Federal loan scheme is only solution to ASUU crisis – former Omokhodion pro-Chancellor
BY EMEKA EJERE
Former Ambrose Ali University Board of Trustees Pro-Chancellor Ekpoma, Chief Lawson Imokhodion has called for the reinstatement of the Nigerian Student Loans Council, stressing that only a federal loans scheme can provide a lasting solution recurring industrial actions by the University Academic Staff Union (ASUU).
ASUU on Friday suspended an eight-month-old industrial action it began on February 14, to push for better funding for universities as well as improved welfare for its members based on several agreements reached with the government.
In a statement by union president Emmanuel Osodeke, the ASUU said the decision followed a series of appeals from Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the intervention of Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila.
However, speaking in an exclusive interview with business punchOmokhodion said any solution without the federal loan program and allowing the board to do its job in accordance with the law and the rules and regulations governing the university can only be temporary.
According to him, the way to go is to bring back the board of trustees, in order to give loans to students to be able to pay the fees charged by the universities, and then the universities will pay the professors, leaving the government behind.
The former chief executive of the defunct Liberty Bank stressed the need for the university council to take a proper stand and be allowed to do their job in accordance with the law and the rules and regulations governing the university.
His words: “But most important was the fact that I was actively seeking the re-establishment of the Nigerian Student Loans Board, which we had in 1974.
“The council would provide student loans; universities charged tuition, students had money to pay. And then the universities would pay their professors and leave the government behind. And then, for me, granting autonomy to universities.
“We always give a role to the government, to the owners – federal and state, but those who should run the university should be councils. Because the average university has a law, and that makes running a university very easy, because the law tells you what to do and what not to do. But the government will never obey the law. In fact, the government will compromise the law.
“So the only solution to the ASUU crisis is a federal loan program, the kind they have in Canada, the UK, America, Sweden, Norway. In South Korea, in South Africa, that’s what we need. We had it in 1974, but things never get better in Nigeria.
“The past is always better. They just let him die. But a few years ago they said they wanted an education bank, okay, create it. But they played with it.
He wondered why the government was not interested in enforcing the law granting autonomy to universities.
“A few years ago, the federal government said that universities would be granted autonomy. There is a law granting autonomy to the university, put it into action. Nobody is interested. But this ASUU strike that took so many months to resolve and that they are still trying to resolve should get us to a point where we can have a permanent solution.
“Because if ASUU now says we are okay and the government continues to pay them the way they do, how can a professor from Kebbi State University earn what a professor from the University of Lagos earns or a professor at the University of Ibadan earns what a professor at Bauchi State University earns? It does not mean anything.
“The university board must take a proper stand and be authorized to do its job in accordance with the law and the rules and regulations governing the university. “.
Regarding the option of public universities charging commercial fees, Omokhodion said, “If a private university charges 1 million naira per session, a state university should not charge more than 200,000 or 250,000 naira. But you will get quality education.”
He observed that there are many opportunities for universities to generate funds, but warned that funds need to be monitored so that they do not end up in the private pockets of vice-chancellors and their cronies.
“So there are opportunities that can generate funds, but if they (the universities) generate funds and they are not checked, the management – the vice-chancellors and their men, they will eat the money.
“The richest people in Nigeria, the people in government, are the vice-chancellors; they are richer than the senators.