Use N186bn earmarked for school feeding to fund public varsities, Afe Babalola tells FG

Founder of Afe Babalola University Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola, SAN has lamented the dearth of facilities in public universities across the country, calling on the Federal Government to cancel the N186 billion earmarked for the school feeding programme and use the same amount in supporting public higher institutions.

The frontline lawyer who argued that it was needless for the Federal Government to plan feeding school children who are currently with their parents, noted that the amount for the programme should be invested in transforming public universities in procuring necessary equipment and facilities to aid safe reopening of higher institutions after over five months of closure due to coronavirus pandemic.

While explaining that it would be practically impossible to close schools for too long due to COVID-19, he advised the government to take a clue from the private universities in the country with the provision of modern facilities and equipment for the safety of students and staff ahead of reopening.

In a statement he personally signed on Sunday and made available to Tribune Online in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, Babalola backed the agitations of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on the need for government to invest in public universities in the country, “which are currently being grossly underfunded, stressing university education is crucial to the development of any nation.

He said it would be impossible for public universities in the country to meet the requirements set by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 for the safe reopening of schools, adding, ” It is trite to note that no nation develops without a sound educational system and the foundation is really not in the Primary School, It is the university level education because it is the university that trains other levels.”

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According to him, ” There should be an immediate cancellation of the N186 billion slated for feeding of school children when schools are closed and the school children are with their parents and especially when their addresses will be impossible to trace. Instead, the N186 billion earmarked for the feeding should be used to support public institutions to purchase testing machines such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Machine, Face Masks, Sanitisers and Serological Test Machines.

“These safety measures will enable the public higher institutions to re-open because the hygienic status of their campuses would have been guaranteed with enhanced thereby making it possible for them to comply. I believe that using the money for public universities, which are currently being grossly underfunded, would enable the Federal Government to take care of students of such institutions and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

He described the ongoing strike by ASUU as, ” understandable strike” as a result of the lack of facilities in public schools, noting that government must engage the university lecturers with a view of meeting their demands to make public institutions more attractive to parents.

“The Federal Government should call ASUU which is currently on an understandable strike because of lack of necessary facilities, equipment and infrastructure in most of the public universities, negotiate with them, pay their salaries and equip the various public universities with a view to making them safe for reopening. The Federal Government needs to concentrate on the provision of the necessary equipment and infrastructure to make them attractive like their private counterparts.

“You can imagine a public university which recently announced a reduction in students’ fees from N150,000 to between N100,000 and N120,000/session. This is one of the reasons why the quality of education in public institutions in the country continues to wane. It, therefore, follows that because of its importance, education should not be politicised particularly now when the trend all over the world is for students to pay fees in the universities in order to guarantee quality. Because of those who cannot afford school fees, the government should set up Banks to give loans to students at NO interest of Low interest as practised in some more developed countries and also give scholarships to deserving students,” he said.

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria reiterated that for quality of education in public institutions to be improved, the government must increase provision for the education sector in the budget from its current meagre seven per cent to twenty-six per cent as directed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

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