By Emmanuel Onwubiko
With just few weeks to Nigeria’s most critical election, the major contenders who began their campaigns for the coveted number one political job in Nigeria which is the office of the President have so far not adequately addressed the critical issue of right to education.
Going through the various ramifications and segments of the nation’s highest law which is the constitution, it is unambiguous that the right to qualitative education opens the door to the enjoyment of all other fundamental right provisions espoused in chapter four of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended).
For instance, in section 17 subsection (3), the constitution stipulates that the state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that (a) all citizens, without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihoods as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment.
There is no doubt that the clearest way of obtaining suitable employment is the capacity building and/or manpower educational empowerment of the citizenry.
Section 18 (3) of the grand norm emphasized that “government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy, and to this end government shall as and when practicable provide (a)free compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free university education; and (c) free adult literacy programme.
The above mentioned objectives of state policy are never implemented because as I write, the educational sector is amongst the most marginalized even as the provision of the constitution which absolutely prohibits discrimination is not respected by top government functionaries who have continuously underdeveloped the public educational sector whilst diverting public fund towards providing the most competitive educational training for their own children in some of the best Ivy league universities in the advanced Western economies.
The neglect of the public educational sector got to a deteriorated extent that most parents have decided to cough out huge cash to be able to send their children to foreign jurisdictions for educational trainings. The public school system in Nigeria suffers from the twin evil of corruption by the management staff and criminal marginalization in terms of funding by all levels of government in Nigeria. Most public schools are at the different stages of collapse.
The focus of this piece today is not on the neglect of the public educational sector but rather one of the most critical offshoots of these neglect and corruption that are weighing down the public educational institutions. This problem is the fact that most girls from disadvantaged homes in Nigeria who are in public tertiary institutions are forced to become sex workers so as to train themselves in those schools that have kept hiking tuition fees but without commensurate upgrade of standards.
This issue is a debilitating factor all around the globe but the Nigerian dimension is uniquely satanic. This is because unlike in some western societies whereby there are facilities from which students can borrow to pay for their very expensive university education and gradually pays off these debts when they begin to work, in Nigeria, the poor students have neither form of scholarship funding nor any educational funding banks to borrow. They then resort to engaging in all forms of social crime so that they can pay their ways through school.
Last week when I visited most states in the South East of Nigeria whereby tertiary education is an attractive sector for most young persons, I came face to face with the existence of what can be called capitalism on campus which is another way of describing commercial sex activities by female students of these universities. Capitalism on campus is a menace all around educational faculties around the Country. Public and private universities are very busy commercializing honorary doctorate awards to the highest bidders and are engaged in different fields of businesses to boost their revenue generation, but nothing is done to ameliorate the untold and despicable hardships that most students go through. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of female students in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions are their own educational sponsors. This is why in such places like University of Lagos amongst several others, there is the problem associated with what we call ARISTOS. This word is coined from the capitalist term ARISTOCRATS which means rich patron who deploy their wealth to obtain sexual gratification from female or even male students. There are also those that are pejoratively termed as RUNS GIRLS.
The sad thing about it is that the school management has never really appreciated this issue as a fundamental stumbling block to the holistic training and the educational formation of the young persons.
As I write, the academic communities are on shut down due to needless industrial action occasioned by the consistent willful neglect of the funding of public university system by both the national and sub-national governmental administrations.
The academic staff union of universities embarked on strike for nearly a month now. Of course the academic and non-academic staffs are worried about how to make their wages big but the welfare of their students is never in their calculations.
Sadly, the student union bodies have for over two decades become a cash-and-carry contraption for never-do-wells who impose themselves as students’ union leaders only so they can use their positions to fleece and extort politicians and play the role of praise singers.
There is really no concerted effort to address this issue of students’ prostitution on campus. This is compounded by the fact that some of the lecturers are even guilty of demanding for sexual gratifications from their students in exchange for marks.
However, my search for the main underlying reason behind the expanding spectre of commercial sex activities or mercantilism on Nigerian campuses led me to a scholarly work done on this issue by Dr. Ron Roberts, identified as Jamaica based university professor.
This university teacher is known to have researched into the menace and to have published a book he called “Capitalism on Campus: Sex work, academic freedom and the market.”
My reading of a recent book review on the above work done by Russell Whitehouse shows that virtually the entire factors he observed in that book are significantly present in most tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria in both public and private sectors.
In the review, he wrote that sex and student debt are viewed as two inevitable facets of university-student life. Kingston University’s Dr. Ron Roberts writes about the disturbing connections between these two and the state of academia as a whole in Capitalism on Campus.
Dr. Roberts writes about the growing phenomenon of uni students partaking in sex work (mainly stripping, camming & prostitution). The book cites multiple UK surveys conducted between 2012-2017 which, found that between 5-6% of students were engaging in sex work. Furthermore, many of these admitted sex workers came from middle-class backgrounds. Another survey found that 30% of students personally knew of another student(s) engaged in sex work, while another found that 16% of students were considering entering the adult industry.
