Posted by News Express | 27 August 2022 | 397 times
To say that university education in Nigeria is in a quagmire is just stating the obvious. The concern in various quarters is the tardiness in resolving the crisis. And there the losers are the students, parents and in the long run Nigeria.
Recall that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on strike on February 14, 2022, making it six months, 13 days old representing 27 weeks and five days. This amounts to an absence of academic activities in the nation’s 106 public universities for 194 days representing 53.15% of 2022 closure. Since 2009, ASUU has embarked on strike eight times, leaving a weakening impact on the tertiary education system and the quality of graduates it churns out annually.
The incessant strike is due to failure on the part of the government to implement agreements reached with the union and meet genuine demands bordering on the revitalisation of the system and staff welfare.
Negotiation And Renegotiation
Since 2017 when the struggle for the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement started, three years after the commencement of the agreement, the Federal Government has been adopting various disruptive actions and inactions just to destabilise ASUU instead of addressing the issues presented.
In a swift reaction to the planned banning of ASUU, Prof. Jamilu Shehu, the ASUU Zonal Coordinator, Sokoto zone, went through the memory lane of the entire issue between the union and the FG.
“For the avoidance of doubt, following numerous letters written by ASUU, contacts and open engagements in the media, which culminated in a strike action demanding the Federal Government to constitute a committee to meet with ASUU to renegotiate the overdue 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement, the Federal Government constituted the Prof. Babalakin Committee in 2017.”
ASUU entered into the renegotiation of a renegotiated agreement with the Federal Government constituted Nimi Briggs Committee. On the 16th of June, 2022, the Nimi Briggs Committee submitted its report to the Federal Government, a draft agreement that was a product of Collective Bargaining. Prof. Shehu however maintained that ASUU was taken aback when on Tuesday, 16th of August, 2022, the Minister of Education, representing the Federal Government, abandoned the draft agreement that was a product of Collective Bargaining and offered the Union a “salary award.” This award is unacceptable to ASUU.
Ban Will Be Demoralising, Scary To Others
That the union’s struggle to obtain fair wages and university autonomy, which is yet to be resolved to date, earned the union a ban on August 7, 1988. Again, as the union was unbanned in 1990, after another strike, it was banned on 23 August 1992 for a second time. Stakeholders recalled that the period following the 1988 ban was a period of deep demoralisation among academic staff. That’s why many stakeholders are against the muted ban of the union by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Reacting to the alleged planned ban, Mr. Taiwo Salawe, a public commentator expresses worry that whatever could be the intention of the government regarding the planned ban might turn out to be counterproductive. He said, “A ban will not augur well for our tertiary education system. The crisis may become deeper. I think what is needed is a tertiary education summit comprising all stakeholders to look into all aspects of the operations and funding of the sector”.
Director of Communications of ECOWAS countries, Ebisike George, told the Saturday INDEPENDENT during the week that the alleged talk of the proscription of ASUU by the President Buhari/APC Administration is a further dysfunctional path and one limited in rationality given the ongoing and persisting standoff on the issue of wages and methodology of advancing tertiary education enterprisingly, sustainably and infrastructurally in Nigeria.
“Is ASUU being perceived as a body engaged in any form of terrorism? To be honest given the failed scorecard of this current Administration, especially its penchant for decisions and policy directions that economically disenfranchise the populace, it does not have the moral high ground to proscribe ASUU when several of the political elite are actually very detached from the system they are superintending over as socio-political curators and have their children schooling abroad thereby commit capital flight,” George said.
In the same vein, a group, Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has decried the alleged plan by the Federal government to proscribe ASUU over the lingering strike. Comrade Hassan Taiwo, the ERC National coordinator, described the threat as a hypocritical, petty, unreasonable, and ill-thought measure that could only prolong and worsen the state of industrial disharmony within the public universities.
“Firstly, it is hypocritical and unreasonable because it amounts to sidestepping the legitimate concerns of ASUU, especially its recent accusation that the Federal Government violated the principles of collective bargaining by rejecting the recommendations of Professor Nimi Briggs committee, which it had initially set up to renegotiate the 2009 agreement.
“Up till now, the Buhari government has been unable to respond to these serious allegations which portray it as a despot not only on the political field but also in industrial relations. Secondly, this threat amounts to an attempt to browbeat ASUU into submission and into accepting an offer from the government that is neither proper nor satisfactory as far as the welfare of union members is concerned,” Taiwo said.
