Has ASUU outlived its relevance?
By Temitayo Olofinlua
Education at the tertiary level – no matter its state or cost – is something many middle class Nigerians depend on for a ‘bright future’. These days, public primary schools are in deplorable conditions; only few public secondary schools (mostly the Federal Government Colleges) are up to par and so many parents send their wards to private primary and secondary schools anyway.
The situation at the tertiary level is not any better. The frequency at which strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) occur, force many parents to send their wards to private universities, where they pay huge sums of money. For those who cannot afford private school tuition, they keep their children in these public universities, and watch in pain any time there is a strike – leaving their children stuck at a spot because of a battle between FG and ASUU.
The incessant ASUU strikes have led to series of questions in many quarters. What does ASUU really want? Has ASUU outlived its relevance? In a society where the government does not cater, is not bothered by the education of its citizens, are strikes the best way forward? Of all the past strikes that ASUU has organised, what were the resolutions and were they implemented? Are many lecturers not a part of the decadence that we have in the university system, so what moral rights have they to protest?
When two elephants (the federal government and ASUU) fight, is it not the grass (the students) that suffers? Is it right for the lecturers to refuse to work, after students have paid their tuition for that session?
Busola Adebusoye, a graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, thinks that ASUU strikes today are a waste of time. “Nigeria as a nation is presently sick; so Nigeria cannot take ASUU’s problem in isolation. ASUU strike has been on and off for a while, throughout when I was in university, ASUU was on and off strikes,” Adebusoye said.
So the question remains, what has ASUU been demanding and why has the federal government not yielded to ASUU’s demands for over a decade? After a warning strike in September 2011 demanding that the 2009 ASUU/FG Resolution be actualised, the strike, in its full blown glory, started indefinitely in December. The main issues in the 2009 resolution are better funding for research and development of universities, review of the process of appointing Vice-Chancellors, review of the retirement age of lecturers, and transfer of university lands held by government to schools.
One would expect that a responsible government would immediately seek to address the issues at hand. However, they delayed and allowed ASUU to execute its threats before the Minister for Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, said: “There were still grey areas to be sorted out with the ASUU on the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement.”
This just makes one wonder, how grey can the areas be that it takes two years to identify? Apparently, whenever ASUU and the government agree on certain things and the university lecturers go back to work, both parties go to sleep until ASUU someday wakes up and realises that the agreements has not been implemented. Why does it take the FG so long to keep “promises” that they made to ASUU?
Koye Ladele Mogbekeleoluwa, a final year student of the Faculty of Engineering, whose project defence is on hold because of the strike, blames the situation on the FG. “ASUU Strike is not a waste of time. The Federal Government has repeatedly shown a lack of integrity by not fulfilling agreements. Strikes seem to be the most effective way to get them to action. The Nigerian government is known for selectively honouring court judgments and strikes seem to be the only way to bring the force of the ‘public opinion’ to bear on the government,” he says. On the question of time lost as a result of the strike, he thinks that is a myopic way of looking at the situation. “I think that it’s a question of long term vs. short term. In the short term, time is wasted, students are delayed. In the long term, if they get what they want, it is better for Nigeria herself and the future.”
He compares the ASUU strike with the just ended NLC strike to protest the increase in pump price: “We lost a lot of money as a nation in that one week but it forced the government to take steps to address corruption in the NNPC and to reduce the pump price. We eventually saved more than we lost in five days.”
Recently, the Senate commenced moves to raise the retirement age of professors from 65 to 70 years. That’s just one part of the agreement. The next meeting between both ASUU and FG has been scheduled for 31 January, by which time the strike would have been on for almost two months.
Adebusoye thinks these meetings are gimmicks and not sincere attempts to solve the problem of education. “Let them be deceiving them there; not even now when the country is broke. Right now, ASUU’s problem cannot be solved because it is a part of the whole. The country as it is right now does not place a lot of priority on education; some of our corrupt leaders own these private universities. And the question to ask is: will the owners of these private universities fold their hands and watch public education boom and their own businesses dwindle
The coming days will show whether the lecturers will stick to their guns and stay out of class or whether the Federal Government would eventually solve the ‘grey areas’. In the interim, young people are out of school and restless energy has been let loose on the nation yet the two parties involved are taking their time to reach compromises.
Words from the thought-provoking essay that has been making waves on the internet, “You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum”, come to mind. The intelligentsia is blamed: “Wake up you all! …you should be busy lifting ideas, formulae, recipes, and diagrams from American manufacturing factories and sending them to your own factories. All those research findings and dissertation papers you compile should be your country’s treasure. Why do you think the Asians are a force to reckon with? They stole our ideas and turned them into their own. Look at Japan, China, India, just look at them.” Here in Nigeria, our lecturers are busy carrying “aluta bowls”, trying to wring agreements out of the hands of the FG. And like the writer of that piece, I do not think ASUU alone is to be blamed. The FG, like the Zambian governments past and present, “failed to create an environment of possibility that fosters camaraderie, rewards innovative ideas and encourages resilience”.
The writer continues “It’s amazing how you all sit there and watch yourselves die…Get up and do something about it.”
When it comes to the incessant strikes and the problems of education in Nigeria, all parties involved, FG and ASUU in this case, should get up and do something, they should stop waiting for the next strike and the next meeting to fix the education sector. They should stop keeping students at home and leaving room for youths to turn to delinquency.