ASUU and Nigerian education
Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo (1909 – 1987) was Premier of the Western Region from 1952 to1959, seven years in total, yet the profound influence he has on Nigerian education lingers on from the 20th to the 21st Century. Perhaps it would be there forever, nobody can say. Therefore, it is possible for a thoughtful policy to influence any aspect of society. So with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). It does not matter if the policy was followed or not, by future governments or institutions. In the case of ASUU, it was not followed. In spite of that, ASUU has influenced not only the universities but both the primary and secondary education. I am not sure of pre-primary education.
ASUU was formed in 1987 not only to look after the welfare of the members of the intellectual class of the universities, but also the welfare of Nigerians altogether. They did this by joining the trade unions. They have not been able to influence the trade unions, thanks to the backward educational policy of Nigerian governments. ASUU uses strikes to make its point but the government would not bulge. They promise but do not follow what they promised. Or they agree to aspects of the agreement where money is concerned but reject socialistic leaning programmes. As far as the governments are concerned, all their programmes are socialist leaning. No graduating set, from 1987, have not been affected, no, afflicted by ASUU strike. The longest ASUU strike was on 17, February, 2020 when ASUU went on a nine-month strike on funding of universities and the “functionality of the Integrated Payment Portal System” in which they argued that the system negates autonomy for the universities.
At the beginning of 2022, ASUU began another strike “after a protracted disagreement over the ‘non-implementation’ of a December 2020 agreement reached between lecturers and government.” “Protracted” disagreements, between lecturers and government would be a statement that would occur and reoccur in the narrative of discussions between lecturers and governments. The government contests that the standard of education has gone down. This is the reason the members of the government send their children to universities overseas. This argument is not valid. The lecturers argue that if the universities were well-funded, there would be no problem. Nigeria is rich enough to finance free university education if the politicians would stop stealing the totality of the budget. Of course, nobody responds to that!
A second year student says she has escaped any affliction in her career as yet only part of her examinations have been postponed to next term. This might have a slight effect on her education for now. The last meeting between the Minister of Education which I watched on television was a listening session, with the Minister doing the listening. When the session finished and the Minister stood up to go, ASUU burst into song: Soli, soli, solidarity forever! Soli, soli, Solidarity forever! We’ll go marching on!!! The student feels the year is too little gone to begin to predict how it will stretch out. “Make we just dey look. Sometimes so, better go come! Solidarity forever!!!”
What is the attitude of the students to the striking lecturers? Some of the students use the time to learn a trade like tailoring or hair-styling or cooking. The longer the strike lasted the better for them to finish their courses. But the students cannot but support the staff for wanting better funding for the universities. If their lecturers were better paid and the laboratories were better equipped, they would be better educated now. Or not, it depends.
Those who are to be the greatest benefactors in the better refunding of the universities are the ones who do not support the suggested programmes, who do not support the programs of re-funding the universities. They are the ones who send their children to overseas universities. University education is cheaper in Nigeria than any overseas university. Yet, they would prefer any overseas university. Is it anything to do with pride in money possession? Any possession of money has to do with the stealing of money from the government. And nobody is ready to confess his or her sources of his or her riches. One day one person might be able to make the person able to change his or her narrative.
In my time it was the universities that would admit us to their universities that we would attend such as Oxford or Cambridge, Harvard or Yale. These days any university would do as long as it is overseas, even Ghana. Secondary school education is still universally expensive in Nigeria and the quality is still good to the extent that their products get easy admissions to overseas universities. If the universities could take advantage of university admissions, it would help so many parents.
Much as primary education is crucial in the education system, many parents do not pay much attention to it. It could be the foundation of education if taken seriously. It could be the foundation of Geopolitics as well as History, the foundation for all knowledge in education. Geography, Politics and History give the bright student the foundation he or she needs in education. The Sciences will add to the amount of knowledge he or she needs, according to the profession the person wants to pursue in life. The most basic of the Sciences is Mathematics after such subjects as Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Integrated Sciences and AI, Artificial Intelligence. With a strong background in these subjects, secondary education will be a fly past.
In spite of what happened to free education, some of which I saw in Fagbamigbe’s house, it is still something to remember. One night it was the turn of Fagbamigbe to nominate someone for Commissioner for Education. He said disparagingly that others will help him, the person, through the pretend situation of free education. It is powerful enough for those who missed it to wish they hadn’t missed it. Those who went through it could only ponder if they made the best use of it. Examples for us all as history comes to be written.