Editors’ note: The writer of this piece, Buchi Obichie, argues that instead of planning towards a Muhammadu Buhari University in honour of her husband, the president’s wife, Aisha, should use her unique position to push for an upgrade of Nigeria’s education sector, so the nation can be poised for future success.
It’s usually a foregone conclusion that spouses should be each other’s closest confidantes and most trusted allies; and that their words and advice would carry more weight than those of any other. And it is for this reason that a person seeking a favor would usually go through the spouse of the person the favor is being sought from, in a bid to get a favourable response.
When a spouse is in government, the position of privilege becomes even greater as the other half of the union has an advantage which can be used not just for the betterment of the immediate family unit, but for the larger constituency, depending on one’s position in government.
Thus, we expect our first ladies to use their unique positions and ‘maternal instincts’ – they are mothers of the nation afterall – to push for positive change; having the ears and hearts of their husbands.
And we expect no less from Mrs Aisha Buhari.
Recently, the president’s wife disclosed her plans to build a Muhammadu Buhari University in collaboration with partners from Sudan and Qatar. She did not disclose when the project would take-off or where the institution would be situated…she just put the statement out there.
Now, we understand that Aisha Buhari – as any other loving wife would do – is seeking to build up her husband’s legacy and ensure that his name is stamped on something that would, hopefully, endure for a very long time.
However, in light of the situation in the country, there is cause to wonder if this is a necessary venture…and if it should even be coming up at such a time as this.
The Muhammadu Buhari government presented an N8.83 trillion budget to the National Assembly for the 2019 fiscal year; out of which, just N620.5bn was budgeted for the education sector. The figure represents about 7.05 percent of the total 2019 budget; way short of the 15 to 20 percent minimum recommended by UNESCO for countries to designate for education.
This was after the president had promised, during a trip to France in November 2018, that better funding would be earmarked for the education sector.
Out of this N620.5bn, money would go to 28 education agencies, 37 federal universities, 24 federal polytechnics, 21 federal universities of education and 104 unity colleges.
With so many to allocate to and not enough funding, one wonders how each of these institutions would be able to pay teachers/lecturers salaries, cater to students welfare and then upgrade infrastructure in way of much-needed physical structures for learning and technological tools to enable Nigerian students compete with their counterparts in other climes.
It’s practically impossible.
Added to this problem of inadequate funding for education, many parents also lack the wherewithal to keep their children in schools…not to talk of those who are too scared to send their kids to school due to insecurity!
It is no wonder that in 2018, UNICEF reported that about 10.5 million of Nigerian children aged between five and 14 years are not in school.
On his part, the executive secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Hamid Bobboyi, said between 2010 and 2015, the number of out-of-school children had increased from 10.5 million to 13.2 million.
These astronomically high figures coupled with the inadequate funding seem to infer that education may not really be a priority for this federal government. This shouldn’t be.
One would then think that the president’s wife, instead of making plans for a Muhammadu Buhari University, would be speaking to her husband about ensuring that the education sector is upgraded.
After all, there is no development without an adequate and well-equipped workforce…and there is no adequate and well-equipped workforce without formidable institutions preparing the next generation of leaders!
In fact, what better legacy can any president leave, than exiting office with his country better off than when he met it? And how can he do this without making a considerable impact in each sector…especially a very important one like education?
I mean, it is ‘human resources’ that build nations in the long run…more than any ‘natural resource’ found in the ground.
Now, moving the focus to Nigeria’s universities, let’s talk about ASUU for a bit.
In November 2018, the union went on strike. The lecturers were protesting poor funding and failure of the federal government to implement an agreement it signed in 2009 with ASUU to improve facilities and enhance staff welfare in the various federal tertiary institutions.
That strike would drag on for three long months until the government reached an agreement with the union in February 2019.
The consequences of the strike – as usual - was that students would spend a longer period of time getting degrees and would become useful vessels to carry out all manner of unscrupulous acts as they lay idle at home.
Instead of thinking of building a university in her husband’s honour, would it not be a much greater act of service, for the president’s wife to convince her husband to pay more attention to the plight of lecturers who are responsible for the quality of graduates produced in our universities? Or can a student learn without a teacher?
But I guess one may not be inclined towards such acts of national development when one’s own children all graduated from schools in the United Kingdom!
The president seems to have developed a reputation of aloofness; and it seems this has also spread to his wife. That seems to be the reason why they appear to have little inclination and political will to push forward agendas that would lead to the much-needed ‘change’ they promised the country in 2015.
President Buhari would argue that the education budget for 2019 is higher than that of the previous year which saw N605.8bn budgeted for the sector. However, as I stated before, 7.05 percent still falls way short of the 15 to 20 percent minimum recommended by UNESCO!
In my opinion, what Nigeria needs is an education sector that can meet - or at least, almost meet - global standards and produce graduates who can compete favorably in a 21st Century environment. And our federal (and state) universities should be the first ports-of-call for such endeavours. They should be given priority.
Nigeria does not need another over-priced private university – this one bearing the name of a president – that would cater mostly to elites; thereby ensuring that those from lower levels of life are once again deprived of the high quality training needed for individual and national development.
In fact, instead of making plans with people from Sudan and Qatar to build a university in her husband’s name, why doesn’t Aisha Buhari seek ways to help facilitate exchange programmes between students from Nigerian federal and state universities, and those from schools in those countries?
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Such exchanges would not only help expand the worldview of Nigerian undergraduates (especially those who, on their own, may not be able to afford such levels of exposure); they would also foster cultural understanding among the various countries, thereby contributing to the furtherance of ‘soft diplomacy’.
In the end, this would also be an honourable way for the president’s wife to help build up her nation.
A Muhammadu Buhari University should not be a priority at this point…it should not even be a topic of discussion while our own federal and state universities are in such poor shape and are crying out for much-needed upgrades.
Mrs Buhari has got it all wrong!
This opinion piece was written by Buchi Obichie.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Legit.ng.
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