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Neither shaken nor stirred, whither education

By Matthew Ozah
18 March 2020   |   3:30 am
It is quite difficult to be optimistic about education calendar or just about anything in Nigeria. This is because a mysterious whirlwind from anywhere but especially from government quarters, labour unions, or even area boys...

It is quite difficult to be optimistic about education calendar or just about anything in Nigeria. This is because a mysterious whirlwind from anywhere but especially from government quarters, labour unions, or even area boys could possibly scatter any planned schedule and change ones calculations of things. Not too long ago, Lagosians woke up to hear the total ban of their first love transportation system– okada and keke across large parts of Lagos. Now, the bus stops are crowded as the few commercial transport vehicles are overwhelmed. Lagosians have no choice than to trek part of their journey before boarding a vehicle.

It is indeed baffling why such an undesirable confusion continues to define a Nigerian life. At the moment, the altercation between academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Federal Government has once again put a string on the wheels of education in the country. As it were, undergraduates only know when they gain admission into universities but can never say when to finish their course of study due to the frequent face-off between ASUU and the federal government. It is very surprising that the protagonists would not admit it that they are part of the problem affecting education. No doubt, ASUU and the Federal government have a common gene, which is, both are naturally stubborn to a fault. From their arguments one can deduce that, both claim they are fighting to better or improve the nations’ education, especially on the tertiary level so that it can have a genuine facelift and be able to regain its lost glory. But, regrettably, both ASUU and government are consumed with ego and pride hence it has been very hard for them to find a common ground all these years. For ASUU, one could trace their pride to the fact that most of those in position of leadership if not all passed through their tutelage, therefore, ASUU believes that political leaders used to be boys on campus so they must listen. While those in government, raise their ego to the rooftop because they make things happen as they control fund in the economy and pay lecturers’ wages, so why are they (ASUU) trying to dictate things for us? Of course, this can only happen in Africa where leaders at whatever level are power-drunk, an inheritance from colonial legacy.

Hence, nearly every African country’s government is known to be authoritarian in nature irrespective of hiding under a democratic umbrella yet rule with coercion and co-option. Therefore, it goes without saying that to be in government you have to be tough, in decision taking. But how tough can a government be on decisions it takes concerning education that teachers have to go on strike first before it listens to their demands? In this respect, one should look no further for the latest evidence of the deep problem facing tertiary education in Nigeria today but to hold both the federal government and ASUU responsible. Notwithstanding, the federal government has always been found guilty in the court of public opinion of serious negligence and failures on its part to honour agreement it reached with ASUU without duress.

The position the federal government is currently toeing would not only risk but inflict further damage on an already worse education situation. Rather than use its power and office to reposition the education system, the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige chose to appear like the ostrich and try to deflect criticism on its poor handling of the agreement reached between ASUU. The Minister described as illegal the recent two-week warning strike embarked upon by the university union. According to him, “ASUU did not give the government the mandatory notice required before a union could proceed on strike”. In that case, he further stated, “I am shocked, the strike is illegal, because they did not give us the mandatory notice. If you withdraw service and still want to be paid it is corruption. Is that not corruption?” On the side of ASUU, it tried to justify its two-week warning strike action by blaming the federal government for its inability to pay salaries of lecturers who are not enrolled into the Integrated Personnel and Pay roll Information System (IPPIS). Also, ASUU is using same stone to compel the federal government to implement the outstanding agreement and resolution of the Memorandum of Action it had with the union in 2009, 2013, 2017 and 2019 respectively.

It is no longer news that the ruling government is still enmeshed in the missteps of the past. Hence, the education sector continues to gather dust over poor standard all these years. Of course, no Nigerian leader or government, not even President Muhammadu Buhari who promised to change the face of education when elected into office in 2015 was willing to honour neither his promise nor the agreement reached by the government with ASUU. Indeed, Nigerian universities have long lost its high rating among its counterparts in the world due to the fallen standard in education. As the strikes continue to loom and rage with neither the federal government nor ASUU shaken or stirred and refuse to find a common ground to settle this ugly phenomenon, the students will continue to bear the brunt.

The painful scenario is that the vulnerable undergraduates do not know who to turn to for help as the silence from men and women of goodwill in the society seem to crown their humiliation. Sincerely speaking, ASUU is fighting a just cause, nevertheless, this is not the best of time to put the government and indeed the nation on this kind of undue pressure because the Coronavirus that is currently ravaging the world is enough headache for any government to contend with. In a way, the ASUU strike is a blessing in disguise as governments across the world are shutting down schools, banishing people to their homes just to reduce crowds on the streets. Some countries have imposed certain restrictions on public gathering as well banning flights from and to certain countries among others all in a bid to control CONVID-19. Again, ASUU should please sheathe its sword at this critical moment of the health challenges facing the entire world.