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ASUU strike: Death of a messenger and the message

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“It is common knowledge that the future of any country lies in the quality of its education. Education too, remains the major tool for its socio-economic, technological development, individual’s empowerment and poverty reduction. Unfortunately, one of the major problems facing education in Nigeria over the decades is underfunding which is among the crucial issues also raised by ASUU in the recent protracted strike”.

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That after shutting down the nation’s tertiary institutions for eight months, the second longest single stretch of out of school session by public universities in the history of Nigeria due to strike action, the Federal Government succeeded recently, in hounding members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) back to the classroom, on October 17, following the court-induced resolution of the union to suspend their  indefinite strike embarked upon on February 14,  should ordinarily have come as a welcome development.

 

But that was not the case because  the union’s decision and subsequent resumption of academic programmes did not in any way  come as a big relief to most well meaning Nigerians especially those who have long internalized theoretical role of qualitative and functional education system as a precursor  to the socio-economic and cultural growth and development of any nation.

 

We arrived at this rather sad conclusion on the realization that none of the issues which precipitated the avoidable strike in the first instance, were resolved ahead of the resumption of academic programmes, a development which, unfortunately may have laid the foundation for yet another round of face-off between the university lecturers and their employer, the FG.

 

In normal climes, but unlike what prevails in Nigeria currently, it would have taken such huge sacrifice as an eight-month strike for all stakeholders in the education system to resolve all the protracted, perennial and potentially confrontational issues in the education value chain to the extent that no one will neither envisage nor contemplate any return to Egypt any soon.

 

Unfortunately however, that was not to be as neither the Federal Government nor the lecturers and the students whose welfare they professed to have been fighting for, have any laurel to show for the eight months strike except for bruised ego, drained financial purse and dysfunctional educational platform with serious repercussions.

 

Sadly, what now stands out as the major fallout product of the protracted ASUU’s industrial action is the eventual decimation, or disruption of the academic sector in Nigeria where no one will any longer be expecting any form of concerted efforts on the part of the FG, lecturers and students to enthrone any form of excellence in the system.

 

We believe that the balkanization of ASUU and breaking of the ranks of   its members in the ivory towers and by extension, the politicization of issues bothering on empirical and logical quest for qualitative learning  in the universities which usually translates to self confidence among all stakeholders in the education sector with particular emphasis on students have been jeopardized.

 

Therefore, the consequence is that nobody should henceforth expect anything revolutionary or progressive outcomes from the university system except the unleashing of ill-equipped professionals including medical doctors, architects, pharmacists and engineers among others on the larger society.

 

The poser by ASUU President Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke that whether any patient would want to visit any medical doctor for treatment if doctors who went on strike for eight months were forced back to hospitals without any meaningful resolution of their grievances which precipitated the strike, in our view is very instructive and will come to bear on university lecturers who may not bein the right frame of minds as they resume lectures.

 

The truth be told and that is the fact that nobody would be expecting the returnee lecturers to put in their best except perfunctory services. The academia is too important for any society to take them for a ride. It is however regrettable those successive federal administrations just like the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari government seem to have always found delight in doing.

 

It is unfortunate and totally condemnable that the FG and her condescending agents like Ministers are more interested in destroying both the message and the messenger which was exactly what they have done to ASUU by ensuring that lecturers have nothing to show for their eight months long titanic struggle without salaries, which they believe would liberate university education from the stranglehold of politicians.

 

Or how else can anyone explain the fact that none of all the contending issues which culminated in the avoidable strike which include funding for revitalization of public universities, earned academic allowances, addressing the proliferation of public universities, visitation panels/release of white papers, adoption of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as a broad spectrum software to stop illegality and provide for an alternative payment platform in the university system and the need for renegotiation of the 2009 agreement could be addressed conclusively except rhetorics by public officials which culminated in a national honour award on Nigeria’s Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu.

 

In saner environments, Adamu ought to have either resigned in shame or be sacked by Buhari if only to serve as a warning for other public servants to begin to take their responsibilities more serious.

We are of the strong opinion that the FG was very myopic and insensitive in handling the lecturers’ demands to the extent that it failed to see the larger picture which is the interest of our youths whose future are traditionally defined by the formation which education affords them by ways of character and learning.

 

It is regrettable also, that in devising means of curbing the perceived excesses of ASUU, the FG became blinded as to see anything good in the congregation of lecturers that it went ahead to register splinter platforms which long term objectives may include the destruction of tertiary education in the country which is exactly what the creation of parallel bodies to ASSU like the Nigerian Association of Medical and Dental Academics, NAMDA and the Congress of Nigerian University Academics, CONUA will turn out to do.

 

We fear that there may be discordant voices soon in our university education system when medical students might be out of school in the likely event of NAMDA embarking on strike while their counterparts who are under the aegis of either ASUU or CONUA will be in session even when it is a public knowledge that there are shared services in the university system. The return to the creation of multiplicity of unions in the university system runs counter to the decision of 1976 when the Michael Abiodun Commission was set up by the Federal Military Government to sanitise and rationalise the labour climate. Before then, one could find a labour organisation in every nooks and crannies of the country thus making industrial relations unmanageable.

 

It is common knowledge that the future of any country lies in the quality of its education. Education too, remains the major tool for its socio-economic, technological development, individual’s empowerment and poverty reduction. Unfortunately, one of the major problems facing education in Nigeria over the decades is underfunding which is among the crucial issues also raised by ASUU in the recent protracted strike.

 

Quite sadly, we have, in the last decades, witnessed a gradual but dangerous degradation in infrastructure, in manpower development and access to qualitative education across all levels. For instance, at the tertiary level, the Federal and most States spending on education is below 10 percent of its overall budget as against the recommended 20percent in many countries.

 

We had expected the FG to avail itself of the opportunity of the protracted ASUU strike to work out lasting solutions to funding university education in the country which unfortunately didn’t happen.. Universities should be made autonomous and must be fully so.

The management of universities also, should not be seen as different from that of any other business enterprise to the extent that the position of Vice Chancellors be thrown open to the best brains in the private sector to compete for and not made the exclusive inheritance of lecturers many of who lack the competences to manage large corporations but exists as parasite in the university system.

 

It is our recommendation too; that all stakeholders should be challenged to share in the cost of education with commensurate shared incentives in order to sustain reasonable level of funding of education in Nigeria.

 

Consequently, we challenge the leadership of the House of Representatives led by Femi Gbajabiamila to deepen its engagement with the FG to include recommending sustainable and lasting funding solutions to the nation’s education system with particular emphasis on tertiary institutions to the extent that individual universities and their likes will be self accounting, self sustaining and homogenous to the extent that what obtains, for example in the University of Lagos, will not precipitate same action and reaction from another university in Gombe.

 

For a better society

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