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ASUU Strike: Never Again

By Kyari Tijani
24 October 2009   |   10:00 pm
'Never say Never!" is the cry of the pessimist who would rather believe something will always go wrong than right, and would warn against the next round of calamity than be willing to enjoy the present period of bliss, no matter how brief! Between ASUU and Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), employers of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), it is audacious to think strike will never come again, now that some respite has been contrived from the three months of harrowing experience of strike, embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, since June 22, 2009.

When we say “Never Again”! what is being stated here is that it is not that the tiger called ASUU Strike has been tamed once and for all, by whatever agreement that has been reached by the contending forces. But we say that the entire matter of strike had to be rethought and reworked by all those concerned, as it is our view that nobody is a winner, in this instance – or, as far as the Universities are concerned, as a special case.


The university is an enigma. It is difficult to understand. For instance, the University is not like a textile factory, dealing with inanimate objects producing cloths, basically for profit for the factory owner. With no wish for bragging, or for exaggeration, I can say that the University is the soul of the nation, if a nation has any soul at all. Bad University system may perhaps not harm a nation, for such a University can be ignored, at worst. But a good university system can certainly lift the soul of the nation. A nation that toys with its universities mortgages itself, perhaps irredeemably, if it goes for too long.

The above account does not intend to glorify the university nor also does it state that the country must pamper the university before the university gives its best to society. But it does say that the university is an entirely human organisation in both its composition and in the objectives it is set to achieve. It cannot therefore be treated as a factory producing goods for private profit. For instance, the main elements in the university industry are the teachers. Teachers are human beings – perhaps, special kind of human beings, as teaching is not the most popular job in the world – certainly not in Nigeria. Yet, teachers choose to teach – a clear case of self – sacrifice. Some may say they are fools. I say they are just different kind of people!

Teachers obviously and principally deal with students. Perhaps students too must be regarded as a special kind of people as they are usually humans in a transitional stage; transitting from immaturity to maturity. This is in every respect – socially, economically, and also in terms of political development. Those in such a critical stage of growing up require careful handling by specialists. Teachers are the specialists who not only by profession but also by inclination chose to undertake this onerous responsibility for the good of society; and indeed for the good of humanity as a whole. Without the teacher society would unravel completely and pack up. For this reason, we can say good teachers are therefore not making any extraordinary or unreasonable demand on society, if they press their case for better pay as much as they are doing today in Nigeria. However, strike is not the best option, or even a first instance option, if it can be helped.

Strike by wage earners in a capitalist production system is inevitable. Production in such a system is for profit. Labour which is vital element in the production process has a cost that must be kept at the minimum, if profit is the premium objective. Strike, that is withdrawal of labour service as a means of pressing for higher wages is an indispensable means the wage earner must resort to, if he must.. But what we are saying is that strike is as obnoxious a means of negotiation as “no work; no pay” is also obnoxious as a counter-measure. Both should be avoided if labour relations are to be optimally operated for the benefit of society, which is the wish of both labour and employer of labour, in this case, the government. This is obvious even in the very odious confrontation that has just been doused; but certainly, not on “never’ never” basis, I dare say!

If any organization contrived by man can be called enigmatic the university is one. It is an industry – just like any other. Its intended, desired outcome is ultimately profit-making by whatever definition; but certainly, not entirely material profit, as in the case of the textile factory we have mentioned. The university produces skilled human beings as citizens, upright in moral values, from whose service society would profit, for the good of everybody. Thus, the university is the barometer of the health and progress of the society and the teachers that teach the young ones to be worthy citizens are, so to say, the guardian angels of society! Ignore them; you harm society. Abuse them; you kill society!

It is a truism to say that Nigerian teachers suffer, and University teachers suffer most, especially the Professors! First of all, in purely sociological terms, imagine being expected to act the god in a godless society like Nigeria – which is the fate of the university teachers in Nigeria, especially the Professors! Infact, the professors are the most pecked; and the most fragile. This exposition is made not necessarily to complain of the poor pay of our Professors and other categories of teachers in our universities, but indeed to celebrate their dedication to service – despite the poor level of pay. Indeed, I am hereunder proposing a never again strike- free scenario for my colleagues in ASUU, which I believe will be a “win – win” scenario for everybody. But a warning. “Man no be wood”, as is said in Nigerian jargon; and teaching in our universities is not and cannot be for charity. That is one big enigma we all have to deeply appreciate – and positively help facilitate it. Much as teaching is a calling, it is also not a charity!

