ASUU and challenge of revitalising universities
It is common knowledge that the most visible flashpoint in ASUU’s disputes with successive administrations has been non-implementation of the agreements reached with the government. This was epitomized in the events/circumstances surrounding the audacious 2009 agreement. The 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement contains major and central points that have motivated previous agreements.
It is worth emphasizing that the negotiations leading to that Agreement lasted two years (January 23, 2007 – October, 2009), with the Government Team led by Deacon Gamaliel Onosode (OFR). The agreement, like those before it, was etched on the following: Reversing the obvious rot and decay in the public universities;
Reversing the brain drain, by enhancing remuneration and disengaging academic staff from the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure;
Restoration of Nigerian Universities through the immediate massive and sustained financial interventions; and
Ensuring genuine university autonomy and academic freedom.
By the terms of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement, it ought to have been reviewed after three years (i.e. in 2012) but it took ASUU eight years (up till March 2017) to convince the Federal Government to come to the renegotiating table with Dr. Wale Babalakin, a former Pro- Chancellor of the University of Lagos, as the Chairman of the renegotiating Committee and the leader of the Federal Government team.
For the avoidance of doubt, the draft agreement of the joint Renegotiating Committee of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement coordinated by Emeritus Prof. Munzali Jibril, who took over the Chairmanship of the Joint Renegotiating Committee from Dr. Wale Babalakin, was submitted in May 2021 four years after the commencement of the renegotiation. The painstakingly packaged report was rejected by the government a year later. The second and current report was arrived after the government’s team was reconstituted in April 2022, under the Chairmanship of Emeritus Prof. Nimi. D. Briggs. The Briggs-led Renegotiating Committee submitted their report on 16th June, 2022, again Dr. Chris Ngige put up a roadblock on the path to completing the process that has dragged for more than five years.
The non-implementation of agreements, fierce victimization of staff as a result of strikes and breaches of the principles of academic freedom, poor funding, inadequate remuneration, inadequate capacity, brain drain, poor infrastructure, failure of government to implement recommendations of its own review panels, inconsistent policies and poor planning, corruption and poor management of funds by university administrators, violation of university autonomy and collective bargaining stand out as recurring factors in the instability of university system. ASUU believes that the defence of agreements is a defence of industrial democracy; the right to education and for national development. To ASUU, this struggle is not a war of choice; it is a war of necessity; it is a war for the restoration of the glorious days of robust academic freedom; it is a war against the entrenchment and glorification of ignorance as a national attribute.
Globally, many serious nations have been budgeting above 26% on education on account of the prime importance of education to national growth and development. Knowledge holds the key to Nigeria’s future, hence the prime place of universities must be restored if Nigeria is poised to key into the knowledge-driven economy, globalization and their spill-over benefits.
Issues in Contention
Uncountable questions have been asked on why ASUU keeps on embarking on strike. Such questions include:
Why does ASUU have to engage in struggles for revitalisation of public universities?
Are there no other known methods of pressing her demands other than strike?
Has ASUU extended itself beyond the remains of unionism?
Because of space limitations, these questions will not be tackled in any particular order. I will therefore present a conceptual basis for independent conclusions. Recall that the crises in public universities are inevitable concomitants of a clash of mentalities, lack of philosophical and ideological convergence, a poverty of planning and a misrepresentation/misinterpretation of the role of the university.
To be continued tomorrow
Dr. Nwankwoala is of the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria