Nigeria: Like Brazil, Unlike Its Education And Health,By Zainab Suleiman Okino

Zainab Suleiman Okino_2As recently as last week, Brazil’s congress (senate and lower house) approved a bill to designate ALL royalties that accrue from its newly discovered oil fields to education and healthcare. By that resolution and assent by the president later, and starting from next year, 75% of drilling royalties that the government collects will be invested in education while the remaining 25% will be assigned to healthcare programmes.
Ironically, the bill came into effect on a day news broke that Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Okonjo Iweala made insensitive remarks about the country’s inability to pay the N92 billion (N87 billion) ASUU asked the government to inject into the university education to bring it back from the woods. Brazil’s oil and gas production is over 2 million pb output, but the country recorded 2.6million barrels output in June this year, the first in 15 months, after oil fields were overhauled. Nigeria’s oil production output is put at 2.5 million. Brazil has an estimated population of 193 million, Nigeria’s population is conservatively put at 160
million. Brazil is the largest country in South America and Latin America and Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and both countries are multi-cultural in composition.

While the two countries are almost naturally alike in many ways, good leadership, progressive legislation and pro-poor/pro-people policies have notched Brazil far ahead of Nigeria in all development indices. That is why a legislation referred to above did not surprise many. I don’t know whether some of these people in government have ever travelled back, as private citizens though, to their former alma- maters. They would have seen the rot and the physical deterioration in their former schools. Can Okonjo-Iweala and President Jonathan proudly point at their former faculties and universities of Nsukka and Port Harcourt respectively, and proclaim: “here is the school that moulded me to be who I am today”? The answer is no. At one time government thought it wise(?) to set up a committee to assess the needs of Nigerian universities. That report, the NEEDS assessment report, put together by
the former TETFUND executive secretary, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, is what ASUU has anchored its demands on but another minister in government rejected the demands outrightly.

Back to the issue of visiting one’s alma mater. Our health columnist, Dr. Biodun Ogungbo did so recently; he went to the University of Lagos and was appalled by what he saw. He published the startling discoveries in the August 15, 2013 edition of this paper. In what he called “The decay in Medilag”, Dr. Ogungbo wrote of the UNILAG medical school thus: “I did a reconnaissance of my alma mater, Medilag, recently and I was dumbfounded at the decay and the abject poverty that pervade this erstwhile citadel of learning. This school is not fit for training monkeys let alone the young minds it is supposed to train and qualify as doctors “When I was in Medilag, I roomed with a dear friend, Dr. Bayo Windapo in No. 416, Ali Akilu Hall. We each had bed at the opposite ends of the room. Now, on my visit to the same room, I had to negotiate an obstacle course of endless buckets used by the students
to fetch water. The room was now inhabited by eight female students. The room is therefore close to the occupancy rate in Kirikiri prison.
“Where is the solitude, the solace, the cerebral relaxation that should follow each day of academic pursuit? How can each student be the best they can be in an environment so suffocating, indecent and bereft of any sense of comfort. The school has deteriorated in more ways than one…the major learning ground, the Lagos University Teaching Hospital is another story. Things were so bad there that the college lost accreditation for training surgeons a while back…
“Medilag has not contributed singularly and significantly to the health of Nigeria. Yet, we have had brains trained in Medilag, and many are currently masters of their
profession in many parts of the world”. The story related above permeates all other universities in the country. I was shocked to learn the other day that another citadel of knowledge, Ahmadu Bello University’s (ABU) medical school lost accreditation sometime back. I don’t know about now, but talk of a broken tradition, that is now the hallmark of our

The statistics of the rot in education is downright damning. According to available statistics, about 71,000 Nigerian students are in Ghanian universities, thereby injecting N160,000 billion in fees to the Ghanaian education sector. Nigerians contribute N246 billion to UK education in 2011. The figure is higher today. With each setback through strikes, and other forms of maladministration as happened in the University of Abuja and Nasarawa state University close by, the figure increases. In 2011, the government spent N2.3 trillion in subsidy as against the budgeted N230 billion. Why can’t the same government recover the balance from the fraudsters involved in the scam and redirect same to funding education? Instead, the perpetrators of that fraud are also active participants in government. As someone
recently reminded the president somewhere, the government spent N2 trillion to bail out banks in 2010-2011 and the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) had N122.9 billion to spend for the 2011 presidential election.Yet, the same government cannot raise N92 billion or N87 billion to salvage university education and stop capital flight on education once and for all.

Remember the hoopla created between the finance minister and the law-makers over whether the budget should be based on N70 or N80 pb of oil at the international market. The cost of oil is now over N100 per barrel, and no one is asking where the surplus has been going to? At best, it would go to the excess crude account, which has become a slush fund for successive governments. The body statutorily empowered to oversight the executive, the National Assembly has either gone to sleep or has become part of the problem, or both. So, instead of confronting the ASUU nightmare headlong, the government would rather sponsor fringe groups to speak on national television against ASUU’s demands. And the lawmakers? Do they have the courage to do what the Brazilian lawmakers did? You figure it out.

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