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Monday, December 5, 2022

Does ASUU strike matter?

By Afolabi Aribigbola

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The four-week roll-over total and comprehensive strike embarked upon by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on 14th February 2022 entered the fourth and final week of the warning segment. The reality is that if concrete agreement is not reached this week, the strike will likely snowball into a full-blown indefinite strike. The consequences of this unwholesome development will be very grave and far reaching in retarding the progress of education in the country. Of course the development has generated arguments and counter arguments among the people especially the elites on the desirability or otherwise of the ongoing one-month warning strike by ASUU.

Many discerning Nigerians are really concerned with the recurring debilitating consequences of strike action by ASUU and seeming government unwillingness to undertake the needful to resolve the impasse. Thus, to many Nigerians, whether ASUU is on strike or not, it is no more a big issue. Such dispositions are hinged on the fact that ASUU strike is one too many and more importantly that past strikes seem not to have yielded desired and acceptable outcomes to several individuals. Otherwise, why should the country be witnessing another round of strike as an annual ritual?

My interest to write on the ongoing ASUU strike was kindled when a friend and senior public servant in a discussion on the issue of ASUU expressed utter indifference and indignation to the whole exercise. To him and many others in his mold, the strike is one too many and unbecoming of ASUU and concluded that it will not change anything in the system going by past experiences. He opined that the union is notorious for strikes and that whether they strike or not it does not really matter. He added that they should find other means of attracting government attention without necessary embarking on total strike. This position from a highly placed individual caught me napping and I began to ponder on the issue of whether ASUU strike matters or not. Why would such people consider a well thought out strike by intellectuals not to matter? What is it that has gone wrong in our society and why is the Federal government handling this important issue with kid gloves as if university education no longer counts in Nigeria?

Indeed, a review of outcomes of past strikes by ASUU and government responses in recent times tend to support the position of my friend above that ASUU strikes seems not to really matter any longer since they have been on same seemingly intractable issues since 2009 without acceptable outcomes. However, some have argued that this kind of disposition is  from the capitalist perspective that seeks to cripple public universities so as to promote private universities established by them and friends. Of course, capitulations of public universities will pave the way for the wealthy to dominate the majority of the populace. This will be made possible if the majority is denied quality education obtainable in the public universities whereas the private ones will only be available to the rich and those who can afford to travel abroad for university education.

The essence of today’s discussion is not to support or justify the strike, though our position would be very difficult to insulate from this. Our overriding intention is to raise issues and present some facts to inform the public on whether the strike counts. This is necessary to correct the misinformation and obsession by a section of the public towards the issues at stake.Though majority is sympathetic to ASUU’s efforts at rescuing Nigerian university system from destruction the little development in the universities in recent times are the product of ASUU strike. TETFUND and fundings resulting from needs assessment are examples of such anyway. Over the years the union has been calling for revamping and improving universities in the country so that they can cope with their counterparts in the other climes. As agents or source of innovation, research and development, they must be well equipped and positioned to be able to discharge these responsibilities. The little that is happening in this direction are products of ASUU’s struggle.

The media space in the last few weeks have been inundated with the reasons why ASUU is on strike. Some of the salient issues that warranted the current strike include the demand and insistence by ASUU for the revitalization of public universities; compel government to fully implement the 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement, and implementation of the MoA signed with the union on 23rd December 2020. Others include improved funding of state universities, the replacement of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) with University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) in the payment of emoluments. Also, the union requested for the review of the 2009 agreement that stipulated reviews every three years. Unfortunately, since the agreement was made in 2009, no review has been undertaken

In retrospection, one may conclude by submitting that ASUU strike counts in the present poor and unimpressive handling of their issues by Federal Government in recent times particularly from 2009 when they entered into an agreement with ASUU. In the recent past, government has consistently failed listen to ASUU except they embark on strike. The government for instance did not attend to ASUU until the commencement of the present warning strike. The Federal government did not consider it expedient to reconstitute the negotiating team until the union embarked on the strike. The Minister of Education only announced the composition of the team and inaugurated it last Monday, three clear weeks after the commencement of the strike. All these point to the fact that without strike, the government will not attend to ASUU demands. Then who says the strike did not matter? Thus, without a full blown strike the government was not prepared to attend to the problems of the public universities in the country.

Besides the above, the strike seems to matter because it has become the only vital tool that can bend the government to give attention to ASUU’s cry on the precarious teaching and learning conditions of public universities in Nigeria. The Universities have been blamed for the dwindling fortunes and poor quality graduates being churned out yearly. The current strike like those undertaken in the past has the capacity to draw public attention to those issues hampering the growth of the universities. This will give a direction on how to resolve the crisis in the system. It does seem that without strike the Nigerian government will not listen. The problems in the university are variegated and one does not need to begin to catalogue them again.

The lectures are often blamed for the woes of the universities but the society seems not to bother about them. Where do we go from here? Do the lecturers fold their arms just complaining among themselves and within the universities alone? Although the state has its own challenges and demands from different sectors of the national space economy, it has the responsibilities to resolve and bring universities in Nigeria into the right path fully. This responsibility is within the purview of government’s assignment or responsibilities. Everywhere in the world, government takes the lead in improving and developing universities. Therefore, the Federal government must do all within its power to redress the appalling conditions of the universities in the country. Anything short of this will continue to put Nigeria at the back in terms of research and development.

 

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