By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- FORMER Federal Commissioner for Information and South-South leader, Chief Edwin Clark has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to as a matter of urgency, declare a state of emergency on the education sector in the country.
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Clark who lamented the deteriorating standard of education in Nigeria warned that if the government fails to declare a state of emergency, the education system in the country will be nothing to write home about and the nation’s children will be worse hit.
Speaking at his Asokoro residence, Abuja, the former Education Commissioner in the defunct Midwestern region during the administration of late Bridgadier Samuel Ogbemudia has asked the Federal Government for the overall interest of the students to discuss with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, with a view to addressing the problems of strikes that have become a continued affair.
According to Clark, if the government failed to brainstorm with the striking lecturers and the strikes are not nipped in the bud, it would get to a situation where some of the students who gained admission to Universities may not be able to go to University for about five years especially when ASUU embarks on a long term strike.
Clark who spoke in last week’s graduation ceremony of Edwin Clark University, Kiagbodo, Delta State where 321 students graduated and the conferment of Honorary Doctorate degree on former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, late business mogul, Captain Hosa Okunbor and others, has also called on the Federal and State Governments to offer automatic employment to University graduates who come out with first class as part of moves to appreciate them and encourage others who are still in the Universities.
According to the Elderstatesman, the graduation ceremony which witnessed a total of 32 students with first-class degree classification, was the second and third Convocations.
He lampooned the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, saying that it has introduced a new trend has it has turned itself into a profit making venture whereby poor children from pitiable families who are anxious to go to Universities are being milked by the agency asking them to pay exorbitant fees.
The Ijaw leader has also taken a swipe at some States in the country that have more than a state University, saying that no state should have more than one State University, adding that having money does not mean that the state would spend enough money on education.
Clark said, “For some time now I have noticed with dismay, disappointment, and frustration how the standard of education is falling very low. Not exactly due to the performance or non-performance of the children, but the government and the lecturers, and the various institutions have failed to live up to expectations.
“The government is not doing anything to solve the problem and I am therefore calling on the Federal government to declare a state of emergency on education. Otherwise, some of our students who gained admission to Universities may not be able to go to University for about 5 years particularly when ASUU embarks on a long-term strike.
“The Federal government is not worried about settling with ASUU. Therefore in the interest of our children that the federal government should overhaul the whole system of education from the primary to the highest, that is University education.
“Even the first Class Universities we have today in the country, like the University of Ibadan: Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Obafemi Awolowo University; University of Benin, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; the University of Lagos, among others are no longer producing the type of graduates we used to be proud of.
“Those who managed to get first-class degrees must have worked very hard not because their lectures are available to teach them. I have not seen a situation whereby the original independence enjoyed by Federal and State Universities is no longer there.
” Universities are now been treated as if they are parastatals of government. And their salaries are now been paid as if they were civil servants. This does not conform well to education.
“I have also discovered that most of our students in Federal and State Universities have not been able to graduate due to the ASUU strike and this is working a hardship on the parents who managed to take them to school.
“There is a new trend happening now in JAMB, JAMB has turned to be a profit-making venture whereby poor children from pitiable families who are anxious to go to University are being milked by JAMB asking them to pay exorbitant fees. And at the end of the examination, JAMB made a return to the Federal Government of over 5 to 7 billion Naira of profits generated by JAMB for the government.
“Even in Nigeria, some state governments pay JAMB fees particularly when they realise that the parents have no money to pay; for the JAMB Registrar to collect money from these students but at the end of the day, not many of them are able to get admission into Universities either due to ASUU strike or due to unknown reasons, for instance, one would have expected that a young man who applied for Medicine in a University is unable to make the score required for Medicine there is no reason why that student should be made to repeat the same exam the following year knowing full well that he may not pass.
“So some of them have spent five years wanting to read medicine, but JAMB says no you are not qualified. Recently JAMB gave an answer when it was asked why do you allow these children take examination every year, that the one who wrote and scored a very high mark, should be allowed to go to the University the following year, but JAMB gave an answer nobody could believe.
“If Unillorin or Ibadan or Lagos or Benin, attract over 1 million students who took JAMB and up till today students today this year don’t even know whether they will enter the University or not because ASUU is there, the teacher is not there to access the results of these children, but this year again they have taken JAMB. So what kind of society do we belong to?
“Some of us have been in this profession for years, I started the whole of my life as a teacher, I started as far back as 1947. Some of the teachers who trained with me are professors today. Today you cannot compare a grade 2 teacher of our time with a grade 2 teacher of today, nor could you compare an NCE teacher graduate today with that of ten years ago, the question is, is the federal and state government aware of the falling standard of education?