It is certainly cheeky to be talking of the next ASUU Strike while the one that was just suspended has not even quite cooled off. But this is done with all sense of sincerity and seriousness, if only because strikes are germane to the capitalist mode of production. The Nigerian system definitely is capitalist – in fact, an unfair one. Strike cannot be avoided, or wished away. It could however be made to be less disruptive and less destructive.

Indefinite strike, ala the one ASUU has embarked upon and has just suspended, after lasting for 3 months, can only be noted for its dysfunctionality as it is cost -extreme, and its outcome never satisfactory to any of the contenders. As it relates to the university, I can confidently say the students are the main losers. But the lecturers, even if they eventually get their awards, are losers. At the macro level of the society and nation the loss is even more horrendous. There is already the chilling realisation that Nigeria today is breeding “a generation without a future” as education authorities are mulling over mass failure in the all-important West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO) examinations, credit passes in which form basic minimum qualification to enter into any tertiary institution in Nigeria. In turn good grades in examinations are only what assure any reasonable future to young Nigerians. This population category reportedly constitutes 40m in a population estimated to be 140m. Of this, a good 23 m have already missed the boat, and are ultimately said to be unemployable. Incessant and interminable ASUU Strikes would eventually send Nigeria to pre-historic level of development and as such strikes, especially in the form called Indefinite Strike by ASUU, must be completely eradicated.

To achieve an ASUU objective; which, believe it or not, begins with the desire and determination to give the best University-level education to our students, I prescribe two approaches – a modified strike approach and/or “none release of marks” approach. Here I will argue that giving marks is definitely the right of the teachers! They can therefore mark and grade the scripts of examinations they themselves have taught and set. They can withhold the result after fulfilling all their teaching and examining their students.

A modified strike approach will run like this: A Semester is usually some 15 weeks (3 (three) months). A class year is made up of 2 (two) semesters. In each semester, in the Course System of curriculum control, teachers teach and examine and grade their students, who then proceed to the next class on year – to – year basis, up to the year of graduation.

In the modified Strike approach, I suggest ASUU may go on strike – but only on continual; not continuous (Indefinite!) strike. For instance; every month ASUU will offer service for 3 (three) weeks; and hold service for 1 (one) week – until the syllabus is covered and students are examined and graded. This will enable students to get their due right of adequate teaching and knowledge content, as per set curriculum. But to ultimately graduate, students will take longer time.

Thus, parents will have much more to pay; and society has have to wait longer before it can benefit the service of its succeeding generation. Society not government, must ultimately make the choice it considers best for itself. ASUU, instead of confronting and battling with recalcitrant governments, should shift gear to teaching and mobilising society to punish governments that disregard education as policy, and rubbish ASUU – as Nigerian governments are won’t to do, from ASUU experience, so far.

Marking examination scripts and awarding marks is an indispensable part of graduating and, certification of students, and it is eminently the teachers’ responsibility. Even more significantly, the mark a student gets is organically the teachers’ property, as what mark he gives is absolutely his right! He taught the course. He imparted what according to the best of his ability and understanding, he regards as best knowledge; and what marks he gives, according to universal standard and judgment, is fair mark and grade on each particular question. In fact, in each case and at each stage a teacher agonises interminably before he commits himself to a mark. And, given the low standard of candidates we usually admit into the university, the lecturer will more likely mark on the side of generosity, than otherwise. But what does he get for this if students fail! Cries of foul! Hang him!

For this reason, I believe it is our natural right to withhold our marks, even if we must fulfill our obligation of imparting knowledge to the best of our ability, and grade them fairly with due regard to universally acceptable standard of excellence.

With these approaches, ASUU can kick the ball back into the court of the government and of the public for general discussion and due determination. ASUU, rather than suffering the opprobrium of being called greedy for more pay only, rather than praises for offering due service, with this approach, ASUU can afford to sit back in comparative ease, and see who would blink first – government; parents, students or ASUU! I am sure, considering all the given imponderables, conceding to ASUU’s demand would be found more profitable to all concerned than the hard – line alternatives of Ministers of Education!

Let us try this – after the 2 weeks of respite now gained, and spare ourselves all the heartaches an indefinite Strike, which would guarantee us perhaps only one sure outcome – collapse of education and destruction of our beloved country. For, that is the only predictable consequence if we choose to deny the best possible education to our younger generation. Denying teachers the best place on earth is to deny them same even in the next world, as the next world is entirely in the purview of the AlMighty. He does, as He alone wishes, and no human, is qualified to bind reward for any other in the next world! This is Cray hypocrisy! Give me my reward here and now! That is justice!


Tijani is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Maiduguri and a Consultant to The Guardian Editorial Board