The continued strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU), which seems to have become a ‘new normal’ in the last 19 years, to many stakeholders, is seen as contributing to the growing decadence in the society typified by production of half-baked graduates, who are not employable, mass exodus of Nigerians abroad with the attendant depleting foreign reserves, as well as widening the gap between the rich and the poor manifesting in prostitution by the idle students.
They argue that these years should be seen as deliberate setback to varsity education as successive governments have failed to accord priority to the sector in their budgetary allocations. Besides, they further argue that most of the successive administrators or political appointees into the sector have been self-serving or lack the requisite knowledge to handle the issues bedeviling it.
The implication, they say, is the rising societal vices as the idle students could easily be manipulated by politicians for their selfish interests.
Specifically, in the last 70 days, the ASUU has kept the gates and classrooms of the nation’s public university system comprising 43 Federal and 47 state universities locked.
The same can also be said of the polytechnics, with 28 federal Polytechnics and about 30 states owned polytechnics closed and several thousands of students locked out of the learning environment.
This is because series of meetings between the federal government and the unions have failed to achieve the desired aim, even as ASUU is threatening to renege on its earlier promise of allowing their members to participate in the February elections.
ASUU’s grouse with the Federal Government in the last 19 years centres on the lackluster attitude to education in the country.
It is on record that between 1999 and 2018 (19-year period), poor funding and attention by the government had led to the series of strikes in the academic calendar at all levels of education in the country, which is gradually becoming the new normal.
Out of the 19-year-period since the infamous FG/ASUU Agreement in 1999, only five years; 2000, 2004, 20014 2015 and 2016 were spared of the Incessant strikes that had led to the downturn in academic activities and students performances.
Demands by ASUU declared as valid by President Muhammadu Buhari, include funding for revitalization of public universities and the issue of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA); University Staff Schools; implementation of the judgment of the National Industrial Court, National Universities Pension Management Company and guidelines for pension matters for professors.
Others are the exemption offered by the government regarding the issue of TSA, which included the issue of grants, endowment funds as well as salary shortfall, which is already being implemented by the government and the union’s proposal to submit a position paper to the Federal Government on their observation with a view for government to advise state governments.
However, as the nation is being held in the jugular by ASUU and ASUP, parents, student bodies and other stakeholders have been counting the losses suffered by students and others as the strike has become an annual event in the academic calendar of the country’s tertiary education sector.
Besides, the trend seems to have done incalculable damage to the society by way of rising societal vices through idle students’ involvement in criminal and other undesirable activities, unemployment occasioned by half-baked nature of the university products, among others.
Worried that strikes have done no good to the country, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) last weekend appealed to the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to return to the negotiation table with the Federal Government.
“There is a need for ASUU to continue its negotiations with the Federal Government to find a common ground to resolve issues that led to the union’s ongoing strike,’’ NANS National Public Relations Officer, Mr. Bestman Okereafor said.
Okereafor, in a statement on alleged threat by ASUU not to suspend its action, added: “We consider this decision as devilish and not in the best interest of Nigerian students.
“We wonder how the lingering disputes will be resolved if meetings are boycotted. We are calling on the leadership of ASUU to reverse its decision and consider returning to the negotiation table.’’
The students’ umbrella body also urged the lecturers to work towards resolving the dispute and suspend the strike in the interest of Nigerian students.
Already the Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAC) last week defied ASUU by resuming activities through conduct of exams for their students.
It Is A Destruction To Structured Learning
Professor Chidi Ebere Onyia, former Faculty of the California State University, Dominguez Hills, California, United States of America (USA) said the decision by policy makers to fund tertiary education has always been disingenuous regardless of the political party in power.
Reflecting on the past 19 years, Prof. Onyia said it “clearly shows that politicians who assume office come with a plan to kick the can down the road till its time to handover to another government”.
“The problem with this mindset is that we graduate at best young people who are not ready to engage the work environment productively. The original designers of the semester system had a clear understanding of the implication of structured learning within a timeline for student mastery of content,” he said.
According to him, this should be understood based on empirical evidence the implication of disruptions in the academic calendar on staff motivation/morale and engagement in the learning, research and administrative process.
He tasked the government to understand that this new model of disruption presents an anomaly in the learning design, saying that the FG should be honest enough to accept that the education quality issues is to a large extent a product of their dysfunctional leadership thinking, kneejerk policies, budgetary gaps and low-quality infrastructure.
He added: “Expecting an internationally respected higher education system in Nigeria is not possible and the policymakers are aware of it because education advocates locally and globally have been singing the same songs for years with empirical evidence. Ignoring the need to restructure the current funding model and accountability process will only lead to another strike by the many unions in our academic system.
“ASUU’s demand for improved service for lecturers is reasonable and should be taken seriously if we intend to improve our comparative advantage as a nation.
Disruption In Academic Calendar Not Productive
Prof Onyia in his submission inferred that the disruption of the academic calendar is unproductive and ignoring, saying “Its effect in the overall nation-building process is a clear sign that we have the wrong leaders whose understanding of good governance or quality education is not aligned to the realities of today.”
