Sunday, January 15, 2017

On Governor Ajimobi, Respect, and funding Public Education in Nigeria


You may have seen the video of Governor Ajimobi of Oyo State addressing protesting students of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH). I watched it twice, and I think what follows is a good summary of what the governor displayed and said:
  1. He displayed no sense of responsibility to address the underlying issues that have kept LAUTECH closed for the past eight months.  While he later said Oyo and Osun State would chip in N250million each towards reopening the school, this does not solve the underlying problems.
  2. He DEMANDED respect based on his office and (implied) age, to the point where he told the students they should have addressed him as “Oga… Governor…”.
  3. He dared the students to be violent and threatened them with violence in return. He cowed them into submission by asking the Police to apprehend one of them, then called the Police off after a few moments.
  4. He believed he was doing the protesting students a favor by exiting his Exco meeting to attend to them.
“This is the constituted authority for Oyo State. Even if I don’t pay salary, and I don’t pay this… The fact is that I am the constituted authority; it does not remove that authority.”
*****

Governor Ajimobi studied at the State University of New York, in the United States. His son, Abolaji, studied at the Staffordshire University; and his daughter, Ajibola, studied at the University of Essex, both in the United Kingdom. Another daughter, Abisola, studied at the California State University, in the United States. He has two more children for whom I could not easily find details – but you can already spot the trend.

Most, if not all, of his family were educated outside Nigeria. They never contended with ASUU strikes, did not pay exorbitant fees for handouts, and never had to plead with State Governors to reopen their Universities.

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with Governor Ajimobi educating his children outside the country. Anyone should be free to educate their children wherever they want to if they can afford to. What I have a problem with is Governor Ajimobi’s disconnect from the realities students face in Nigerian Public Universities. If he or any member of his immediate family had earned their degree from a Public University in Nigeria, he would know not to offhandedly dismiss an eight-month closure as “nothing”.

Eight months is a lot of time. Add two months to that, and the average student in a Private University will have completed an academic session, or a student at INSEAD will have earned a prestigious MBA. It is unfair that students of LAUTECH have their lives placed on hold for eight months, and neither the Osun nor Oyo State Governments seem to be keeping the issue on the front burner.

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Respect is a big ‘problem’ in South-Western Nigeria. I cannot comment about the North and East as I am not familiar with cultural practices in those places. But in the South West, confront most elderly people with a cogent fact they have no immediate response to – and they will derail the conversation by accusing you of lacking respect.

Governor Ajimobi’s behavior as displayed in that video is cultural and institutionalized. Many of the protesting students would behave the same way if they were in his shoes. Even I fall prey to this mindset from time to time – I have been known to accuse my siblings of lacking respect rather than change my behavior or address their arguments coherently when they “come for me”.

I think this fixation on ‘respect’ is one of the reasons for our backwardness. Many people are reluctant to criticize ‘constituted authority’ out of a sense of respect, and ‘constituted authority’ is quick to clamp down on dissidents – for disrespecting and embarrassing them.

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I also hope that video sparks a discussion about funding higher education in Nigeria. The truth is that quality education is not free (someone has to pay for it), and in a large country like Nigeria – that someone cannot continue to be the government. The Federal and State governments are already stretched and are frequently behind on payments, and we are not nearly investing enough for the future.

In my opinion, Government is responsible to ensure a literate citizenry – and they should do this by focusing heavily on primary and secondary education. We also need to invest heavily in Almajiri education in the North, as that whole situation seems to me as a problem waiting a few decades to happen. Universities on the other hand, and students desiring higher degrees, need to rise to the challenge of funding these higher institutions.

Our Vice Chancellors and University Administrators should get to work generating funds, treating students right so they come back and endow the university with funds, and running Universities efficiently.

I stand with LAUTECH, and I hope the University gets re-opened soon.

Cheers to the new week.

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