These, figures, the reviewer affirmed, have reliably been rising in tandem with UK tuition hikes that started under New Labour in the late 90s. Such a trend hasn’t been isolated to the UK, of course. American rappers like Jay-Z and Juicy J and the Canadian Drake have been rapping about women stripping to pay their tuition for decades. Across much of the West, college has become exponentially more expensive. Young people in both the US and UK are shouldering total student loan debts in excess of $1 trillion.
This debt explosion, according to the book reviewer combined with poor job prospects for “inexperienced workers,” soaring urban housing costs and the remnants of the recession have compelled many young women (and surprisingly high numbers of men) to take up sex work. Rather than addressing this crisis, schools, by and large, have chosen to ignore it. Worse, many universities and academic associations actively try to whitewash research and reporting about student sex work. Dr. Roberts cites personal experiences, as well as the experiences of other academics, of being stonewalled and threatened by administrators for daring to try to study the issue.
Universities, he observed, are obsessed with maintaining a façade. Ever since universities went from being a public utility to a privatized cash cow, schools have felt the need to sell them as a product. Dr. Roberts writes that, “The largely uncritical domestic support offered by university vice-chancellors to tuition fee increases and marketization suggests not merely a lack of vision and subservience, but a propensity to keep one eye on the huge salary and another on possible rewards from the honours system.” This prioritization of bringing in money over student welfare means an obsession with public imaging and maintaining a high rating in places like the U.S News and World Report Best Colleges Rankings and The Princeton Review.
The writer also stated that much of the weight for these rankings comes from student surveys. Several university teachers and administrators have been caught telling students to give disingenuous good reviews on such surveys. The exponentially rising tuition rates at these school means that front offices are largely beholden to prospective parents of students and donors. Thus, the administrator line of thinking goes: What parent or affluent donor is going to want donate to or to send their precious child to a school that’s been exposed for having loads of students who sell their bodies just to get by? Uni students who have to resort to such means are consequently not just deprived of help by administrators, but often threatened with disciplinary action.
The reviewer affirmed and rightly so that society foists upon its future workers not just serf-like levels of debt, but substantial psychological baggage, as well.
The reviewer also asserted that the soaring rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among Western youth is, according to Dr. Roberts, better understood not as an index of personal failure, but as a consequence of the brutal circumstances which have seen cuts in investment, training and job opportunities for young people, low wages, exorbitant student loans and tuition fees, cuts to mental health and welfare services, as well as a savage primary and secondary school system where endemic testing has become the norm.”
Worried about the lacuna in any form of legal frameworks to check the menace as highlighted above, I then checked nuc.edu.ng and found out that the National Universities Commission was established in 1962 as an advisory agency in the Cabinet Office. However in 1974, it became a statutory body and the first Executive Secretary, in the person of Prof. Jibril Aminu was then appointed.
The National Universities Commission (NUC) is a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Education (FME). The Commission has a Governing Council; its Executive Secretary is Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed mni, MFR, who assumed office on August 3, 2016.
Over the years, the Commission has transformed from a small office in the cabinet office to an important arm of government in the area of development and management of university education in Nigeria.
The main functions of the Commission are outlined as follows:
Granting approval for all academic programmes run in Nigerian universities; Granting approval for the establishment of all higher educational institutions offering degree programmes in Nigerian universities; Ensure quality assurance of all academic programmes offered in Nigerian universities; and Channel for all external support to the Nigerian universities.
The Commission has twelve Directorates; Directorate of Academic Planning, Directorate of Inspection and Monitoring, Directorate of Management Support Services, Directorate of the Establishment of Private Universities, Directorate of Students Support Services, Directorate of Research, Innovations & Information Technology, Directorate of Finance and Accounts, Directorate of Accreditation, Directorate of Open and Distance Education, Directorate of Liaison Services and International Cooperation, Directorate of Corporate Communications, and the Directorate of the Executive Secretary’s Office. Each of the Directorates is headed by a Director.
As a coordinating body, the Commission ensures it discharges its responsibilities by recruiting adequate and relevant man power and appeals to the Universities for their sustained support and understanding. The Commission also relies on support from the Federal Government, State Governments and other stakeholders in its bid to improve on the quality of tertiary education and graduates of the nation’s university system.
From what we have seen above regarding the functions and duties of the main regulatory body that coordinates standardization of the educational sector of the tertiary level, it would seem that the welfare of the students are not adequately captured. NUC has failed substantially to bridge this gap between the high tuition fees and the social demands and pressures on students to meet up with these different aspects funding requirements whilst they are in the higher institutions.
The only faint approach towards the eradication of the social malaise of sexual abuses of students is the infinitesimal cases that the independent corrupt practices and other offences commission has instituted against randy lecturers.
I will therefore charge the candidates of the main national parties seeking for office of the President of Nigeria to tell Nigerians how each of them intends to tackle the menace of prostitution on campus.
The next president must look at the way to adopt strategies to assist students to be able to study without tears. The next president must work collectively with the national legislature and state legislatures to operationalize modalities for stopping the rising cases of prostitution on the Nigerian educational campuses.
The need to sanitize the educational sector in Nigeria and check the proliferation of all kinds of commercial sex work by students is anchored on the provision of the Nigerian constitution in chapter four and specifically section 34 (1) which states that: “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly :- no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment; no person shall be held in slavery or servitude; and no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”