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ASUU at it again; let’s all get serious to save our youths

Something must be done to rescue Nigeria’s tertiary education. And it must be done pretty fast because time is running out. Higher education in the…

Something must be done to rescue Nigeria’s tertiary education. And it must be done pretty fast because time is running out. Higher education in the country today is largely an orphan. As a child, it rightly belongs (or used to belong) to the government. But for long now the Nigerian government has been reluctant to accept this child because doing so would mean assuming full responsibility. Many of the current leaders enjoyed free or at least close to free education and many even benefited from scholarships and grants, including overseas education scholarships, from both the federal and state governments. Today, we cannot even maintain the universities. It has been strike upon strike from ASUU; no doubt the standards of the products have diminished so much. 

This is the question at the heart of the crisis rocking the Nigerian university system. Whose child is it? Whose responsibility is it? The frequent resort to strikes by ASUU is part of the question: who owns this child?

Even right now, ASUU is at it again. The union has threatened to embark yet again on an indefinite strike. In fact, ASUU has been so associated with strikes that one would not be surprised if some of the undergraduates in their varsities begin to think that the “S” in the acronym actually has something to do with strikes.

Everybody is once again pleading with the union. From religious leaders to ordinary Nigerians, including parents of the students in public universities, Nigerians are begging ASUU to rescind its decision to go on strike.

Some of those making the pleas argue that the timing of the indefinite strike may not augur well for Nigerian society. This is February 2022, about a year to the next general election. Already, electioneering campaigns are beginning, whether we like it or not.  This is one of those periods that our politicians remember the students best and want to engage them, not for good, but for their selfish purposes. ASUU strikes have been known to stretch up a year unbroken. Should the one being planned now last that long, then it will provide a fertile ground for predatory politicians to lure these young ones into acts that may not be in the interest of their parents and the nation.

Indeed, keeping students at home also means they may vote as most of them probably registered at home, which is one of the reasons many of them only vote on Twitter

The question is not whether ASUU’s strike is justified or not, rather it is a debate of who bears the burden?

In a certain African country, a couple of years ago, an elongated holiday period led to an excess supply of the country’s leading export commodity, which in turn caused its price to fall. How did that happen? The report had it that with the long-drawn holiday, the students joined their parents to harvest the crop, which led to an oversupply of the commodity on the international market.

The option of our students joining their parents on the farms in today’s Nigeria is quite remote, at least for many of them. In several parts of the country, many of the parents have already been chased out of their farms by bandits. So they cannot be productively engaged in the occupation of their parents. Many say students’ participation in the #EndSARS protest of October 2020 fuelled the outcome, especially in a city like Lagos, where the protest led to the destruction of lives and property for whatever reasons different factions may give.

Incidentally, while the students’ fate hangs in the balance when university lecturers go on strike for several months, the teachers really lose nothing other than the time value of money because they would eventually get paid for all the period, even when many of them just use the opportunity to pursue their personal businesses, including going on sabbaticals and taking contract appointments in private universities. Some of them even go into active business, completely outside of the classroom.

On their part, the politicians care less. Indeed, as one cartoonist aptly represented, the children of the politicians really do not know what ASUU means.

Even so, though not with genuine intentions, they justifiably argue that Nigerian public universities are wasteful, and Yes they appear to be wasteful except they can justify they are not! Many private universities do not spend a quarter of what Nigerian federal universities incur annually.

So, should the Nigerian universities be privatised, and do we truly need university workers that have no interest in their products; rather only care about their pockets? How can a factory just be interested in the price of its product without giving a damn about the quality? It is tough to ask but it is a debate that we should have.

Everywhere in the world, university education is not free, not even in China or the United States, except for those on scholarships, which are purely on merit.

Everyone deserves and must have primary and secondary education, but university education is perhaps not a necessity for everyone. In fact, many university students are better off in technical colleges, polytechnics, and other informal trade and artisanal centres. This is a hard fact that any objective mind would agree with. 

So, should we continue to trust the Nigerian university system in the hands of politicians, who have continued to make it clear that there is nothing the government can afford any longer? From healthcare to power, basic infrastructure, and now education, the government is showing both inability to provide these efficiently and an unwillingness to let the private sector take control. Perhaps, we will all be better off if the government chooses a few things, even if it is only one thing that it can afford and do well.

As much as the government needs to take education more seriously and honour promises, let ASUU get serious too and stop hanging the future of the innocent youths in the air. This is the genesis of the low productivity of our workforce. This is why there is high unemployment. Yet companies find it difficult to hire because many graduates are unfortunately unemployable, as the system just churns out unbaked or half-baked products. Unending strikes in the university system disrupt the learning process. In most cases, once a strike is called off, what follows is a rush to hold examinations and close the session, whatever that really means.

Let all Nigerians come together to fashion a way out of this quagmire. In a country where several youths are questioning the usefulness of education versus their desire to get rich quickly, what is happening now will only succeed in driving away farther.

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