(By Ezukuse Nkemchor Jeremiah)
“The question should be asked: Who and who is ASUU fighting for? I believe that ASUU, just like every other organisation or association, is fighting solely for its welfare. Therefore, I think that any attempt to include the welfare of students in the universities as part of their excuse for embarking on strike is cosmetic and hypocritical. If it is the case that members of ASUU, who are lecturers in the universities, genuinely have the welfare of the undergraduates at heart, how many of them have stopped compelling students to buy in some cases photocopied materials or texts at exorbitant rates?“
IF there is any body, organisation or association in Nigeria that has been consistent over the years in embarking on strike to drive home her demands, it is Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). There is no doubt that it has become a monster every government in power dreads to confront. And since the inception of the association there has been no government that has succeeded in avoiding a headlong collision with it, be it military or civilian administration. In short, the pioneers of private universities in Nigeria would testify to the fact that the setting up of such (private) universities was borne out of sheer opportunism created by incessant strike by ASUU. Today, the number of private universities in the country has proliferated.
No doubt, the importance of teachers or lecturers in any nation cannot be over-emphasised, but the manner in which members of ASUU go about holding the government by the jugular to the detriment of the students, leaves one to wonder if there is no justification in Heather Brew’s sentiment about teachers when she said, “…teachers, no matter how kind, no matter how friendly, are sadistic and evil to the core.” There are several associations in the country, and if all of them embark on strike to drive home their demand at the rate and frequency ASUU does, our economic life as a country would have long been grounded. It seems ASUU wants Nigerians to believe that they are the most ill-treated workers at the employ of the government. But we know this is not true.
Whereas ASUU is contending that an agreement was reached as contained in the MOU signed under the leadership of the late President Yar’Adua in 1999, ASUU now holds strongly to that agreement as if it was a court verdict. Yes, without absolving the Federal Government of blames, I think, however, that it is necessary that if an agreement earlier reached could not be implemented for some contending factors, a second look at such agreement should be considered. It is not even the case that the Federal Government who entered into such agreement with ASUU is non-compliant as far as the agreement is concerned, the only fuss being that ASUU wants total implementation at a go. The Yar’Adua Administration that entered the agreement was short lived. The late President Yar’Adua, having a background in academics as a lecturer, no doubt felt the need to accede to the demands of his former colleagues in the ivory tower. I think it is quite unfortunate that he did not live long enough to implement the agreement, leaving the task to another administration that has contending issues and challenges – challenges of insecurity and terrorism gulping the national resources that probably makes the implementation of such earlier agreement arduous.
The question should be asked: Who and who is ASUU fighting for? I believe that ASUU, just like every other organisation or association, is fighting solely for its welfare. Therefore, I think that any attempt to include the welfare of students in the universities as part of their excuse for embarking on strike is cosmetic and hypocritical. If it is the case that members of ASUU, who are lecturers in the universities, genuinely have the welfare of the undergraduates at heart, how many of them have stopped compelling students to buy in some cases photocopied materials or texts at exorbitant rates?
I believe that some of the demands of ASUU are questionable. If Nigeria does not operate a unitary system of government, why would ASUU, with members derived from both federal and state universities embark on strike for the same purposes and objectives? Is the Federal Government being made to bear the cross of the state government? Or how can one explain the rationale behind ASUU asking for such huge amount from the Federal Government and at the same time asking to be autonomous? So who will they be accountable to? Or have federal universities become private and individual-owned universities? We must be alert and look beyond the moment to critically analyze any given situation that concerns our common good and that of the future generations.
ASUU should realise that there are numerous organisations cut across other sectors of the economy. What happens if all these organisations and associations incessantly embark on strike over issues on allowances and autonomy? Let us not assume that these other organisations are incapable of going on strike and making huge demands. In short, I believe that the myriads of problems that face us as a country should not be fought in isolation. The issue of selfish agenda has been our bane in this country. If we accuse the politicians of fighting for their pockets, how have we, as individuals and groups, shown a difference in our ways of doing things?
The manner in which ASUU has remained adamant without shifting grounds leaves little to be desired. It is even believed in some quarters that once a new president of ASUU comes on board the next thing to do to make himself popular is to embark on strike. The antics of ASUU have raised voices in some quarters if the body should not be disbanded. Whereas I think such measure is rather too draconic, I however, believe there should be ways to checkmate ASUU for very soon, if government grants all their demands, the federal and state universities would be run like every other private universities where admission into the schools would be on cash and carry basis.
We cannot shy away from the reality that despite the imperfections of the government owned universities; they have remained the only sources of acquiring higher education by the common man and woman. Thus, we have to tread cautiously in that aspect of the MOU that stipulates granting full autonomy to the universities. If it is true that granting full autonomy to the universities would ensure efficiency and improvement in quality of education, we have to first of all appraise the system on how it has fared so far with the huge amount of resources that have been sunk into it since 1999. I believe that because the country operates below 26 per cent recommendation by the United Nations on education, should not always be used as excuse for failure on the part of handlers of the fund allocated to education. There is this common saying that a man who cannot judiciously account for a shilling would equally be abysmal even with a pound. How many new hostels have been built across the campuses since 1999? For the records, most of the hostels and other facilities built since 1999 were built by corporate organisations. So where goes the fund that has been injected into the university system? Are the universities not receiving such fund? What have they done with it?
These pockets of strikes by different organisations will not take us to the Promised Land. If we must fight for the advancement of this country, we should put selfish interest aside. It should not always be the case that when the pump price of fuel is increased that is when we should roll out to the streets and speak in one voice to condemn it. For instance, ASUU or any other organisation has not been known to go on strike to protest poor power supply, poor budget implementation, poor road network, unemployment, embezzlement, corruption, or any other cankerworm that has eaten our economy to squalor. Not even the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has been known to mobilise to protest by embarking on strike to stamp out such societal sabotage.
I believe it is not enough for ASUU to allude to the huge allowances that accrue to the National Assembly as justification for being adamant and blocking rooms for a shift in renegotiation. It is tantamount to ambiguity and charlatanic pursuit because it is not the case that their being on strike is a quest for the reduction in the enormous allowances accruing to the National Assembly which, of course, is totally wasteful bearing in mind that we are a nation that has its largest percentage living in abject poverty. Well, the matter involving the National Assembly and politicians in general should be left for another day.
In this fight between ASUU and the Federal Government, the students are the losers. They are the ones whose stay in the university would be unnecessarily prolonged. They are the ones who, as a result of being idle for long, risk being plowed by evil inclinations. It has to be said that at this point that ASUU has lost the sympathy of the students, parents and other concerned citizens. Their being on strike is no longer popular. It is time for ASUU to back to the drawing board and come up with another modality of engagement with the Federal Government. Perhaps, the course of action ASUU pursues would have been morally commendable if they are making any sacrifices to actualise their quest. Alas! ASUU makes no sacrifices in pursuit of their dream. The students are instead the sacrificial materials. For it is obvious that ASUU gives no qualms so long their salaries will be paid no matter how long the strike persists. Thus no sacrifice is being made at all on the part of ASUU in their so-called fight for students.
It is high time ASUU redeemed its seeming bartered image; it is high time it called off the strike. Its members should return to the classroom. The Federal Government on its part should learn from the fuss arising from ASUU and be mindful of the kind of agreement or MOU it signs just for political reasons. Enough is enough.
Jeremiah lives in Benin City. Tel: 08060254220.
“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.”