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ASUU strike: Government should take responsibility

By Luke Onyekakeyah
29 August 2022   |   3:36 am
At a time when every right-thinking Nigerian is bemoaning and pondering how to resolve the lingering unfortunate and destructive strike by the Academic Staff Union of Union of Universities...

Mallam Adamu Adamu

At a time when every right-thinking Nigerian is bemoaning and pondering how to resolve the lingering unfortunate and destructive strike by the Academic Staff Union of Union of Universities (ASUU), the Federal Government doesn’t seem to be in the mood to end the strike going by government’s unbending posturing. That the strike has taken unquantifiable toll on Nigeria’s development aspirations is not in doubt. Government should take responsibility. The stakes are rising by day as the strike lingers and the damages unfathomable and unrecoverable. Government seems not to care for the people otherwise the strike would be over by now.

Recent pronouncements by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, over the ongoing ASUU strike, smacks of gross insensitivity and absolute lack of care for the plight of millions of university students, their families and lecturers, who have been subjected to untold hardship and damages since last February, six months down the line, to a destructive and avoidable strike.

As far as the strike is concerned, the solution lies with the government, which should accede to the demands of ASUU, which are meant to improve the condition of our universities. Government should not push ASUU to the wall by adopting combative stance. The demands of ASUU are not frivolous and have lingered for decades.

I witnessed ASUU strike as a student in 1980/1981 as a student at the University of Lagos. Since then, nothing substantial has changed. Government is being clever by half by trying to dodge its culpability and trying to heap the blame on ASUU. Having been a lecturer, I very much appreciate ASUU’s concerns. How can we be graduating students in engineering who may not have seen or used the needed machineries/equipment for their course? It is unacceptable.

First, Minister Adamu, the other day, called on the students to sue their lecturers and ask for compensation for the time wasted during the strike. Second is his statement that the lecturers would not be paid salary for the period of the strike.

I don’t know how government, in its wisdom, thinks that the position it is adopting are practicable. It only amounts to adding insult to injury. Is it possible for the students to sue ASUU given the horrible circumstances surrounding the strike? Did government consider the implications of what it is saying? Or how will the lecturers not be paid their statutory salary simply because they did not teach but performed their other duties.

The job of lecturers includes teaching, research and community service. Those doing research are still doing it. As a matter of fact, research is the bedrock of national development, which is still going on. And finally community service which the lecturers are engaged in different capacities. As a matter of fact, if anybody should not be paid, it is the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige and their associates whose duty it is to handle the strike and resolve it.

There is no reason why the lecturers should not be paid fully? Strike itself amounts to work. Embarking on strike and attending meetings to negotiate with government amounts to huge technical work. The lecturers are racking their brains to be able to withstand government’s unyielding team. The product of the strike at the end will be used in the public interest. Anybody pushing for “no work, no pay” doesn’t want the strike to end.

At this juncture, the government ought to show leadership. It ought to demonstrate that somebody is in-charge; somebody is leading. The universities are institutions of government. They are the responsibility of government. The vice-chancellors are not the leaders, neither are the lecturers. At best, they are the stewards of the institutions. They are employees of the government deployed to run the universities. Legally, government is the owner and employer in the universities.

The strike represents a genuine discontent by the employees for the employer (government), to improve the abject state of the universities for better academic enterprise. There are global standards for universities, which Nigerian public universities have grossly fallen short of. Somebody must take full responsibility for the anomie and that is the government. Government cannot run away from this responsibility, otherwise, it would mean that the system is rudderless, nobody is in-charge.

Anybody can blame ASUU for embarking on strike but the bottom line is that there would have been no strike if what we call universities in this clime came close to what universities are in other climes. Where in the world do universities that embody the heart of learning, research and development are left to go on strike for months unending? The ongoing strike is not the first in Nigeria. Through strikes, the universities have lost their essence. There is no more dignity in learning. Nigerian public universities have lost full academic years in the past. These universities no longer operate with academic calendar because the system has been basterdised. Government has abdicated its responsibility. Strike seems to be the only weapon ASUU uses, which government understands and reacts to, nothing else. I can say without ambiguity that whatever improvement the universities have recorded over the decades came as a result of ASUU strike, without which the universities would be in a worse state, including the meagre remuneration paid to the lecturers.

I knew about ASUU strike as an undergraduate at the University of Lagos during the 1980/81 session, that’s about 42 years ago. Ever since then very little has changed, as ASUU ceaselessly embarked on strike every now and then. Tell me, what sort of problems are we dealing with that cannot be resolved once and for all? Over this period, Nigeria has garnered billions of petro-dollars that were frittered away by the successive administrations. The governments don’t care about education.

Therefore, complaining about lack of money to meet ASUU’s demands is empty. How much money has been stolen by politicians and their cronies in government since 1999? ASUU’s demands are based on the agreement it reached with government since 2009 that was never fulfilled. Why? Did it mean that since 2009, government lacked the funds to fulfill the agreement it reached with ASUU? Who is deceiving who?

Without putting enough resources to expand the public universities, government has wittingly given room for the establishment of many private universities. Interest is shifting to the private universities and unless something drastic is done to revamp the public universities, the same blight that killed public primary and secondary schools would equally kill the public universities in favour of private ones. Today, only the poor send their children to public universities.

Government cannot afford to keep the universities closed any longer. Government should show patriotism, reconsider its stand and accede to ASUU’s demands which are in the national interest. Incidentally, the people at the corridors of power don’t have their children in our public universities. Their children are schooling in top global universities abroad. The continued closure of the universities has worsened public perception of the Buhari administration. Buhari should not hand over the shut universities to a new administration in the light of the upcoming general elections and the transition following it in 2023. It would be a shameful legacy that will go into history.