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ASUU: Strike is not the answer

The shocking decision of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to extend its roll-over strike action by another eight weeks has dampened the spirit…

The shocking decision of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to extend its roll-over strike action by another eight weeks has dampened the spirit of students, parents and education stakeholders, as the strike will worsen the already battered reputation of the nation’s tertiary educational institutions. Ignoring the sinking standard of education and the moral burden the strike places on university lecturers, the current ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, who announced the two-month strike last week, argued thus: “Having taken reports on the engagements of trustees and principal officers with the government, the union concluded that the government had failed to satisfactorily address all the issues raised in the 2020 FGN/ASUU Memorandum of Action (MoA) within the four-week roll-over strike period and resolved that the strike be rolled over for another eight weeks to give government more time to address all the issues in concrete terms so that our students will resume as soon as possible.”

Since 2009 when the federal government and ASUU re-negotiated a 2001 agreement, ASUU has embarked on industrial action eight times, for a minimum of one month and some for as many as five months, yet the government has not ‘satisfactorily’ met the terms and conditions of the agreement. Worse still, none of the four objectives of the agreement has been met in spite of strikes. The essence of the 2009 re-negotiation includes: (i) “To reverse the decay in the University System, in order to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development; (ii) To reverse the brain drain, not only by enhancing the remuneration of academic staff, but also by disengaging them from the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure; (iii) To restore Nigerian universities, through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and, (iv) To ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom.” To indicate how the 2009 agreement raised the hopes of university lecturers, the 51-page document contained five bills for the amendment of laws that affect the education sector.

With over eight strike actions since that agreement and with no success, ASUU should have realised by now that strikes may not be the way to go and should have devised other means of persuading the government to make good its promises. Through frequent strikes, ASUU’s reputation has continued to degenerate, students are frustrated, the quality of tertiary education continues to fall, while the integrity of degrees issued by our universities is in decline. In order to avert these multiple slides, ASUU must rethink its approach in negotiating and pressurising the government to keep its promises.

We, therefore, urge ASUU to call off its ongoing strike in the interest of students and use other methods to pressurise the government. First, it is important to give the government the benefit of doubt by returning to the negotiation table with the new team of pro-chancellors set up by the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu. Apart from this new negotiation team, ASUU could also enlist the support of members of the National Assembly in pressing home its argument for improved welfare package and better funding of universities. With a proper and genuine engagement, the National Assembly could ensure that annual budgets on education that fail to take into account agreements reached between the government and ASUU are either amended or thrown out. Another method of mounting pressure on the government is constant protests by lecturers and students to draw the attention of all and sundry to the failure of the government to keep to the terms and conditions of agreements. It is more important to continue to engage the government on the way forward than the elongated strikes that dent the image of ASUU and put students at a disadvantage.

Furthermore, ASUU must look inwards as it searches for solutions to the challenges facing university education in Nigeria. It is common knowledge that university administrators are not transparent and accountable in the management of internally generated revenues. Funds that should have been utilised in the development of infrastructure are stolen by administrators of tertiary institutions under the nose of lecturers through outright mismanagement and inflated contracts.

For example, in November 2019, the chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), disclosed during the National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Sector that ICPC investigations so far showed that universities were among the worst culprits of personnel budget padding. The ICPC named many universities and university hospitals that were found to have inflated their personnel budgets to the tune of hundreds of millions of naira.

Lecturers must challenge such a corrupt system as a way of ensuring judicious use of IGR in our universities. We support diverse and multiple measures in dealing with the problems facing tertiary education in Nigeria, but we are opposed to strikes, which only demoralize students and the society at large.

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