Insecurity on campuses calls for an urgent method to avoid last year's carnage in some tertiary institutions. The ever present University of Abuja crisis also needs to be put to rest, the Almajiri schools handover to states that dragged to this year are among issues that confront the Ministry of Education this year 2013.
No one is safe anymore, we know. But parents who have their wards in schools feel very helpless knowing the safety of their children is not guaranteed.
Last year, the academic community was not isolated from the bombings and killings perpetuated by the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda'awati Wal Jihad, also known as Boko Haram; from the deadly attack on Bayero University Kano, on a Sunday morning when worshippers were attending service within the university's campus, to the bloody Independence Day attacks where more than 40 students of the Federal Polytechnic Mubi, were massacred. This is not counting the many isolated killing of students in broad daylight or at night when they were asleep and at their most vulnerable state. In some cases, just the rumour of an attack was enough to send some institutions packing, like University of Maiduguri and the Federal College of Education Potiskum, which had to start operating from the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) temporarily.
Despite these incidents too many to mention, it was shocking to learn from the 2012 implementation report of the four-year education sector plan presented in December by the Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa'i, that no funds were appropriated for ensuring campus safety. There was no funding for anti-cultism sensitisation campaigns, rehabilitation of campus cult members and upgrading of security systems in our tertiary institutions.
This year, the hope of concerned Nigerians is that more would be done to secure our porous campuses and as much as this is the responsibility of the institutions' managements and community members, the federal government can drive the process by providing funds and effectively monitoring utilization. In the proposed 2013 budget, there is provision for purchase of security equipment and tertiary institutions have been allocated between N10m to N15m to purchase surveillance equipment.
What again is shocking is that a number of institutions in crisis prone states did not include in their budgets, funding for security: Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Bayero University Kano, University of Maiduguri, Federal University of Technology Yola to mention a few.
If these institutions want to claim they already have tight security systems on ground, what of the funds to maintain the status quo or even improve on them? If this was an error, it is important that it is corrected. Nigerians expect that government would take precautionary measures now, rather than pay condolence visits later. Tertiary institutions should build the internal intelligence capacity of their security agents and build a network of informants among the student community and the Ministry of Education should mandate vice chancellors to send regular security reports to the headquarters or through their regulatory agencies.
University of Abuja
There is no need recapping the tragedies that have befallen the University of Abuja and how much mismanagement and poor leadership have led to the near collapse of the institution which should be one of the best in Nigeria considering its strategic location in the country's state capital.
What, however, surprises Nigerians who have been following events at the university is why the federal government, in this case represented by the minister, is dragging its feet on taking decisive measures to address the varsity's problems. The Special Presidential Visitation Panel assigned to investigate activities at the university submitted its report since September. The report revealed what many already knew existed - a collapsing system.
The minister promised that a draft white paper would be ready in two weeks and submitted to the president for approval. Nigerians know nothing of what has happened or is happening to the white paper. Who is sitting on it? There was never a formal statement from the ministry especially when students protested just before their examinations leading to the closure of the university.
Sentiments - tribal and religious - have come to play in the whole matter; even the Federal Ministry of Education appears to be divided over what course of action to take and allegations of bribery have been made here and there. This year, and as soon as possible Nigerians would expect the minister to not only have the political will but exercise it to bring an end to the rancour in the university in the interest of the students.
Appointing executive secretaries of UBEC, TETFund
Two of the biggest agencies in the Federal Ministry of Education - Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) - currently do not have substantive executive secretaries. Since the tenures of Professor Mahmood Yakubu and Dr. Ahmed Modibbo Mohammed expired in September, the next most senior officers have been in acting capacity.
There is a limit to what chief executives in acting capacity can do and having these intervention agencies of basic education and tertiary education suffer managerial gaps would have no small effect on the education sector.
A typical example of how ineffective agencies can be without appointed chief executives is the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC) where Alhaji Jibrin Paiko who is the present Executive Secretary of the commission was in acting capacity for almost two years. The commission was relegated almost to the point of obscurity with people calling for it to be scrapped. But since his appointment was confirmed, the commission seems to be making itself more visible and proving competent.
There is so much politics surrounding both appointments because both executives are from the same state - Adamawa - and there are outcries that both seats should not be occupied with people from the same geo-political zone.
Yakubu has served two terms as Executive Secretary of the Education Trust Fund but those who are pleased with his performance want him to return as the pioneer chief executive of TETFund. What appears to be complicating the matter is the interest of the presidency in the appointees and pressure to bring in people from the South-South.
Whatever the permutations, one hopes the federal government comes up with a decision soon and a good one at that.
Report on needs assessment of Nigerian universities
Before Professor Mahmood Yakubu bowed out as TETFund Executive Secretary, he chaired a committee which conducted a needs assessment of Nigerian universities which was borne out of the agitations of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that government overhaul the university system.
The report which was submitted in August 2012 is a thorough expose on the lapses in Nigerian universities from unqualified staff, imbalanced student population, deteriorated facilities and physical infrastructures and lack of learning resources.
Nigerians were aware of these problems but the facts and data were lacking. The idea is that the federal government can start addressing specific needs of institutions and not giving funds to attend to blanket problems.
The report has been submitted to the Presidency and Nigerians hope that implementation would start this year to avoid ASUU embarking on another round of strikes.
Only 30 of the 102 Almajiri schools have been completed and the commissioning and handover dates have been moved several times.
Minister of State for Education Barrister Nyesom Wike who oversees basic education said various times last year that the schools would be handed over in June, then September, December and somehow it never happened.
He has been holding routine meetings with the contractors but the projects are not moving fast enough marred by lapses on the part of the contractors, delay of payments by the ministry, UBEC or banks.
But what is more interesting, beside the delay in building these schools, is that some problems are already surfacing, low level of integration of proprietors of Quranic schools into the programme, inadequate number of facilitators and low population of students.
Saying that federal government should have consulted with the states to ensure it was the best way to tackle the Almajiri syndrome before building these schools might be too late now but it is important that more advocacy visits are paid this year.
This should also apply for schools being built for boy dropouts in the South East and many more tailored to other regions.
There were efforts to rehabilitate some of the Federal Unity Colleges and provide them with well-equipped libraries last year. Nine libraries are currently under construction and rehabilitation of 18 unity schools commenced last year, though marred by slow and partial release of funds.
However, many more of the unity schools and its teachers suffered last year. For example, whereas 100,000 science and technical instructional materials should have been fabricated for distribution to all 104 unity schools, only 650 were eventually fabricated. The project was marred by lack of trained craftsmen, lack of spare parts for maintenance and outdated and obsolete machines and equipment all because only 8.5% of the funds were released.
Again, 5,000 science, technical and mathematics teachers should have been trained but only 400 were eventually trained owing to "total denial of funds".
All these reasons are why it is important that the Universal Basic Education Act be amended not later than the first quarter of this year so unity schools can start accessing funds from UBEC.