By Sadeeq Sheshe
In the early days of March this year (2020), the members of the Academic staff union of universities in Nigeria (ASUU) declared and embarked on an indefinite strike action.
The consequence of which meant, no form of academic activity in Nigerian universities including teaching, research, supervision and even running the affairs of the Universities.
As at that time of the declaration of the strike, much concern was not given by all the stakeholders given the case of Covid-19 that was starting to reach its peak at that moment. However, the effects were started to be felt recently given that the coronavirus has shown its reluctance to completely leave. As it is now, it’s almost 8 months that the strike has been declared and things are turning from bad to worse and unfortunately approaching a worst situation. Considering the major stakeholders of the strike, a discussion and or analysis on the situation of the strike was made below;
The government, including state and federal governments, are the major protagonist in this whole situation. The strike is particularly against government’s refusal to honor agreements as well as other calamitous policies into the university system.
Accusations have already been made that about the governments from both state and federal levels having most of their wards schooling abroad rather than in Nigerian Universities hence the nonchalant attitude. Since the 2009 agreement, the government has kept on negotiating and renegotiating with ASUU on this agreement. One will just wonder why did the government enter the agreement with ASUU in the first place knowing that it might not be able to handle it.
Again, it might be argued that the agreement was done in a government that is quite different from the government of the day. However, this argument remains invalid as the major machineries of government (administrators of ministries of education, labor, higher education, etc) are still there and haven’t been changed. Governments at both federal and state levels have been reported to refuse to pay salaries and or allowances owned legitimately by the academicians.
The current federal government led by President Buhari has been specifically accused of having almost no interest whatsoever in educational development. This could only be corroborated by governments’ actions toward the educational sector particularly tertiary and university system. From gross underfunding, zero innovation, and educational strategies to lack of concern for the substandard level of education in Nigeria.
In Nigeria today, little effort is made towards funding researches particularly in Science and Technology whom are the backbone of development for every country in this 21st century. In addition, majority of Universities in Nigeria are suffering from gross infrastructural deficit. Lecture halls, classes, and theatres are still not enough to cater for the growing number of students. Standard laboratories and libraries are either lacking or are nonfunctional. This recent covid-19 pandemic had just exposed the level of defects in infrastructure within our universities.
Most universities in many countries have continued their programs some even graduating students using virtual technologies. This has greatly minimized the effect of the pandemic on education in such countries. Unfortunately, such cannot be said or happen in Nigeria. In fact the University lecturers are already on strike during the pandemic. Importantly, the infrastructure for virtual learning is completely absent in almost all Nigerian Universities.
Regarding government policy, the IPPIS saga has now taken over almost every argument for the strike. Although this IPPIS was said to be designed to minimize leakage and reduce corruption in mainstream civil service, its implementation in the Nigerian university system particularly with emphasis on academia is major disaster. It clearly contradicts the standards of University autonomy.
A University is not like a parastatal or an agency. Universities are governments of their own thus their autonomy should be sustained as it is everywhere around the world. The directive by the federal government that all Federal University lecturers must enroll into IPPIS is the strongest blow that will eventually destruct University autonomy.
One might be curious; why Must a University be autonomous? Universities have peculiarities which are different from workings at mainstream civil service. This allows for smooth running of academic and research activities as well as its productivity.
A classic example is; a University could employ the services of a renowned visiting professor from another country or alma mater to engage in a particular academic necessity. With a system of IPPIS, such things and many more would not be possible.
Thus this government has actually done little to educational development especially with the tertiary and university system.
A wake-up call for the government to consider education and make it a major priority is emphasized. It’s high time even the president be involved in the discussion with ASUU to end the strike. Perhaps this might bring back the lost confidence in the government with respect to ASUU and their members. Government representatives should as well desist from inflammatory statements as seen recently by a minister whom has been part of the negotiation team. Tertiary and University education deserve presidential attention, not silence.
Lecturers under the umbrella of ASUU have come under pressure and at times even accused of being selfish and inconsiderate. Such claims might be valid given the fact that the remaining stakeholders; students and the parents are the most affected. However, fairness should be considered especially with ASUU. Our governments and politicians have been known to be deviant and manipulative and consider only what will be good for them.
According to ASUU, they have been contacting and consulting government agents to consider and honor their agreements with them but have continued to be on deaf ears. At times, the government instead ends up responding disrespectfully via salary stoppage or slashing to the union members and that has been a major cause of frustration for ASUU
and its members.
However, truth be told, this disrespect and humiliation by governments and politicians to respected professors could be as a result of the actions of some members of the union. Now a day, many professors have become tools for politicians to rig and manipulate elections in their favor.
The inclusion of academicians particularly professors into adhoc INEC jobs have done more harm than good. A professor conniving with a politician to rig election results for contracts and certain political and government appointments will have no honor and integrity to talk to the same politician that connives with him.
This is a plain truth and ASUU and its members really need to consider this to understand why they have become a laughing stock for government and the political class. Additionally, there is the need to sit as intellectuals to find alternative ways to engage governments in ways which might not directly affect the students particularly with respect to halting of academic activities.
Students are arguably the most affected by the strike action. Although but students have a role to play to facilitate an end to the strike. Via various student unions, they may organize conferences, meetings, and other engagements with both the governments as well as their lecturers to find a common ground in other to see the strike comes to an end. Similarly, students could engage leaders and members of the National Assemblies to mediate between the government and the striking lecturers which is essentially feasible.
Unfortunately, the students nowadays have lost almost all their sense of responsibility.
Most of our students being youths are more interested in activities of entertainment and fame rather than fighting for their future. From engaging on social media unnecessary activities to following of celebrities. This has made a lot of students to lose passion for study to shape their future. In fact, the worst of it all is that student unions now have become puppets and beggars to politicians hence could to not stand to fight for what is their right and responsibility.
Students, therefore, need to wake up and be responsible. They should understand that becoming responsible is associated with having a proper and sound education. It is only when you are educated that you will be aware of things and pursue a life goal or ambition.
Parents are also important stakeholders in the strike. It is the wards and children that are being returned home to sit idle while their peers in different countries are moving ahead and achieving. Thus there is the need to form a national parents’ association (maybe National PTA) in collaboration with labour unions to mediate between the government and the striking lecturers and facilitate the ending of the strike.
As a parent, it is disgusting to watch your child sit at home doing absolutely nothing while his days keep on moving and his opportunity and chance for success keep on diminishing. It will as well bring an end to idleness and joblessness led social vices that have been reported to be engaged by the youths such as Robbery, theft, etc.
It is, therefore, time for Nigerian parents to come together and act fast to save their wards
Lastly, this strike has been nothing but a disaster to everyone in this country. Even government economy has been reported to be affected by the ASUU strike. As such it is high time to come together and bring an end to this menace to save our future.
Sadeeq Sheshe writes from Kano, can be reach via:Sadeeqsheshe@yahoo.com