Mr. Achike Chude, a columnist with The Niche wrote on his opinion page, “You know that you are in trouble when you have a Minister of Education who unflinchingly supports ASUU strike for better education in his 2013 statement that: “This nation owes a debt of gratitude to ASUU and the strike should not be called off until the government accepts to do and does what is required. So, instead of hectoring ASUU to call off its strike, the nation should be praying for more of its kind in other sectors of the economy.
“Today, he is the direct representative of the government in charge of education. He is unable to commend ASUU for the present situation and is openly vilifying the union and actively seeking to undermine her,” he said.
For Dr. Mukhtar El-Kasim of the Department of Mass Communication, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the plan to ban ASUU as a union can be described as “speculative and laughable”. El-Kasim attributed this to the failure of the government to understand that, “Nigeria is practicing democracy which has some fundamental human rights that it upholds like the freedom of association, expression of interest opinion, showing grievances, whether it affects the government, the society and every Nigerian has that freedom if you are talking about the country as a democratic nation.
“Secondly, Nigeria is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which has laws that promote the establishment of unions, associations and pressure groups like ASUU, that always try to put pressure on the management to do the needful to its employees and we have also the Nigeria Labour laws that accepted and promotes the issue of pressure groups and others,” El-Kasim said.
No Work No Pay
There was a twist in the whole negotiation last week when a report had it that the alleged threat of no work no pay and the muted ban may have claimed the life of a member of the Academic Staff Union of Universities in River State. The said lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, identified as Dr. Christian Emedolu, reportedly had a stroke and died on Tuesday morning. The report said Emedolu, who was hypertensive, had been in a coma since Saturday when he was informed of the Nigerian government’s decision to withhold the salaries of the striking lecturers.
Corroborating the development, a statement released by the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ Chairman, UNIPORT Chapter, U.D. Chima, stated that Emedolu’s death was facilitated by the hardship lecturers in public universities have been subjected to in the last six months.
NUC Blueprint 2050 Project Threatened
Stakeholders in education have also expressed the fear that the impending ban may truncate the National Universities Commission (NUC) project tagged: NUC Blueprint 2050 Project. The National Universities Commission (NUC) project centres on the development of sectoral components for Nigeria’s prosperity in 2050 with a view to providing solutions to its challenges.
Muyideen Subai said inconsistency of the Federal Government in policy formulation and implementation that cut short laudable ideas will not spare the NUC Blueprint 2050 Project. He lamented that the survival and the success of the project, which is dependent on the nation’s research institutions and universities are yet to see the light of the day since 2018 when he read about the idea. “Nothing can move in a chaotic situation and lack of seriousness on the part of the government.”
Espousing on the NUC Blueprint 2050 Project led by Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Peter Okebukola said the human resource needs in the health sector estimated that by 2050, Nigeria will need at least 320,210 doctors and 781,353 nurses, representing five times the current number of pharmacists required.
Ban May Deplete Existing 11,887 Professors In 217 Varsities
Data from the NUC showed currently that Nigeria has 11, 887 professors serving 49 federal, 57 state and 111 private universities. From an observer, the imminent proscription may lead to a mass exodus for greener pastures or menial jobs overseas. Stakeholders, therefore, urged the government to rethink and resolve the lingering issue finally and save the next dispensation from the inheritance.
On its part, ERC called on well-meaning Nigerians to implore the federal government not to take the belligerent course of action, warning, “But if it insists, then it is only appropriate to ask the government to prepare for a long and serious resistance”.
Mr. Dapo Abiodun, the Ogun State Governor said, “Let me add my voice for a quick resolution to the lingering crisis between the Federal Government and ASUU. We can all see the effects of the unresolved crisis not only in our education system. It has affected all sectors of our economy.
“These students are out of school and we all know that an idle mind is an available workshop for the devil”.
George believes it’s not advisable for ASUU to allow its dispute with the Buhari Government degenerates to the point of warranting a consideration to proscribe the union. He said sacrifices need to be made on both sides for the goodof thestudentpopulationbeingacademically diminished and disenfranchised especially the value of time which is an irretrievable resource for the students particularly and all elements within Nigeria’s economy.
“The thin line of negotiables within the context of the law must recourse to the arch of justice for the greater good and shape the future to avert such a reoccurrence”.
(Saturday Independent: Text, excluding headline)
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