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‘FG must address ASUU’s agitation for Nigerian varsities to be globally competitive’

By Guardian Nigeria
24 March 2022   |   2:59 am
Former deputy vice-chancellor (Academic) and Professor of Clinical Anatomy, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Prof Hakeem Fawehinmi, in this interview with JOHN AKUBO,

Fawehinmi

Former deputy vice-chancellor (Academic) and Professor of Clinical Anatomy, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Prof Hakeem Fawehinmi, in this interview with JOHN AKUBO, spoke on the ongoing strike by Academic Staff Unions of Universities (ASUU) and why parties in the dispute must sit at a roundtable to resolve the issues to save university education from collapse.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities has embarked on another strike, coming after almost one-year industrial action in 2020. Don’t you think it is one strike too many?
I think ASUU’s agitation is called for, even though it is one strike too many. You will notice that ASUU has been consistently asking for the same thing, better funding of universities, autonomy and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel information system (IPPIS) platform recently introduced, which has been an issue because it does not serve the purpose of the university.

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All over the world, university staff are entitled to sabbatical leave and are entitled to visit other institutions during this period. It is expected that the new institution will enrol you on their payroll even as a visiting lecturer but IPPIS did not make any provision for the remuneration of lecturers on leave.

Nobody will go on sabbatical and go to other institutions to work for free. When you go to other institutions, you are to be paid so that you can sustain your life, but the IPPIS platform did not make provisions for that, which is a very big deficiency. So the ASUU struggle is genuine and germane

What are really the lingering issues and why do you think the government has failed to address these over the years?
There is this agreement ASUU signed with the Federal Government in 2009, which has not been implemented. Government kept postponing the evil day, forcing ASUU to go on strike countless times. It was during one of such industrial actions that both parties signed a Memorandum of Action (MoA), which has also not been met.

Now, there is a huge deficit in the budget for education in Nigeria, especially tertiary education, and for a country like Nigeria that has a large population of youths, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) minimum benchmark of 18 per cent budgetary allocation to the sector ha been consistently ignored.

In the Nigerian budget, the education sector does not even get up to seven per cent and we think it is a very huge deficit, which is affecting tertiary education because university education is a universal thing and the benchmark standard must be maintained.

Lecturers are also not enough and coupled with increased brain drain, the situation is getting worse. The take home of a professor is not a take home pay, it is not a living wage and government should look into this. The Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) is not paid as at when due. So, there is a huge backlog to be paid.

The population of students has overwhelmed the infrastructural capacity, such that if you go to students’ hostels and lecture rooms, you will see those deficits. Government should be proactive and expand infrastructure to meet the students population.

What do you think should be done for the government and ASUU to reach a consensus?
I must say that I pity the Nigerian student, irrespective of the deficit in infrastructure and facilities to train them, their academic programmes have been serially disrupted and it has reached a situation where it has become confusing, not only for the students but also for the academic staff, the lecturers.

After the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the institutions technically lost a session, and when they eventually resumed, they tried to find their feet and created a path for their academic existence, and all of a sudden, it is truncated again.

Maybe they have forgotten what they learnt, and by the time they come back to get themselves attuned again, there is another strike. These sorts of disruptions are not good for tertiary education. That’s why there are complaints that products being churned out from Nigerian universities are not suitable for the labour market. Even the lecturers have paid their dues.

You can imagine how confusing it is, you start a course, halfway to it, there is six months strike, after the strike, you start thinking of where to start from because the students must have forgotten the trend.

Government should be sensitive to the plight of the students and their parents. I am sure ASUU members are parents and they know how disruptive it is to these students, for a programme of four years, a student would have to spend six or seven years. Those who are close to the benchmark age of being able to attend national youth service would have outgrown that age.

Also, you will see most employment agencies asking for applicants below the age of 30, and a situation where they end up spending seven to eight years for a programme of four years, how would they get jobs? Remember youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems in society, if this is solved, issues of militancy, insurgency, kidnapping and the rest would be reduced.

If you solve the problem of unemployment, most of these youths would be gainfully employed, so, instead of building more prisons and hospitals to take care of mental patients, why not channel the funds into providing qualitative education.

Most of our graduates are unemployed and every year, we keep churning out hundreds of thousands to add to the pool. So, I think the Federal Government and ASUU should come to a meeting point. They should sit down and come to an amicable permanent solution to this problem.