The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the apex body for all university academics in Nigeria, has criticised the “low” budget figure assigned to the country’s education sector in the 2024 budget proposal – a development that may be setting the scene for another confrontation between the organisation and the government in 2024.
Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, the union’s president, lamented the low budget in an interview with University World News, noting that strikes may, at any moment from now on, be unavoidable if all contending issues are not resolved.
The ASUU, which has been clashing with the government over its members’ working conditions, has been using strike action since 1988, with some protests lasting months. The tussle between university lecturers and the government are often related to the funding of universities, conditions of service and the non-implementation of agreements.
‘The budget of renewed hope’ was presented to a joint session of the National Assembly by Nigerian President Bola Tinubu and is awaiting final approval by the lawmakers.
Tinubu announced the allocation of NGN27.5 trillion (approximately US$35 billion) for the 2024 fiscal year earlier in December – his first budget as president.
The education sector got 7.9%, amounting to NGN2.18 trillion (approximately US$2.76 billion), coming second after the 12% or NGN3.25 trillion (approximately US$4.2 billion) budget for defence and security, according to a document released by Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, the country’s minister of budget and economic planning.
The document further reveals the breakdown of the NGN2.18 trillion education budget to include: NGN1.23 trillion allotted for the federal ministry of education and its agencies (for recurrent and capital expenditure); NGN251.47 billion for universal basic education; and NGN700 billion earmarked as transfers to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) for infrastructure projects in tertiary institutions.
Low budget, failed promise
Osodeke said the education budget is low and cannot cater for the critical challenges that are facing the sector. He added that Tinubu has failed to fulfil the promise he made to increase the budget of the education sector to at least 15%.
“This is what we had in the past. If the budget remains the way it is, we are going to be in the exact situation we were in the past. That’s why some of us are uncomfortable with this budget,” he told University World News.
When asked about the next action of the union, Osodeke said the union always gives ample room for negotiations but, if no tangible result is achieved, then industrial action, to attract the attention of the government, is inevitable.
“The 30% salary award, promised by the government to be paid in September, has not been paid and we are in December; four months’ salaries have not been paid, earned academic allowances have not been paid … All these, if not resolved, would cause academic disruption in the meantime.”
He attributed the lack of priority the education sector received from leaders as the sole factor responsible for the challenges bedevilling education in Nigeria.
“Once we agree with the fact that education is the key to national development and we have leaders who are interested in it, there won’t be a problem. It is very unfortunate for us as a country that our leaders are not interested in education.”
Osodeke called on the citizens of the country at large to rise to save the sector so that the trend of Nigerian students rushing to other countries for education can come to an end, and Nigerian academics who left in search of greener pastures, can return.
“It is not about ASUU or individuals, but about the country. Our country, as the giant of Africa, needs to change its approach to education.
“Nigerians should rise and call on the leaders they elected. We must bring our students and lecturers back home to rescue this nation. It is a national struggle.
“Nigerians should ask the government to do the needful and ensure that there is no disruption in the university system and to ensure Nigerian universities compete with other universities in the world,” he said, encouraging the federal government to emulate some state governments that increased their budgetary allocation for education up to 20%.
More calls for an increase
Meanwhile, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has, since 2015, recommended to all its member states to increase their investment in education from 15% to 20%, although many countries, like Nigeria, have yet to comply.
Dr Anderson Ezeibe, the national president of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, said the sectoral allocation for education can barely provide solutions to the multifaceted problems in the sector.
Lucky Emonefe, the president of the National Association of Nigerian Students, or NANS, also said the budgetary allowance for education in 2024 was too low to tackle the prevalent challenges in the sector, therefore calling on the president and the National Assembly to increase the budget.
“The problems facing the education sector are enormous and urgent intervention is needed to prevent a complete loss of its standards,” Emonefe told Thisday in Warri, southern Nigeria.
However, Jide Ojo, a public affairs analyst, said the fact that the education budget proposal for 2024 ranked second behind defence and security was laudable, but the 7.9% allocation was quite low, suggesting governments, both at national and sub-national level, were not prioritising education.
Ojo said that problems combating Nigeria’s education sector cannot be solved by the governments alone.
“What we need to do is to seek alumni associations of universities to help, look for public-private partnerships to fund our institutions as well as corporate foundations and organisations that run profitable businesses in Nigeria to improve the sector significantly.”