into power, it said no way, nobody would increase the price of fuel, what is happening today? It said no way, nobody would devalue the naira, what is happening now? Nobody would support subsidy, what is happening now? All these are going on because this country has very weak leadership. It is like those who colonised us, we are still babies in their hands and they manipulate us the way they want. When they want to appease our gods they would say our economy is growing but as soon as we want to be boastful, they would tell us our indices are all zero. So, all these manipulations are going on. Of course, we need people who can sit down and challenge these imperialists. You see, all these development partners don’t like us, and we are beginning to see that. They want us to continue to amass more loans, so that we can be enslaved by them.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has suggested a “third force” as alternative to the current leadership. What is your take on this?
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is not in a position to dictate the route to follow to us. If the third force he is still talking about will still include all these characters being paraded, then it has failed already. The other time, we were told a strong party would emerge and change everything, but which change have we seen? Has the system not remained within the same paradigm? We need a break from the past, and that cannot happen as long as the likes of Obasanjo continue to dictate what happens to us.
So, what alternative do you suggest?
Nigeria needs clearheaded people who can give this country a new orientation. And to achieve that, we need to go back to the drawing board. We must plan our country in a way that all indices of development can be brought together and meet at some point to drive our development. This will not happen until we wean ourselves from what someone describes us as “feeding bottle country.” So, we need critical elements, who could win for this country true freedom. We don’t have the true freedom yet. Those who are presently at the helm of affairs have their allegiance to these imperialists. We need some new clearheaded radical people that prioritise the interest of the Nigerian people above their selfish interests. Someone who owns a private university will surely not be willing to ensure government institutions work. That is a known fact. So, we need selfless people and not these characters.