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ASUU strike and NLC’s solidarity protest

By Editorial Board
26 July 2022   |   3:55 am
That public institutions of higher learning have been shut down in the last five months is not only disheartening, it connotes a clear demonstration that public tertiary education in this country is treated with utmost disregard.

NLC

That public institutions of higher learning have been shut down in the last five months is not only disheartening, it connotes a clear demonstration that public tertiary education in this country is treated with utmost disregard. This is particularly disturbing because those who bear the brunt of these frequent crises are not privileged to seek alternatives. Yet, it is such irresponsibility, particularly on the part of the Federal Government, that has shoehorned the citadels of learning into theatres of despair, and a reason for all stakeholders to be worried. That the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has finally seen reason to demand a better deal for education of Nigerian masses is commendable albeit belated.

Grievance of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) with the government is very well known to all stakeholders in the educational and labour sectors. It includes mainly the Federal Government’s failure to fully implement the Memorandum of Action (MoA) it signed with ASUU on December 23, 2020, even when the draft report of the renegotiated 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement had been submitted for finalisation for more than nine months. Besides, ASUU also noted that the forceful payment of ASUU members’ salaries and emoluments with the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) and non-adoption of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) have continued to shortchange its members.

Highlights of the contentious FGN/ASUU 2009 agreement includes the following: funding of the universities to provide infrastructure and facilitate teaching and learning, university autonomy and academic freedom, improved staff welfare and condition of service, refusal to honour the Earned Academic Allowance (EAA), and re-negotiation of the agreement.

Like all former attempts by the academic union, the demands of ASUU transcends obligation to contracts. Repeatedly, ASUU complains about its working conditions and the quality of students Nigerian universities churn out. Prominent members of the union have argued that ASUU’s grievance transcends legal commitment, but a moral issue. The highlights of the 2009 agreement border on the moral obligation its members have to the Nigerian society. They further argued that the laxity of other sectors, in not showing serious concern about the parlous conditions of universities, the teaching profession, and the products they churn out, has been the bane of the Nigerian misdirected society.

While Nigerians sympathise with ASUU over government’s insincerity and ignoble disposition towards an agreement entered into with the academic union, there is need for ASUU to reconsider the damning consequences which negative publicity of their incessant strike actions might have cost university education and adequate manpower development. It should also consider the grisly metamorphosis that is turning Nigerian universities into a haven of mediocre professionals that lack the capacity to groom the finest minds in this country.

For long, successive governments, inclusive of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, have left no one in doubt that they should not be trusted with negotiation with unions nor fidelity to pact. With a labour minister who lacks finesse leading an arrogant team devoid of negotiation decorum, it is evident that any negotiation with the Federal Government was tantamount to a conversation with the deaf. However, the greater folly lies in ASUU that believes a civil, respectable agreement could be arrived at through such conversation. It is noteworthy that in the long-drawn-out FGN-ASUU crisis, reason has taken flight. There is a bare-faced demonstration of power. Who will blink first?

This grandstanding must stop. Now, reason must be called back in all these industrial disputes. The saner, more reasonable party has to exercise its moral superiority over the inanities of devious politics. That ASUU takes up the moral responsibility to shield the country from its crumbling tertiary education should not be misconstrued by its members and all as a sign of weakness. Rather, it is an expression of the respect, which enlightened minds should have for human dignity. Clearly, the virtues of character and learning, which universities task themselves to bestow on graduands, should be instructive here.

Indeed, a lot more could be achieved if all stakeholders get involved in the search for a solution. First, ASUU and its sister unions should begin to weigh the strike options carefully. Amid boredom and starvation, a lot of lecturers are tired of industrial action as a bargaining chip before the grossly insensitive administration and irresponsible political elites at the helm of affairs. Truth is that not too many of these tenured officeholders are dependent on the public institutions to feel the pains of its poor funding, months of lockdown, and further deterioration of the system.

On that consciousness, there is also a need for more strategic approaches and alliance with the larger labour unions to collectively salvage education as a whole. Education, just like the health sector, is too sensitive for routine pause-and-play to press home its demands.

Already, the impact of the different ASUU strike lingers, many months after the strike has ended. Presently, many youths are awaiting admission and will be added to the existing backlog, even as JAMB continues to conduct its routine exam. The question is, how many of the country’s public universities can accommodate the teeming youth desirous of higher education? As a common fate that befalls all, it is a welcome development that the NLC has finally seen reason to demand a better deal for education of Nigerian masses. An injury to one should be an injury to all.

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