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Nigeria’s undergraduates and the ASUU guillotine

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Sir: Education when beaten into bits and pieces end up with many parts burnt and the whole only half-baked. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in full force, Nigerian undergraduates in public universities were sat at home staring down the bleak barrel of another indeterminate strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). No more than six months down the line and with other public schools belatedly but cautiously resuming, ASUU has dug in its heels, insisting that unless their demands are met, its members have no plans to return to the classroom any time soon. ASUU, Nigeria`s premier academic staff union, has always tangled with the government of the day. Its members have sometimes seemed overly eager to down tools at provocations many will consider slight. In its defence, the academic union insists that its actions have not always been about the welfare of its members alone but for sake of Nigeria`s undergraduates whose future is compromised by the shoddiness with which successive governments handle matter of education. But as is always the case with grass when two elephants tangle, it is the Nigerian undergraduate that is crushed under the massive pressure generated by successive strike actions. Their programmes are suddenly and brutally interrupted on the shortest of notices and they are then made to return to their homes with all the uncertainties that come with it.

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This vicious cycle starts and stops only to be repeated again because there is never any serious commitment by either ASUU or the government of the day to resolve the intractable issues and end the incessant strike actions. Each of the parties always resort to accusing the other party of rigidity and at the end of the day, brittle compromises are reached which last for a while before hostilities are renewed and resumed with Nigerian undergraduates the ultimate casualty.

The current strike action which has Nigerian undergraduates rooted to the spot at home is a national tragedy. It bespeaks the priority we place on education which should be our foremost national asset and treasure. Many ills thrive in Nigeria today because its educational system is broken in many ways. Many kids get broken when they go to many Nigerian public primary schools. Kids are made to learn in classrooms shorn of windows; their classes come to an end when the rains come and they are reduced to sitting on the floor because chairs are at a premium.

The school feeding programme which promised so much has been reduced to a stealing fest by some of those responsible for the scheme. At the level of secondary schools, the situation gets bleaker. A rabid lack of discipline works feverishly in tandem with the now customary privations of public schools in Nigeria to turn teenagers into hardened criminals who create and belong to cult groups; these kids fight each other after school hours. They threaten and actually beat up teachers who get them upset in class.

This is the level to which incessant strike actions by teachers have reduced students, the future leaders. It is certainly high time to find a permanent solution.

Kene Obiezu wrote from Abuja.

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