By: Afolabi Oyekunle.
Alarmed by renewed clamour to privatise Federal Government Colleges (FGCs) throughout the country, Organized Labour under the auspices of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) has advised all those who are interested in running Secondary Schools to build their own.
In a press statement issued in Lagos, the ASCSN Secretary-General, Comrade Joshua Apebo, regretted that more than ten years after the Union stalled plans to sell the 110 Federal Government Colleges, the collective wealth of millions of Nigerians to the privileged few, the matter is rearing its ugly head again.
He posited that in civilized climes, philanthropists and other good-spirited individuals and groups build standard Schools, Hospitals, etc, and donate them for public use.“But in Nigeria, portfolio-carrying investors always connive with greedy politicians to be converting public companies and institutions into their private estates under the dubious Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model.”
The Senior Civil Servants Association therefore urge Trade Union Movements, Royal Fathers, Religious Organizations, Civil Society Groups, Parents-Teachers Associations, Student Unions, Leaders of thought, men and women of good conscience in the country to unite as they did more than ten years ago in order to prevent a situation where Federal Government Colleges will be sold to few parasitic individuals.
The Association posited that once the Schools are ceded to private entrepreneurs, they would become money-spinners and as such would be out of the reach of millions of Nigerian children whose parents and guardians would not afford exorbitant fees that would be imposed apart from the fact that thousands of teachers and other workers would be thrown into the oversaturated Labour market.
“Once education becomes a commodity only for the rich, it will be a violation of Section 18 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which stipulates, among other things, that Government shall direct its policies towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.
Indeed, Section 18 (3) provides that Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy and shall therefore provide free, compulsory and universal primary education; free secondary education; free university education; and free adult literacy programme,” .
The ASCSN Secretary-General recalled that in the first Republic, the then Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa, in 1966 conceived and set up three Federal Government Colleges, one at Okposi (later moved to Enugu) for Eastern Region, another one in Warri for Western Region and the third one in Sokoto for Northern Region to be unifying institutions for Nigerian Children from all parts of the Country irrespective of their social status and tribes so that they would grow up as better citizens and see themselves as Nigerians having interacted closely with one another during their formative years.
It also recalled that while the struggle by the Union and other well-meaning Nigerians to retain the Unity Colleges between 2005-2010 raged, the then Honourable Minister of Education set up a committee headed by Senator Jonathan Silas Zwingina to tour all the FGCs and make its recommendations.
According to ASCSN, while presenting its report to the Honorable Minister of Education on 12th March 2009 in Abuja, Senator Zwingina stated, among other things that funding of the Unity Colleges appeared to be the single most important factor because some stakeholders see the maintenance of the Colleges as expensive and wasteful
Zwingina Committee then posited: “The fact is that National integration is so important that we cannot place a limit to the cost of sustaining it.“Those complaining about the cost of National integration should reflect on the comparative cost of National disintegration,
Presently, the institutions sustaining integration in Nigeria are the NYSC, the Federal Unity Colleges and Federal Departments and Agencies who have staff all over the country.
“We should therefore not take this effort for granted but must continue to sustain and encourage their growth and expansion,” the report emphasized.
The ASCSN Secretary-General stated that during the struggle to forestall the sale of FGCs, the Union embarked on seven (7) weeks strike, did intensive media campaigns, engaged Lawyers, apart from series of correspondences and meetings with Government officials.
“It was discovered then that those who have been penciled down to buy the Schools wanted to convert the vast expense of land and the structures therein into hotels and shopping malls to make profits because they do not have the interest of millions of students at heart.
“Communities who donated the land pledged to retrieve their land because they were donated to build schools for Nigerian children and not for the privileged few to make money.”
The Union accordingly urged Nigerians not to stand by and watch the Federal Government Colleges sold to the privileged rich and thereby mortgage the future of millions of Nigerian Children.