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How underfunding undermines Nigerian varsities’ response to emergency situations

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The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has lamented that government’s failure to adequately fund tertiary education was responsible for their inability to respond to emergency situations like the Corona Virus pandemic.

They maintained that varsity teachers at this time should be at the centre of scientific efforts to fight COVID -19.

ASUU national president, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi said unless our universities are well funded when emergencies arise, there would be no storehouse of knowledge or research to fall back on.

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Ogunyemi who spoke against the backdrop of the union’s strike amid the CODIC-19 pandemic and whether or not the action is not ill-timed said university teachers are fighting for the survival of tertiary education, which has been neglected over the years by successive governments.

Ogunyemi said, “What we keep telling the Federal Government is what has come to manifest now; we told the government over the years that unless we fund our universities when emergency situations arise, we would not have a store house of knowledge and research to fall on. Other countries are going back to their universities to draw from the expertise of scholars to conduct research and render services, if our universities have been fixed as expected, by now, we don’t need to look outside Nigeria to import hand sanitisers, face masks and hand gloves, these are little things that can be produced from within with the scientific backing from our universities but because we have not empowered them, government cannot easily come to the universities to ask them to assist.

“This is what we have been asking for; each time we talk about revitalisation of universities. If our laboratories are functioning, by now we should be able to go back to our laboratories and be making efforts on what we can do to contribute to a global solution to the Corona Virus pandemic but we don’t have any laboratory that can actually compete with the best across the world, and that is why the scientific challenge that people are responding to, Nigerian scholars are not sufficiently equipped to participate.”

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Prof Ogunyemi pointed out that without good laboratories and hospitals, there cannot be qualified medical doctors and paramedics.

“People should not just see this thing as a health challenge but also an educational challenge because our education is in a disarray and that is bound to affect the quality of manpower that we produce for the health sector. So if people say we are insensitive, it is because they don’t understand the link between the demand of ASUU and the crisis we have in the nation’s health sector because they are linked.

“We have the talent and the brain, take Nigerian scientists to other laboratories in the world, they will perform wonders but we don’t have such facilities in Nigeria, this is where Nigerians should see the link between ASUU’s demand in the education sector and the crisis we have in the health sector.”
On the controversy over the IPPIS, Prof Ogunyemi enjoined the government to “come down from its high horse” as it cannot continue to insist on the implementation of the new payment system in our universities.

“We have gone beyond grandstanding, there are alternative ways of addressing problems of corruption; given the circumstance that we found ourselves, IPPIS cannot work and it’s not workable. They have tested it with university workers in February and they saw the massive uproar that followed the implementation, even now not one, not two of university unions are threatening to join the ongoing strike.

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“ASUU strike, for now, is not hurting anybody but we have to keep the matter on the front burner so that we take it as part of the national emergency. We may not see the link directly if we stem the tide of COVID-19, let us come back and see what is wrong with our university system such that our institutions cannot respond to a crisis like this.

“ The Federal Government should go back to the drawing board and reflect, if you are attending to the problems of people that are dislocated, downtrodden and your eggheads, you are saying they can die of hunger, someday, you would need them. I hope the government would not push them to the point that they would be begging the best brains in our universities.”

On why the union has failed to embrace dialogue as a weapon of negotiation against the strike, the ASUU chief said the union is not averse to such but the government has always acted otherwise.

“ASUU is not averse to dialogue; we have always embraced dialogue that is why no matter the situation if the government invited us to a meeting, we would always honour such meetings. But the problem with the Federal Government is that there is always vested interests in its policies; so when you have such, government would be telling you one thing and what you see would be totally different. Like we have been talking about IPPIS now being World Bank project so people who are loyal to the world bank, people who stand to benefit would do everything to frustrate any alternative and would stop at nothing to destroy a progressive union like ASUU. We don like strike because nobody enjoys it, however, we are always at the pain that it appears the government does not understand any other language.”

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“See what medical doctors have been saying about the health sector when there was an emergency, the government started rolling out billions, where were these monies when none of our state hospitals was functioning? Teaching hospitals have collapsed, now suddenly the government is rolling out an emergency to address the crisis in the health sector. Why is the government not doing the same for education? The injury we are doing to education is a silent one because there is no emergency that we can easily measure but go and look at the quality of our products because we don’t have the facilities to give them the best, we have to make do with what we have. That is why we are crying out that people should not be accusing university lecturers of producing half-baked graduates when those who are supposed to produce them are telling the whole world that we don’t have the facilities to give them the best we should be giving them.

“That is why we should support ASUU’s struggles. See what has happened to public primary and secondary, they have been killed. None of us who went to these schools would be proud to send our children there, that is what they want to happen to the university system but we won’t allow it. Nigerians should support ASUU to ensure that it does not happen.

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