“A situation whereby State governments have not got enough Secondary schools, this is very unusual. What such a state should do is spend more money on opening primary and secondary schools and these secondary schools will be able to produce enough students for state Universities. But a situation whereby you are searching for students from other states to enter your school, I do not think it is proper for a State government to have more than one state university, having money does not mean you spend enough money on education.
“The budget on education is very low compared with other areas, you construct roads, flyovers, airports at the expense of human development. I believe federal and state governments should pay attention to encouraging education. I support 100 percent the motion that was moved by the House of Representatives recently that the federal government or state government even the private companies should offer first-class graduates automatic jobs, this will encourage more students to study hard. It will improve the standard of education whereby jobless boys now know full well if they get a first-class degree they will get automatic employment.
“Let me tell a sad story, there was a young man who had a first-class degree in Petroleum engineering from one of these our states in the South-South, he did his NYSC in NNPC. At the end of one year, he was discharged, but he was not absorbed. But what happened, a month later, the same NNPC advertised for about 1,000 jobs, this young man applied and was found not qualified simply because of religion or ethnicity and this young man comes from oil-producing communities, what explanation does he have to give to his parents.?
“This is the situation we found ourselves. I speak with authority in education because I have worked for it, I have experienced it, apart from being a qualified teacher, I worked under the late Samuel Ogbemudia who was Governor of the Mid-West region between 1968 and 1974 before I became a Federal Minister of information.
“During that period of time, we built schools modern primary and secondary schools. There was an area that had only one Catholic Grammar School. During my time, I opened 10 Grammar schools. Today, the area has opened up, students all over the 36 States. And when I discovered also that grandmasters of elementary schools were not doing well enough, we had to establish a headmasters’ institute for one year and the qualification was when you have been a headmaster of a primary school for 25 years, you go to the institute for one year even though the University of Benin was in Benin City, we thought in the order of acceptability we affiliated it with the University of Ibadan whereby lecturers of Ibadan came to supervise and participated in the training of these teachers, and fortunately, we turned out over 500 teachers within a short time. Some of them got scholarships went abroad and came back, others who didn’t go were promoted over and above the salary bar, because they have got new qualifications.
“Today, what is the promotion for teachers, what do you promote to? They will just sit down and teach until they are 60 years old and they retire. A man must have something he is looking up to. So when I was about 85, I asked myself was is legacy I want to leave behind for my people. First of all my mind went to a Polytechnic, I even collected the forms, but later I changed my mind that I have been associated with University development. I was a Pro Chancellor and Chairman for the University of Benin for five years and even for the Federal University of Technology, Minna.
“In Benin today, the faculty of management Sciences is named after me, I have a Honorary Degree of the University of Benin and again a whole science laboratory also was named after me in Minna. So what was the legacy I wanted to leave behind? I decided to open a University. I believe in the unity of this country and I thought the only way to do it is to establish a private University where I can draw students from all over the country, come to my village, close to my living residence, live together as my children, study together and pass out.
“Today I said how do I get money, I have been in retirement for years. I sold my houses, my property in Victoria Island which was occupied by one of the Oil companies, I sold one of my houses in Warri, that was how I raised money to start the university, not only that, I decided to raise a fund for the University in the name of the Clark Foundation.
“And many people came and donated money, some donated N200 million, some N150 million, some N100 million that was how we now have a University. Today, students are coming from all over, from Taraba and other places. When we started, I applied for faculty of law, they said no, Private Universities are not allowed to establish a faculty of law until 4 or 5 years of their existence except by special dispensation. I had to apply to the council of legal education under Chief Okocha SAN from Port Harcourt. I sent the application to him, he referred it to the Council and they debated it, they came to the University and found out that we have the facilities. So we started Law a year after the establishment of the University. We have now graduated the first set of lawyers they are all in law school, on the 25th of March, we graduated the first second and third set. And for the part 2 years, we are able to raise 32 first-class graduates.
“Unless you give them job they will be at home for years without employment. Government should wake up to encourage education and one of the ways of doing it is to declare an emergency in education and to give these students who have got first class degrees automatic employment to encourage others to do that.
“When we started, today we have so many students in the university now, i have not been there for over two years, I have a good Vice-Chancellor and staff running the university, and today when they go home and ask where did you get your certificate, they would say: “Edwin Clark University.” When NUC carried a special assessment of the University, a government agency, Edwin Clark was number one in the whole of South South private universities. There are many old universities that started in 2011 but we came first. And we came 17 from private universities in Nigeria. And when comes to all the universities combined State, federal and private, we came 32.
“So what am I looking for, three sets have passed out, I think I have established my legacy. I am now speaking on behalf of Nigerian parents that the government of Nigeria should settle their problem with ASUU. They are not fighting for themselves alone, they are also fighting for the structures of their universities. Facilities are not provided in their universities.
“Iam very proud when I see young men and women coming out with certificates issued to them by Edwin Clark University.