Prof Femi Mimiko, Vice Chancellor, Adekunle Ajasin University, a professor of political science and delegate to the ongoing National Confab from Ondo state is of the opinion there is dire need for massive funding of education to save the sector from total collapse. In this encounter with IGNATIUS OKOROCHA, Prof Mimiko who aired his view on issues militating against the progress of the nation’s education, condemns incessant strikes by lecturers based on unsettled issues with the Federal Government, and appeals to Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU to evolve other means of addressing their grievances. Excerpt:
Prof, what is your assessment of the Confab committees?
I expect that the focus of the committees should have been tighter, the whole purpose of this sitting is to look at the appropriate political structure that could provide the basis for the deliverance of good governance for Nigeria and I was going to suggest that it is indeed those issues that the President raised in that very powerful speech that he gave that should constitute the basis for forming the committees. He mentioned structure of government, resource control, state and religion. All of those critical elements are those things we need to look at to be able to make meaning of this conference. As things are now, several of the committees that we have now would be working blindly. For instance, look at education which is my constituency as a class teacher, the type of educational policies that we recommend must of necessity take off from the political system we have in place. Let me give you an example; supposing somebody in Education Committee says the federal government should give 26 percent of the budget to education and he assumes that that is a profound recommendation but what if the committee on political restructuring now says education in totality should get off the hands of the federal government and be on the residual list to be addressed by either the province or the region or the state as the case may be, then what becomes of the earlier recommendation? So for me the fundamental problem that we should have considered is the political structure and I was going to suggest that we should have actually asked each committee to look at the political structure. I think the way to go is letting each of the committees to take a look at the political structure that will constitute the context of subsequent recommendations by each of the committees, otherwise a committee will just conclude its work and to discover that its work has no meaning, given the nature of the political arrangement that may be recommended by the committee working on political restructuring.
As a vice chancellor of a University, what changes are you expecting from this conference in the education sector?
In the first instance much of what is going on in the education sector should have been with the federating units and that is the states. I don’t believe that the federal government should be this involved in education. Secondly, I believe there has to be a real funding in the education sector especially the University education which is the bedrock of research, without which you cannot have science and technology, without which a nation cannot develop. There should be massive funding of the education sector as there is no amount of money you put in education that is a loss. If you don’t get the benefit today you certainly will get it tomorrow. The third thing I think we need to address is the place of technical and vocational education. I have often said this, when people pose the question which is more prestigious, which is superior, HND or BSC, I have always said that it is a wrong way of posing the question. The question is not about which is more important, the point is that the two are important. I know that if you undermine university education research and development, your nation will not develop. I also know that if you don’t pay attention to technical and vocational education and give it the prestige it deserves, give the funding support it deserves, give it the attention that it deserves, then the country will not develop. United States system has the community college system after high school you go to community college for two years and you graduate. I tell you from my experience living and working in the United States, that a person whose business is to attend to electrical polls to ensure the cables are well placed may be earning more than the president of a university. These are practical things; so we must put emphasis on technical and vocational education. We must do it in such a way that the average child would see the need for him to go to technical college rather than to be having university certificates which may not be meaningful.
National Association of Nigerian students, NANS said that the administration of University education has become a clog on the wheel to their own progress in the institutions. Do you agree with this assertion?
I think they talk in the contest of the incessant strike actions that we have had in the system. I am sure you will be conversant with my perceptive on this. I do not believe for instance that universities should go on strike. There could be issues and of course there certainly will be issues but I think it will be possible for us to have some broad agreement that university education, given the importance, should not be closed and shut down completely. That is an issue we can agree and deal with, incidentally Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, is going to hold an economic summit very soon where I am sure some of these issues would be discussed. I think that is the context in which the students complain. For instance my students that supposed to have graduated since months ago because we have administered our calendar unbroken for five years now who are looking forward to their graduation. They just finished their exams last week because of the six months national strike. There is no child that would be pleased with that, there is no parent that would be happy with that. So whatever the nature of the argument that we have as lecturers, my feeling is that we could make a major statement by saying we are not going to go on strike and we continue to address the issues with a view to solving the problem rather than shut down the university. It doesn’t happen anywhere again in the world.
There is the allegation that the Conference is lope-sided in terms of Moslem /Christian membership. What is your take on this?
Well, since Nigerians have drawn attention to it, we cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist, especially people who believe that they have been disadvantaged by that arrangement. Now the way out of it is not to ask the president to send another list of delegates. The way to address the issue to show as much as possible that every team, committees or conference chairmen that we put together that we always ensure that there is a balance. This goes to buttress the point I have been making, maladjustment in our system did not just start today. It has always been part of our system. I feel it is iniquitous for Lagos state that was Lagos state in 1976 with 20 local governments and a population equivalent to that of Kano to still have 20 local government up till today whereas Kano now has Jigawa state and between them they have about 64 local governments, that also is a maladjustment, it is lope -sidedness that must be addressed. If people who lived in the oil bearing states, say because you are taking this hydrocarbon from oil soil, you therefore flay gas for 24 hours every day. That is fundamental injustice. So, we must also be courageous enough to address that. So the lope-sidedness did not start with the membership of this Confab. It is a whole log and what I am calling upon is that everybody here should be courageous enough to let us put the questions appropriately, provide the appropriate answers, it is then that we can help Nigeria. As I said when I made my speech on the floor of the conference, time is running out for this country and we have to make haste to beat the time before it is too late.