Whenever the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarks on its usual strike actions the questions that willingly assail my mind are when shall we see an end to these strikes? When will ASUU engage other means to press home their demands? When will the Federal Government observe pacts it signs with the academic union?
When will our government take quality education passionately and see the essential nexus between sound education and national development? When will the authorities move from paying lip service to the funding of education to the actual financing of the sector? I wish finding answers to these questions would dominate deliberations between the striking lecturers and the federal authorities.
ASUU says the latest strike action is over the non-implementation of the Memorandum of Action (MOA) it signed with the Federal Government in 2017. Its National President, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, affirmed it and said the strike would be total and cover both federal and state-owned universities. Truly, most public institutions are already incapacitated.
The problem with ASUU is their predilection for doing one thing over and again and expect a different result. No, sir. Since strikes have failed to produce the desired results, why not develop a better means of communicating grievances?
For remarkably obvious reasons industrial actions have never solved any problem bedevilling university education in the country. And since Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, frequent trade disputes will surely negate its reputation in the comity of nations.
Given the multitude of problems public universities encounter and the frequent face-off between lecturers and the government over numerous unresolved issues, one is not consternated that the strike came at this time. ASUU was already standing by waiting for the least inducement to commence the industrial action.
As always, ASUU has good reasons for commencing their strike action, particularly given that universities in our clime are completely bereft of some welfare schemes their counterparts in more developed countries take for granted.
For instance, there is gross variation of academic calendar that observes the closing and resumption of universities at different periods. The quality of graduates is abysmally low; indigent students are denied loans while funding of higher institutions is poor. The question is why did previous strikes fail to address those issues?
I believe if both ASUU and the Federal Government are sincere and appreciate the issues at stake, they can be talked over. They have to realise the immeasurable damage failure to do so will cost the nation’s education. First, academic calendars will be disrupted and may be adjusted to the disadvantage of the students and systematically disparage them.
Some of the students may join crime venture to keep themselves busy while awaiting resumption. Such students may get prosecuted and jailed or even killed outrightly. Those and many more are some of the evil incessant strikes by lecturers can wreck education at tertiary level.
The Vice Chancellor of Benue State University, Prof. Msugh Kembe, while reacting to the current strike advised that it was causing a great disservice to university education and distorting the academic calendar of universities in the country.
Prof. Kembe said, “Let me emphasise here that due to ongoing strike by ASUU, we have asked our students to go back home and this will surely truncate academic calendar of the university.
“For instance, when a student is coming from a foreign country to study in Nigeria for a course of four years, he ends up spending more years due to strikes; this is causing disservice to the universities, particularly the public universities. At the end of the day, private universities will be enjoying the patronage of foreign students more than the public universities,” he stated.
The eminent professor simply stated the immediately obvious. A requirement for assessing universities worldwide is consistency in running their academic calendars and the presence of foreign students in such universities. But strikes discourage such students from patronising public-owned tertiary institutions.
Certainly, lack of commitment on the part of government is at the very root of this perennial crisis. It is embarrassing how government could take delight in starving the varsities of funds while throwing huge sums of money on politics and unbeneficial matters.
It is time the Nigerian government thought seriously about the lingering issues it has with ASUU and address them once and for all to save the country from discomposure. Education has so much to do with the future of a country.
Failure to resolve the conflict only indicates that the authorities are not interested in public universities because the children of top politicians and rich Nigerians patronise private universities at the prejudice of public institutions.
By: Arnold Alalibo