By Sunday Saanu
“I foresee a future, and a near one for that matter, whereby the federal and state governments will privatize all state-owned universities and tertiary institutions. This is a prediction which should not meet any one of us by surprise, otherwise we may in no distant future be echoing “There was a University” to borrow Chinua Achebe’s words”
“We are left in no doubt that our educational system is crumbling; our Universities and tertiary institutions are failing and falling; while the glorious past of our citadels of higher learning is being eclipsed in our eyes. Government will not believe or agree that we have sunk this low, insofar as the basic developmental ingredient of mankind, that is, education, is concerned”
“Our children are not happy with us, and we are also not happy with ourselves as parents and Alumni of different and various institutions of higher learning in Nigeria. Before our very eyes, and with us standing akimbo, or folding our arms, blindfolding our eyes, in pretense, as it were, the collapsing portals of the institutions we passed through are staring at us in our collective face and conscience”
“Do we say that our hands are tied? Do we conclude that we are helpless and hapless? Do we leave the fate of these crumbling institutions to the gods? In the usual Nigeria characteristic, do we continue to pray without doing anything to rescue the situation, expecting God to bring Manna from heaven and feed these ailing institutions? Do we even agree that the portals, through which we passed are now in the “intensive care units” and the fragments of the life support sustaining them are virtually being removed?
“Do we want to keep on jesting, partying, wining, dining, dancing, and celebrating, while the portals that bred us are burning, behaving like King Nero, who was marrying while Rome was burning? There are more questions than answers! However, we have an emergency on our hands, and to address and tackle that emergency, the Alumni Associations must come to the rescue and find their feet. The time to act is now, and not later than now”
These are the excerpts from the 2022 National Public Service Lecture delivered by a legal luminary, Chief Wole Olanipekun at the University of Ibadan recently. The lecture, organized by the University of Ibadan Alumni Association (UIAA) was titled Building blocks for unbundling the critical problems plaguing education in Nigeria: A clarion call on Alumni Associations to rebuild the collapsing portals through which they passed.
However, since Chief Olanipekun delivered this lecture with some predictions that may later hunt the nation, I have not stopped thinking about some salient issues raised by this legal icon, whose voice carries a strong and special resonance. The assumptions that underlined the predictions are not only real and relevant, they stare at us in the face! To start with, these kinds of words can only come from those who truly value education and know the importance of education in nation-building.
Against the background of the current strike, embarked upon by Academic Staff Union of Universities(ASUU), and the lackadaisical attitude government displays towards the resolution of the crisis, it is glaring that those in government are probably insensate to the feelings of the students, lecturers, parents and guardians who are left extremely apoplectic. It is either because their own children are not in public universities affected by the strike or are not in school in Nigeria or because they are obtuse to grasp the implications of closing down the school system for six months or a combination of all the factors.
Let me slice it a little thinner, many of these people in government don’t just seem to value education of the children of the poor. Did they know that Nelson Mandela described education as the most powerful weapon which they could change Nigeria for the better? Did these Nigerian leaders realize that Kofi Annan regarded education as the premise of progress, while John Dewey argued that education was not preparation for life, rather education, according to him, “is life itself”?
According to Joseph Addison, “Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate, no despotism can enslave. At home, education is a friend, abroad an introduction, in solitude a solace, and in society an ornament, it chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives, at once, grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage”
If education is this very important and government is handling it with levity as shown in this case, then, Chief Olanipekun’s fear that government may, in no distant future, auction UI, University of Lagos, Ife, Jos and others, on account of its inability to fund them, is not totally misplaced! If government could fold its hands and allow a strike to run for six months, who says they cannot one day decide to sell UI and others as they sold National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) to their friends?
To me, of all insidious forces that can pull students away from achieving their educational goals is perhaps this ceaseless strike. With incessant strike, the feeling that students will graduate at a record time remains a dream deferred. With this ongoing strike, unfortunately though, both students and their parents are heavy-hearted. All the stakeholders are displeased and unplacated. Yet, it is the same strike some Ministers are using to play politics. They feel fulfilled leading the country astray!
However, to the alumni, Chief Olanipekun has this admonition for them. Hear him, “Alumni Associations in Nigeria would be living in self-delusion if they still expect much from any government, more particularly so, that governments at all levels in this country today appear not to be able to help themselves, how much more remembering or thinking of educational institutions, whether at the Primary, Secondary or Tertiary levels. It then behoves each Alumni Association to wake and rise up to the daunting reality facing their old schools”
What more to add? When the like of Chief Olanipekun speak, the nation had better listen! The Nigerian university system is overdue for redemption. Truth is like surgery. It hurts, but cures. We may argue from sunrise to sunset, truth remains the truth. Government must wake up to its responsibility-fund education sufficiently. The current situation demands decisiveness. This is not the time to leave leprosy and be treating ringworm.
Chief Olanipekun who is the Chairman of the Body of Benchers delivered what could be regarded as a practical lecture with its accuracy, felicity and fluency as the appreciative audience intermittently punctuated him with applause.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, the UI VC, Prof. Kayode Adebowale who was represented by his Deputy on Administration, Prof. Ezekiel Ayoola observed that the on-going crisis “is one of the longest industrial actions in the history of the public university system in Nigeria”, saying, all stakeholders seem to be at a loss regarding the way out of the impasse.
Among the dignitaries at the occasion were Dr. Akin Onigbinde who was the Chairman of the occasion, VC, Ajayi Crowder University, Prof. Abiodun Timothy Adebayo, former UI VC, Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka among others.
Saanu(08034073427) is with University of Ibadan.