It is no longer news that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has rolled over its one-month warning strike which began on February 14th, 2022 for another two months owing to a failure for its negotiating team to decide with the Federal Government.
It is also no longer news that the strike is owing to the non-implementation of the renegotiated 2009 agreement between ASUU and the Federal Government. But, what will remain news, at least to me, is the continuous effect of the strike action on the educational system.
Education is the key investment of liberating the masses from servitude and enabling them to ascend from “less human to more human conditions”. We are born with lots of confusion, which is the reason we wonder and engage in unending questions of why and how? The answers that we get help us to clear our confusions and lighten us, and as such we become enlightened. This is what education does to us.
According to the Roman Catholic Church, “the school has special importance. It is designed not only to develop with special care the intellectual faculties but also to form the ability to judge rightly, to hand on the cultural legacy of previous generations to foster a sense of values, to prepare for professional life.” (Gravissimum Education, No. 5).
Musa Yar’Adua, former President no doubt aware of this fact called on ASUU to a negotiating table to end their strike in 2009. According to the former President, “since Nigeria youths were idle at home, incessant violence was on the increase among the youths.” The fact that no nation can progress without education in the position of Nelson Mandela, a former president of South Africa who said; “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
ASUU emerged in 1978 after the collapse of the then National Association of University Teachers (NAUT), to salvage and redress the ever-diminishing quality of Nigerian University education.
Bala Muhammed Makosa (2007) in his article ‘The History and struggles of ASUU’ said its emergence was at, “the beginning of the decline in the oil boom when the country faced the consequences of the failure of its rulers to use the oil wealth to generate production and a social welfare system. Military dictatorship had deeply eroded the basic freedoms in society. Academic freedom and universities grew poorer.”
This situation among others had led ASUU to use the weapon they know best to fight the Federal Government; industrial strike. The questions are, is ASUU succeeding with its strikes with the Federal Government? Are there no alternative means of settling these disagreements with the government without resorting to strikes? This is very necessary to avoid further rot in the university system and keep the Nigerian university students idle for too long.
Initially, one could only wonder why the current administration, which came in 2015, initially said it won’t implement an agreement validly entered into by the Federal Government and ASUU on such flimsy excuse that it was not this government that agreed. However, wisdom prevailed, and the agreement was renegotiated. Current efforts, geared towards negotiating, that renegotiated agreement is what we face right now.
ASUU is on strike because all other avenues of dialogue and convincing the Federal Government to give effect to the agreement are blocked. So the ASUU strike is a way of reminding the government to do what is right for the education sector.
The socio-economic costs of these strike actions in the system are not quantifiable. There are very many negative effects of these strike actions on the educational sector and the Nation.
There is a depressing effect on the quality of graduates from Nigerian universities since less time will now be required for students to graduate. Time is a resource that cannot be recouped when lost.
Final year students who should have graduated this year may not be able to meet up. For instance, I started school in the 2017/2018 academic session. I should have exited the system by now but, we are yet to properly conclude the first semester of the 2020/2021 academic year in 2022.
The second effect is that the frequent dislocation and disability of our universities give a very poor perception of public universities.
The third effect is loss of revenue as students will no longer pay their fees and other charges during this period and any university depending on the collection of fees from students to grease the system will not be able to overhaul the system anymore.
Besides, many students will find their way to neighboring African countries like Ghana, Cameroon, Benin, and Togo to mention a few, this means millions of scarce foreign exchange will be lost in the process.
Fourthly, there is a financial loss to the universities and the Nation because staff will eventually be paid for time not utilized for teaching.
The fifth effect is psychological on the part of students and staff who have to stay idle at home.
The sixth and most dangerous of all the effects is students will be engaged in anti-social vices, an idle brain then becomes the workshop of the devil.
The seventh is the unnecessary, induced journeys, as students have been known to die either as they are going home during the strike or when returning after the strike.
The lot that has come to ASUU, when one goes through the history of ASUU strikes in this country, can be termed the “dividends of ASUU strike.” It appears that unless there is a strike, the authorities don’t blink towards ASUU.
Education is not just a commodity for sale. It is the social responsibility of any government to its people. It is the engine of the growth, development, and transformation of any society. Higher education restores to mankind its humanity. The university is the brain box of the nation. To shut it down is to a nation the equivalent of a stroke, to a person – there is a nervous breakdown.
The leadership of the country must be sure of the type of education they want to bequeath to the country. Government should stop funding public universities.
Ghana had a problem with the universities, but their leaders had a clear head as to what they wanted. Universities in Ghana were closed for between two and three years. They rehabilitated all the facilities and brought the students and the lecturers back.
According to an Italian theoretical physicist (Eunice Fermi 1901-1954), “it is no good to try to stop knowledge from going forward. Ignorance is never better than knowledge”. ASUU’s slogan is ‘’if you think education is costly, try ignorance.”
The government, through the Ministries of Education, Labor, and Productivity and their parastatals such as the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), should always be alive to their responsibilities in ensuring that agreements are properly harmonized and implemented.
They should also ensure that conditions subsequent are not overlooked. ASUU and the ministries and other arms of government be it the executive, the legislature, or the judiciary should not allow the Nigeria project to fail.
There should be an education think tank that will always look at issues before it boils over. Membership of this body should be made up of people from the relevant ministries, Nigeria Labor Congress, and ASUU. Government should not shy away from its responsibilities. The government should dust all previous agreements with ASUU and ensure that they are carried out to the latter. Where there are encumbrances, the issues should be made public.
In line with UNESCO’s declaration, the government should progressively increase the education budget annually to 26 percent, ASUU strike in this 21st century should not be indefinite anymore. One day to one week is alright so that we will not throw away the baby and the bathwater and make the university system go comatose. Recurring strikes in the university does the university system no good. What the public universities need now is a complete rescue.
Edidiong Matthew is an IT student from the University of Calabar with CrossRiverWatch.
NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Edidiong Matthew, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
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