ASUU Strike And The Expediency Of Revisiting The Bill To Ban Public Officers’ Children From Studying Abroad
By Sandra Ijeoma Okoye
It cannot be mischievous to call on Nigerian lawmakers to once again revisit the passing of the bill which seeks to prevent children of public office holders from schooling abroad. It would be recalled that in October 2014 that the bill passed second reading in the Senate. The bill, if passed, will restrict children of public office holders from schooling abroad except for specialized courses not offered in any of the country’s educational institutions.
The sponsor of the bill, during the political dispensation under reference, Senator Mohammed Basheer (PDP Kano) said the country’s education sector was (and still is) confronted with serious challenges and it has become important for the Senate to adopt drastic measures to rescue the ailing educational system. Unfortunately the bill was not passed, as not few of the lawmakers opposed the passing the bill. At the time the bill was literarily killed by the lawmakers, not few social commentators were unanimous in their views that such bill could not have seen the light of day as the likelihood that most of the lawmakers have their children and relatives schooling abroad cannot be ruled out, and that could have contributed to the bill being kicked against.
In the same vein, the House of Representatives in March this year, 2022, rejected a bill seeking to regulate how children of public officers enroll in schools outside the shores of Nigeria. Expectedly, it faced stiff opposition at the second reading.
The legislation is titled ‘A Bill for an Act to Regulate International Studies for Wards and Children of Nigerian Public Officers, to Strengthen Indigenous Institutions, Provide Efficient Educational Services for National Development; and for Related Matters.’
Rt Hon. Sergius Ogun who sponsored the bill noted that the proposal would strengthen indigenous educational institutions to meet global standards; boost the economy by reducing cash flight and foreign exchange; reduce brain drain and institute good welfare conditions for indigenous academics, experts and professionals based in abroad to come back home and develop their country with their skills and expertise.
The lawmaker added that it would build a better society by developing formidable educational institutions; and facilitate the realization of the fundamental objectives and policies of state as enshrined in Chapter Two of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) Cap C23, LFN, 2004.
He said in part, “This bill is proposed against the background of fallen standards in our educational system and the need to bring the sector up to speed with global best standards. Unfortunately, as a result of the inability of the government to provide quality education in its public educational institutions, Nigerians have resorted to private schools and foreign schools for their education.
“The United Kingdom, United States of America, Ukraine, Ghana, Malaysia, Egypt, and South Africa, just to mention a few, have become choice destinations for Nigerians in search of quality education. “The trouble with this is that most of those who patronize private-owned educational institutions or those who travel abroad to study are children and wards of Nigerian public officers. These are the officers who should take responsibility for the building of our public institutions.
“For me, this would yield a counter-product result in our drive for national development. I believe that public officers should be subjected to the utility of the public institutions which they are responsible for building and maintaining.”
In fact, to say that Rt Hon. Sergius Ogun has through his sponsorship of the bill spoken the minds of not a few Nigerians as one of the reasons that makes top leaders in the public service, particularly politicians to always feel unconcern when Nigerian universities are locked up is that their own children are in school abroad.
Analyzed from the backdrop of the foregoing view, the reason why the meeting that was held yesterday, August 16, 2022, between the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government has again ended without an agreement will be clearly understood.
With the stalemate, it means the six-month old strike, which commenced on February 14, 2022, by public university lecturers is set to continue.
As gathered, the striking lecturers had met with the Professor Nimi Briggs Committee on Tuesday at the National University Commission in Abuja with high hopes of resolving the impasse but unfortunately, the members of the Briggs’ renegotiation committee did not come with any new offer on the table.
Rather, the committee pleaded with the lecturers to suspend the ongoing strike, with promises that their concerns will be included in the 2023 budget.
Why would anyone expect the government’s side of the committee to accede to a favorable agreement that would be of mutual benefits to both the government and the lecturers? In fact, for decades, interruptions in the Nigerian university education system have remained perennial with no progress in sight. For instance, in the last 20 years, university lecturers have gone on nationwide strikes 16 times, covering a cumulative period of 51 months.
In fact given the fact that Nigerian politicians have continued to unpatriotically, disgracefully and unashamedly sponsor their children’s education in abroad at a time when the nation’s public universities have been on a lockdown since February 14, 2022, the call for a bill to ban public servants’ children from schooling abroad becomes meaningful and reasonable.
Without doubt, it is not an exaggeration to say that the political class have since Nigeria adopted democratic system of government in 1999 developed the penchant for sending their wards to foreign universities at the expenseof Nigerian universities, and to the detriment of the children of the have-nots and their parents. Not satisfied with frittering away our national patrimony on their children, they have resorted to embarking on a gaudy and offensive display of convocation photographs all over social media.
At this juncture, it is expedient to reiterate the call that public servants’ children should be banned from schooling abroad if that is the only way Nigeria universities can qualitatively develop.