(By Titiladunayo Daniel Damilola)
“ASUU portrayed their demand and technically sold it out as though it is to salvage the education sector, but questions like; why didn’t other education unions such as SSANU, ASUP, NUT et al join them. Why did they suspend the 109-day-old strike in 2009 after the approval of request six and seven, even in the face of increasing unemployment? The question of whether it is selfish remains unanswered. If a state claims it can’t fund its university then let it put up the shutters.“
Uproar in the middle-east, crisis in Egypt, political instability in Nigeria, economic catastrophe in the United States and terrorist attack all over the world. In the midst of this crisis, the continuous existence of a service-providing company suffers amassed threat; despite its wealth, it can’t meet the ever-increasing demand of its staff. Members of staff rise in arms and ammunition, making pronouncement of war, destroying the physical assets of the company violently, in spite of pleas from several quarters including the tears of the customers, the staff refute vehemently the need to return to their work without implementation of their demand. The staff is the Academic Staff Union of Universities fondly called ASUU, the company is the Federal Government and obviously the consumers are the students. As the moon paves way for the sun to shine, the tick of the clock turns into days, the cock crow announces the birth of another day and the moon heralds the arrival of a new month, the hope that the lingering lacuna in the academic calendar, caused by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, would end soon fades away at the appearance of every twilight and arrival of network news.
Politicians send their wards overseas to study, our lecturers travel around the globe to lecture since they have both successfully paralyzed university education in Nigeria, some have faced their career and the rest have faced their business and family while the life and time of some of the country’s future are wasting away at home (since they have finally resolved to occupying social media ranging from Twitter to Facebook and to Instagram), Our leaders are considering the economy and the rationality behind ASUU’s request. ASUU keeps inviting “deadlock” to meetings because their interest has not been met and the students fold arms in their respective houses watching these folks play hide and seek with our destinies as the pride of our education becomes imperiled by political warlords.
Going through ASUU’s antecedent, in the 1980s against the military regime, the ASUU was proscribed on August 7, 1988, and all properties seized. It was allowed to resume in 1990, but after another strike was again banned on August 23, 1992. However, an agreement was reached on September 3, 1992 that met several of the Union’s demands including the right of workers to collectively bargain. The ASUU organised further strikes in 1994 and 1996, protesting against the dismissal of staff by the General Sani Abacha military Administration. In 2007, the ASUU went on strike for three months, In May 2008, the ASUU held two one-week ‘warning strikes’ to press an array of demands, including an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers who were dismissed many years ago. In June 2009, the ASUU ordered its members in federal and state universities nationwide to proceed on an indefinite strike over dispute with the Federal Government on an agreement it reached with the union years ago. After three months of strike, in October 2009 the ASUU and other staff unions signed a memorandum of understanding with the government Isn’t it high time we positioned an end to this incessant festival? Calling a spade its real name, ASUU would be upset to know that their demands can’t be met in a year or by a single administration. Sounds cynical or mythical I guess? Their demands are: Funding requirements for revitalization of Nigerian universities; Federal government assistance to state universities; establishment of NUPEMCO; progressive increase in annual budgetary allocation to education to 26 per cent between 2009 and 2020; earned allowances; amendment of the pension/retirement age of academics on the professional cadre from 65 to 70 years; reinstatement of prematurely dissolved Governing Councils; transfer of Federal Government landed property to universities; setting up of research development council and provision of research equipment to laboratories and classrooms in our universities.
ASUU portrayed their demand and technically sold it out as though it is to salvage the education sector, but questions like; why didn’t other education unions such as SSANU, ASUP, NUT et al join them. Why did they suspend the 109-day-old strike in 2009 after the approval of request six and seven, even in the face of increasing unemployment? The question of whether it is selfish remains unanswered. If a state claims it can’t fund its university then let it put up the shutters.
X-raying the annual budgetary allocation to education, it is apparent that it has been on the increase and we are seven years away from 2020, if by the set time the budgetary allocation to education sector doesn’t meet the target then unions in the sector can embark on an industrial action by 2021. The Federal Government is said to have approved N400 billion to attend to the last demand and this will run within the next four years. This we hope would stop Nigerian universities from churning out half-baked graduates. However, it becomes obvious that we have the controversial N87billion and the request for transfer of “Federal Government” landed property left unresolved. Transfer of Federal Government landed property to universities directly or indirectly translates to the fact that Vice Chancellor’s lodge can be purchased by someone and rented out to subsequent Vice-Chancellors. It should be noted that institutions’ property can be purchased in the name of public-private partnership and turned into personal asset. If the Federal Government had approved the N87 billion before the N400 billion probably students would have returned to school and normalcy restored.
Undoubtedly, teachers’ belief in the maxim “the reward of a teacher is in heaven” is why the Nigerian Union of Teachers has chosen not to demand for increase in payment despite their more herculean task. It is no news that our legislators earn ostentatiously but our lecturers too earn considerably well. Rather than fighting for equality why not request for a slash in the legislators’ earnings and denial of privilege to fix their own emoluments since they have betrayed public trust and proven incapable of fixing something that is reasonable and defensible. That would be more in character with intellectualism. Why would ASUU not demand for a severe punishment for corrupt office holders, why not orchestrate a machinery to curb the corruption in the country? Nigeria is wasteful but we shouldn’t aid the process. Corruption has eaten deep into the flesh of our economy under the close watch of the Peoples’ Democratic Party. We should appreciate the new-born All Progressive Congress for politicising the issue rather than deciphering what seems to be a mystery as state institutions in those region suffer the same fate
Isn’t it time we prostrated to beg our lecturers to return to the classroom? Isn’t it time for those sitting on the magnificent chair placed on the highest tier of government to develop listening ears and consider the students at home? I join the echoes of others to beg the “commanders” to end this ‘unfavourable’ industrial action. ASUU should consider better alternatives than using students’ time to channel their demands. And the Federal Government shouldn’t wait till things degenerate to pugnacity before it acts. The masses do not have right to security, they do not have right to stable power supply, they lack the right to basic amenities and you have deprived them of their rights to education. I wish to refer to a Yoruba adage that says “ebe lanbe osika” which roughly means “na beg we dey beg the wicked.” We raise the alter of pleas to appease the wicked and let all leaders note the quote of Jack Welch that “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others” and not just members of your union.
• Damilola wrote from University of Ibadan.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”