In the same vein, a rights advocacy group, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Lagos frowned at the unconcerned attitude demonstrated by the Federal Government over the years as it relates to the revitalization of the country’s public education institutions.
As successive governments continue to turn deaf ears to the issue of revitalization of public university education 19 years after the union and government conducted a NEEDS Assessment that confirmed the poor learning situations in many universities across the country, ERC submitted that it was evident that the negotiation team led by Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN) confirms that the Federal Government is not interested in resolving the crisis of proper funding of university education in the country.
Threatening a mass action in line with NANS position to end the trauma and unproductive holidays students are subjected to, the group said: “It is to this end that ERC calls on the ASUU leadership not to make the strike a sit home strike or limit the activities of the strike within the confine of their members. The ASUU leadership must map out public activities, mass meetings, rally and or protest that are capable of attracting Nigerian students, civil societies and parents to the struggle on the need to save public university education from collapse.
“We opined that it is this kind of united action of all oppressed layers of the country that will save public university education system from collapse. It is required at this period by all to guarantee the delivery of qualitative and public-funded education; this is inevitable if Nigeria ever wishes to banish poverty, ignorance, squalor, insecurity, disease and corruption”.
19 Years Of Deliberate Setback to Varsity Education
A concerned parent and retired teacher in the Oyo State Teaching Service Commission, Chief Akin Ogunmefun frowned at the unconcerned attitude of successive Ministers of Education in the country for being cold-hearted in the matter that involves education of the masses in the country and described the incumbent minister a lame duck.
Speaking on its negative effect on the lives of students, Ogunmefun attributed the poor showing of graduates from institutions to the 19 years of neglect of the sector by the FG.
He said, “The danger inherent in this forced leave on students is that they stand the risk of being recruited as mercenaries by politicians desperate to clinch and return to office in the general election.
“I pity this nation, go to street corners at night what you find are young girls that are products of possibly polytechnic and universities lurking around dark spots for men. This is awful and connotes serious threats to the crop of young people we are breeding.
“In Benin Republic, young Nigeria boys and girls make up the population the entire population of mushroom universities operating in small houses and without laboratories.
“The situation might become completely hopeless if nothing urgent is done to stem the tide of declining fortune of Nigerian universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.”
Government Has Defied, Breached Equal Rights To Education
Worried by the situation in public universities, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has (SERAP) also lent a voice seeking the intervention of UN special rapporteurs to “prevail upon the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to reach an agreement to end the ongoing strike action by ASUU.
According to SERAP, the incessant strike has had ‘real and dire consequences on the right to higher education, specifically university education, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Nigeria is a state party.”
In the appeal, SERAP’s Senior Legal Adviser, Bamisope Adeyanju, said: “By failing to prevent and end to the ongoing strike action by ASUU, the Nigerian government has defied and breached the explicit requirements of the right to equal access to higher education by Nigerian children and young people, under article 13(2)(c) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”
The urgent appeal sent to Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education and Professor Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights argues that: “The failure by the Nigerian government to reach an agreement with ASUU has also implicitly made access to higher education a privilege of the rich and well-to-do rather than a right of every Nigerian child and young person, as students in private schools continue to attend classes while those in public universities stay at home.
According to SERAP, “The failure to end the ongoing strike action by ASUU is also a fundamental breach of the right to higher education without discrimination or exclusion, as strike actions continue to penalise economically disadvantaged parents who have no means or lack the capacity to pay to send their children to private schools.
The urgent appeal read in part: “The obligations of the Nigerian government to create the conditions necessary for the enjoyment of the right to education include taking preventive measures to address the root causes of strike action by ASUU and to take steps to end any strike action in a timely manner when it occurs.”
SERAP argued that the government has the responsibility to preserve and strengthen education as a public good and a matter of public interest, saying that short of deliberate intervention of the Special Rapporteurs, the ongoing strike action by ASUU would continue and this would continue to impede access to university education for the poor and marginalized.
Atmosphere Of Peace Will Soar Varsity Profile
Prof Peter Okebukola, former Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission in an interview with Sunday INDEPENDENT on the failure of Nigerian Universities on the League Table of World University Rankings (CWUR) suggested that there should be significant improvement in the resourcing of universities for better quality research.
Secondly, we should tighten the rigour of promotion and dim the practice of promoting based on a mere number of publications rather than on quality, measured by the appearance in high-impact journals. Thirdly, we should better incentivise our researchers so they can be motivated to carry out groundbreaking research.
“We should encourage our scholars to compete for international prizes since many are unaware of the existence of such awards or are too timid to apply; we should work hard towards better training for our graduates so they can excel internationally and be eligible for appointment as CEOs of global companies.
“we should strive to maintain a stable academic calendar by ensuring that events that will trigger local and national strikes are avoided. It is in an atmosphere of peace that Nigerian universities can rise stoutly to be the best they can be,” he advised.