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Damage control and the ASUU strike

By Ernest Chukwusoro Igwe
17 October 2022   |   3:12 am
Strike as a fundamental human right across all divides of human society is a form of protest against such vices as ill treatment, unjust practices, deviation from the norms and expectations, sadism, wickedness..

ASUU members during their meeting with Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila

Strike as a fundamental human right across all divides of human society is a form of protest against such vices as ill treatment, unjust practices, deviation from the norms and expectations, sadism, wickedness, denials, and not keeping faith with agreements. Strikes come in different forms and may include crying by little children; contrarian discussions and writings; partial or full withdrawal of services; insurrections and public protests; overthrow of governments through the ballot boxes, demonstrations, military coups, etc. Strikes as the means of addressing shortcomings and injustices do occur everywhere in the world, and Nigeria is no exception.

The nine-month-long – February to October 2022 – strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities in Nigeria (ASUU) has taken the cake in the recurring decimal of strikes in Nigerian universities. Most Nigerians, especially members of ASUU, believe that these strikes are totally avoidable and, even where started, could be nipped in the bud by government’s quick intervention. Sadly, it has always been alleged that the selfishness and short-sightedness of bureaucrats such as Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Director-Generals, Directors and other members in the relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) relish in ensuring the prolonging of such discussions due to selfish and unpatriotic reasons. Added to this is the type of academically lazy and non-zealous latter-day students whose interests now dwell on fraudulent and immoral tendencies that have not helped in the quick resolution of these incessant strikes. There is also the as yet unsubstantiated claims of inflexibility of ASUU leadership that tend to prolong the ASUU strikes.

Much more worrisome and unheard of are such unintelligent and subtle approaches so far adopted by the various MDAs of governments aimed at sadistically punishing ASUU members rather than solving the problems. Such measures include: Targeted with-holding of only ASUU salaries when other several agencies of governments on strike are receiving their salaries; formation of rival academic unions against the statutory provisions of the country; and alleged manipulation of the courts to frustrate the ASUU struggles.

The operators and managers of the present-day MDAs in Nigeria seem to unpatriotically personalize the issues and are unmindful of the negative catastrophic consequences of their actions on the future of education in Nigeria. One may ask what is so special about this protracted 2022 strike by ASUU that university education will be affected in such ways that it has never been? The answer is that this is the first time there has been punitive sadistic punishing of ASUU for attempting to ensure that the standards and quality of university education in Nigeria are complied with.

Also, the students and Nigerian parents ASUU is fighting for happens not to be supportive of their unselfish struggle. The consequences are legion and from feelers among the rank and file of ASUU members, university education is on an irreversible downward trend that will soon fall like a pack of cards. Such statements from gullible and frustrated lecturers include: “University lecturing will now be secondary to me after this ASUU strike”; “I must ensure that I proceed on annual leave like the non-academic staff of the university because the students we are fighting for are not interested.

Can you imagine that since over two decades of my lecturing, I, just as every other lecturer have never gone on annual leave?”; “Since the judiciary can now be used to scuttle such credible and genuine ASUU struggle, why should I waste my time being more catholic than the Pope? For example, so if I am given a death sentence, the Appeal Court will want me to be executed before appealing as the Appeal courts asked us to resume work as a condition for hearing ASUU appeal”; “Of what use is it for me to continue to show faith in this job when Local Government Councilors and Majors in Nigerian Army earn much more than a professor in the Nigerian university”; “I can also join politics or be involved in business and do better than those politicians and business men.”

The above excerpts from frustrated lecturers no doubt are true positions of things with university education in Nigeria. A similar scenario had occurred in the past but with secondary education in the 1977-1978 periods in the old Imo State of Nigeria. That was when the then Dr. Agom Eze was the Commissioner for Education in the old Imo State. The teachers’ strike lasted for over six months without payment. By the time the salary was paid and the strike was called-off, virtually all the secondary school teachers had become involved in one form of business or the other so as to make ends meet when the salary was not paid. The tragedy was that none of the teachers abandoned their rescue-trading-subsisting occupation to concentrate on their primary teaching job. Since that time, secondary school education has suffered untold negative deprivation in standards and quality. Similarly, the fate of university education in Nigeria will be worse-off after this nine-month-long 2022 ASUU prolonged strike.

Those Nigerians who studied in public universities in the 1970s, up to the mid-1980s, will totally agree that what we have now is a shadow of what was regarded as university education then. Owing to the stronger value of Naira to the USA Dollar then, every reputable scholar in the world then enjoyed migrating to Nigeria to work, seeking greener pastures. In fact, Nigeria was among the world’s best scholar destinations.

But what do we have in Nigerian universities today? It is a sorry and ghost state of what existed before. Worse still is that the fate of university education in Nigeria will be far worse-off after this prolonged strike. Most unfortunate is the negative, frustrated and heart-broken state of the chimeric Nigerian lecturers. It is obvious that, post-nine-month-long ASUU strike, lecturers will be grouped into: Lecturers that have left or are planning to leave for greener pastures in foreign countries and Academic staff that will remain behind in the job in Nigeria. The latter are also categorized as: “Those too old or have health challenges and hence will like not go through the hassles of travels for greener pastures”; “those with primordial attachments at home and therefore find it difficult to go outside the country for greener pastures”; “those who will remain behind and concentrate in other money-spinning activities like politics and businesses”; and “those who do not know how to go about searching for greener pastures in foreign countries”.

The consequence is the further worsening of an already impoverished university system. The way out of these envisaged negative consequences is genuine, honest, patriotic and non-self-serving damage control. This should be through an all-inclusive thought-out process that will be enduring like the Tertiary Education Fund (Tet-Fund) proposed by ASUU and established by the President Ibrahim Babangida military regime. Until then shall we know what the future of university education will look like in Nigeria? Only time will tell.
Igwe is Professor of Food Processing, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria.

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