Nigeria’s Legislature And The COVID-19 N15B Education Fund
Etete Enideneze writes on the import of a recent motion passed on the floor of the Nigerian House of Representatives
One paradox of life is that in the midst of misfortune, fortune could be made. This is also a basic principle in crisis management. In fact, despite negative effects, crisis could have positive sides to be leveraged on. It also offers lessons to be learnt, in order to forestall or competently manage future incidents.
Against this backdrop, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, could be typified as a health crisis that has caused devastating effects in all spheres of human endeavours. Yet, it has equally provided vista of opportunities for society to explore as well as learn lessons from past attitudes of negligence.
Indeed, the COVID-19 disaster has forced governments, corporate organisations and individuals, world over, to look inwards for interim solutions. They are also creatively projecting towards tackling the long-run economic and social effects in a post-pandemic era.
In doing so, multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary, academic, professional and civil society-based approaches are serving as guides for policy formulation and implementation during and beyond the current health crisis.
Here in Nigeria, efforts to provide interim and long term measures to combat the COVID-19 mishap and its future effects, appears to be a herculean task. This is because nearly all sectors of Nigeria were really in comatose mode, as exposed by the disaster. Thus, the economic, health, educational, agricultural, legal/correctional, social infrastructure and media/communication systems were not really poised to effectively salvage the people from the present or future crises situations, but for God’s mercy.
Education is among the sectors most impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. Like its counterpart sectors of health and agriculture, education sector has hardly received enough attention in the past, and even now that the school system which was barely managing to function, has even been shut down.
Irrespective of lack of leadership will, inadequate budgetary allocations and attitude of some educationists towards upping the sector for nation building, the system has managed to produce some good brains and research results, but are grossly under-utilized.
Respite however, seems to be coming the way of the sector in a way. The House of Representatives, May, 19, 2020, mainly resolved that President Muhammadu Buhari sets up a N15billion Coronavirus Emergency Fund for universities and tertiary institutions.
The resolution which is the outcome of a motion moved by Prof. Steve Sinkiem Azaiki, also projects to a post-Covid-19 era and future management of other infectious epidemics and pandemics.
Prof. Azaiki’s interest in the motion was propelled by an unrelenting concern about the poor state of Nigeria’s educational, health and agricultural systems which he underscores as vital for the wellbeing of the citizens, national growth and security, especially in critical times.
Azaiki who represents Yenagoa-Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal Constituency on the flank of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), unequivocally justified the need for an interim and post-COVID-19 panaceas through the education sector. Co-sponsors who backed him in the motion were Ndudi Godwin Elumelu; Muktar Betara Aliyu; Olaide Adewale Akinremi; Francis Agbo; Mahmud Abdulahi Gaya; Makwe Livinus and Fred Obua of Bayelsa State.
With overwhelming support of the speaker, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and the entire House, the lawmakers want the executive organ to adopt the lines of actions recommended. Relevant committees of the Green Chambers have thus been mandated to ensure realization of the resolutions by the executive arm.
The proposed fund is to promote research for local solutions to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases; support operations of academic institutions; provide financial aid for needy students and students whose sponsors would lose jobs or face salary cuts due to the pandemic; boost enrolment of new students; provide online facilities for teaching and learning; step up internally generated revenues in schools, among others.
Besides these, the House of Representatives, has through the motion, suggested that Nigeria should understudy African countries that have acclaimed herbal medicines for the Covid-19 disease. This is in addition to ascertaining and encouraging local researchers and manufacturers who have already laid claims to production of medicines and equipment for combating the present pandemic and other infectious diseases.
Another vital outcome of the motion moved by Prof. Azaiki is the recommendation for establishment of infectious diseases research institutes in six universities, one in each of the geopolitically zones of Nigeria. This is to further motivate local research which outcomes will provide affordable solutions for outbreak of viral diseases in the future. The proposed special research institutes, if set up, will complement the infectious diseases hospitals also proposed by the Federal Government for the various zones.
Despite the existence of other institutional arrangements, funds and academic programmes, the propositions of the House of Representatives are not out of place, given the current challenges and new global approaches to tackling health crisis.
More so, a local and self-reliant policy thrust is one of the sure ways to guarantee the sovereignty, internal security and wellbeing of Nigeria and its citizens in a global economy directed by new imperial ideologies of the world powers. This is even so, as the threat of global dominance and enslavement of developing countries by the developed ones, have manifested in the suspected battle of bio-tech warfare and economic supremacy among key world powers, amidst the COVID-19 scourge.
Therefore, Nigeria needs to look inwards and take its destiny in its hands, by keying into the resolutions emanating from the Azaiki-motion in the House of Representatives.
Indeed, education is the driver of all the other sectors, which also complements it in turn, thus the proposed N15billion COVID-19 education intervention fund should be activated by the executive arm, without delay. The amount proposed by the House of Representatives, through the Azaiki-motion, should be seen as a starter, and be improved upon, when the fund is set up.
In order not to put the people-oriented ideas in the cooler of unimplemented resolutions, the House Committees on Tertiary Education; Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, as well as Science and Technology should really ensure that the executive does the needful.
The Senate as prayed by prof. Steve Sinikiem Azaiki, while presenting the motion, and as concurred by the entire House of Representatives, should endorse same and throw its weight behind the implementation of the resolutions.
Execution of the aforesaid parliamentary input, integrated with other extant policies and programmes, would re-affirm education as the bedrock for development. This is because, an effective educational system, could produce the requisite knowledge, skilled and mentally sound manpower to power other sectors and the economy.
Indeed, Nigeria must take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to reposition its polity and economy for a better post-pandemic era, as other countries are also doing.
And the time to do so, is now, not later!
Etete Enideneze, a media practitioner is communication aide to Prof. Steve Sinikiem Azaiki