It has been over four months now since members of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) embarked on a nationwide strike to call attention to the lingering industrial dispute between them and the Federal Government. Initially, the strike was welcomed by majority of Nigerians who for long had watched with trepidation the shoddy and venal manner which past administrations dealt with the demands of the lecturers, which are nothing more than the usual clamour to give education the pride of place in the country’s order of priorities. Any impartial observer would admit that the country’s education has in the past three decades taken a very big tumble, and nowhere is this rot more apparent than in the tertiary institutions which include universities and polytechnics.
Probably, due to the lackadaisical attitude of successive governments towards education, informed more by a lack of interest, and even spite against the educated class, they wittingly allowed this critical sector in national development to become moribund.
Undeniably, such cavalier attitude is responsible for the forlorn state of education in its entire ramification. Of course, many people are still at wits end coming to terms with what the lecturers’ demands are. For avoidance of doubts, they include funding of universities, progressive increase in annual budgetary allocation to 26 percent by 2020, earned academic allowances, establishment of pension fund administrator, university governing councils, transfer of landed property to the universities and budget monitoring. Even when these demands were made and agreed to by both parties in 2009, they have remained a perennial sore point in the relationship between the lecturers and their employer.
Before now, it has been very disheartening that past administrations that endorsed other agreements refused to honour them before leaving office. A lot of reasons have been adduced for the recalcitrant attitude of those regimes before now. Analysts are of the view that past governments were not only parsimonious in their ways, especially when it concerns education, but merely agreed to sign the dotted lines in order to buy temporary peace, knowing full well they lack the financial capacity to implement them. It was a question of leaving the Aegean stable for their successors to clean. Therefore, they were only playing a game of chicken, in which both sides staked a claim but not willing to give grounds because it would be seen as capitulation.
Unfortunately, the Jonathan administration inherited the mess and given that it has little room for manouvre, has been adopting all tactics, ranging from persuasion to threats and from pleas to outright ignoring of the demands.
With the present situation, it looks like both sides are bracing up for a long winter of discontent, while the fate of innocent students now languishing in their parents’ homes has become of little or no importance to them. Much as the lecturers are holding on to their demands in spite of pleas from notable Nigerians, it is pertinent to admonish that they see beyond their present combative stand and consider the interests of those who have become fodders in this dirty fight. They could do so by agreeing to the implementation of their demands in phases. Definitely, the authorities will be favourably disposed to such shift of position, in the belief that government is a continuum, whereby succeeding ones will not only inherit liabilities, but also bound to implement agreements entered into by their predecessors.
If not, why are the lecturers insisting that this government honour an agreement reached in 2009? One therefore, would counsel that ASUU have a rethink and take hold of the N100 billion made available by the presidency for the repair of hostels, laboratories, classrooms and other facilities. Also, they should avail the offer of N30 billion towards implementing their earned allowances. A posture of indefinite recalcitrance and rigidity is not helping to foster their cause; neither is it advancing their cry in the wilderness over the monumental decay at the country’s ivory towers. Let’s admit it, our universities are no more than glorified secondary schools, but how does prolonged strike solve the problem? Are the products of these institutions not made worse by the present academic inactivity?
It is not only right blaming the government; it is also instructive to know that we all are products of a warped system passed along through generation of leaders who refused to take timely actions to end regimes of decadence that have become a permanent fixture on the country’s horizon. The strike induced externalities are not only colossal, they are bound to reverberate and have a long lasting effect on the academic calendar and quality of graduates. This is a country that has not only lost its academic ranking even among African peers, it has through its own volition engaged in a Russian roulette to self destruct. No country develops technologically when its university lecturers are always on the streets carrying placards.
The time to call off the circus is now. Nothing can be achieved by prolonging the agonies of students and their parents. We may not ascribe the present posturing to politics, but in a situation where all manner of voices are beginning to be heard in a purely academic matter, it would not be wrong inferring that the strike is being employed to serve some narrow political ends. The lecturers must avoid this trap and focus on ways of rescuing our universities.
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