I still remember my days at the University of Calabar between 1993 and 1997. I remember those day just like yesterday. That period was one of the periods with overbearing incidents of the Academic Staff of Nigerian Universities Union (ASUU) strikes.
Then, names such as Dr. Attahiru Jega, Prof Ben Nwabueze, Dr Iyorchia Ayu and General Abacha were common and synonymous with strikes of those days. While Dr. Jega and Dr Iyorchia Ayu were at different times National Presidents of ASUU; Professor Nwabueze was the Education Minister.
At some point the Universities were shut for almost one academic year because of the intransigence of the Federal Government (FG). While the students’ lost a whole academic year, critical learning facilities in the universities were vandalised and looted, and ASUU members were bullied and some were out rightly sacked. Some of the lecturers that had the means left the system.
The government promoted the propaganda that ASUU was unkind to suffering students hence whipping up sentiments amongst parents. Yet, the same government was unable to address the remote cause of the strikes as the strikes came in series in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996. If it was not ASUU; it would be NASU or a combination of the two.
Why have ASUU strikes refused to go away? Counting from 1993, it is well over 10 years, yet the situation and circumstances that give rise to these nauseating strikes are still endemic, why? Then, people had the illusion that those issues persisted because of the intransigence of the ruling military junta. Today, the raw deal from politicians baffles all and tends to make less heinous the evil deeds of the military. So, why ASUU strike in a democracy?
Perhaps, the problem persists because the government does not understand the critical role of universities in governance or that politicians learnt nothing from events of the 1990’s.Tail or head, the central matter in this whole ASUU-FG debacle is the Nigerian University. The sole casualty is the university and all that it represents. There could be related casualties, and these are the students, parents, academic staff of universities and small scale businesses that operate or rely on the running of the universities to thrive.
People or groups who argue that ASUU should return to classrooms for the sake of Nigerian students are either ignorant of the core issues or are simply being mischievous. It should be noted that students, though cardinal components of the universities are dependent on the system to a greater extent than the system on them. If the system is ill-equipped or malfunctioning, it tells on the students.
I am of the view that two principal forces are often at play in every university, and these are the financier (government, the private sector and donors etc ), and the driver(the lecturers and the administrators). No doubt, students are also players but they are not principal players as they neither fund the system nor run it. Students are merely recipients of knowledge and are in most cases on transit. Students hardly influences the system but the system does influence the students; a case of ‘’soldier come, soldier go, barrack remains’’ . The resilience of the barrack to meet the all time demands of the soldiers is now the issue.
Globally, great universities such as the Ivy leagues universities in the USA, despite the high tuition paid by their students rely on far greater extent on external funds from the private sector and the government to thrive. Students’ tuition is incapable of carrying any university. So, raising tuition in Nigerian universities is incapable of solving the problem.
Therefore, when the kernel of the matter is deferred in order to allow students to just attend overcrowded lectures in poorly ventilated and hot lecture halls or for groups and sets of students to enrol into or graduate from universities, greater harm is being unleashed on the university.
It is this scenario that have kept Nigerian universities in this sorry pass of strikes upon strikes over the years. Often, parents are just too selfish to have their wards to just get on with the situation and graduate. The same applies to the students, who often want to graduate and be free from the system. By so doing, the cycle continues thus exacerbating the rot .Even at that where are the students graduating into; a hapless and frustrating Nigerian society.
Those who lampoon ASUU should bother to link or trace the remote cause of so much unemployment and the do or die jingo of securing a job to this creeping national problem we have in Nigerian universities. But, if Nigerians needs to be reminded; unemployment in Nigeria to a large extent reflect the rot in the Nigerian universities.
As at today, most Nigerian graduates lack basic skills such as those in computer use, essay writing, PowerPoint presentations and even poster design or how to use the GIS or GPS etc. Conversely, these are common skills in universities elsewhere where the system works. Fix the Nigerian university system and see the reflection on the larger society.
To a large extent, I am of the thinking that Nigerian government, both the federal and state are not really ready to own and run universities. If the government is not keen to make the basic commitment to enable the proper functioning of the universities, then let the government withdraw and allow those who can to take over. But Nigerians should not allow the government to do that. It behoves Nigerians to make the government become responsible and meet the challenge. If the Nigerian government must continue to reap the benefits of our common resources and our loyalty as citizens, it must rise to the occasion and become responsible. Nigerian universities must be well funded and supported to contribute to national growth and development with our common resources such as the revenue from oil and gas.
A government that recognises the critical role of universities in national development should not be evasive on issues that affects the universities. Education is a social mobility that particularly gives confidence and future to the poor. It therefore smacks of arrogance on the part of the Nigerian Federal Government to insist that it has yielded enough to ASUU and that it can’t yield any further. That is arrant stupidity!
The Federal Government should show commitment to national development by signing the agreement it has already reached with ASUU without any further prevarication or the flimsy excuse that Nigeria is a Federation hence its’ wish not to bind states into any agreement. The result being that ASUU should sign such agreement with its employers or states. That again, is arrant stupidity and chicanery.
I say so because of just one reason; Why does the FG have bodies such as the National Universities Commission (NUC) that accredits and certificates universities?; and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) that controls admissions into all Universities in Nigeria? If Nigeria is truly a federation or practices federalism; states should be allowed to run universities without federal structures such as NUC and JAMB; both of which are national institutions whose functions impinges on the so called principle of federalism.
Yes, education is on the concurrent list of the so called Nigerian constitution, and the interest of the FG renders those of states invalid in any collision, hence I am of the opinion that the FG should go the extra mile and show leadership by setting the standard in the sector by not only signing the agreement it has reached with ASUU but use the opportunity to revive the Nigerian university system.
The benefits accruable in a well funded and administered university system in Nigeria is great. Researches being carried out in universities should be made a major plank of planning in the country. Setting up universities merely for graduating and awarding certificates to students without bothering to develop an interplay between political governance, policy formulation and university research diminishes the role of universities in national development.
Nobody eats his cake and still expects to still have it. Only fools plant oranges and expect to reap tomatoes. The FG should desist from sowing the whirlwind because it is often destructive. The current debacle from all perspectives is not really for ASUU, it is for the soul of the Nigerian state and as a result deserves the support of everybody if corruption, ineptitude and ignorance as well as other social vices already endemic are to be exterminated.