Hundreds of young Nigerians, including academics, rights and student activists, journalists, among others, have risen in solidarity with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in what they described as the union’s strive towards repositioning the nation’s university system for global reckoning.
The young Nigerians, who took part in Wednesday’s edition of PREMIUM TIMES TwitterSpaces forum, otherwise known as PTSpaces, described the constant agitation and strike threat by the lecturers’ union as avoidable and blamed the Nigerian government for allegedly neglecting the nation’s education sector to degenerate.
They condemned the government’s alleged “unwillingness” to invest better in the sector and consistently failing to implement the agreement it had with as far back as 2009.
The intensity of ASUU’s threat of embarking on another strike was heightened during the week following the union’s directive to its branches to observe lecture-free moments to sensitise the public on its demands and why it could commence another round of industrial action.
ASUU had listed its core demands to include the immediate deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) to replace the government’s “imposed” Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS).
The union said the deployment of UTAS will uphold university autonomy, even as it demanded renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU-FGN agreement, the release of the reports of visitation panels to federal universities and distortions in salary payment challenges.
Other demands include funding for revitalisation of public universities, payment of the arrears of earned academic allowance and promotion allowances, and resolution of the issue of poor funding of state universities.
Speakers blame government
In their different presentations at the forum, speakers, including Mojeed Alabi, the chairperson, Education Writers’ Association of Nigeria (EWAN), a group of journalists focused on reporting education issues in the country, noted with concern that nothing has changed for the better in the nation’s educational system, after many years of agitations by labour unions in the sector.
Mr Alabi, who is also the head of PREMIUM TIMES’ development desk, blamed the government for the woes befalling the educational sector, particularly the university system, which he said is going down the infamous path of public primary and secondary schools.
He said: “Our system has been so much battered by those individuals who actually enjoyed the privilege that they are now, at this time, denying Nigerians.
“As someone who has covered education for more than 10 years, and the Nigerian education in particular, nothing has really changed over time; issues of underfunding, insecurity, examination malpractices, moral decadence, among others, have continued to dominate discussions.
“I think to a large extent, I blame the government that has over time, relegated education to the background in its concerns. The usual poor annual budgetary allocations to the sector confirm the neglect it, and I think it might be deliberate so that the children of the poor don’t have access to instrument of liberation.
Mr Alabi linked the decadence in Nigeria’s university system to the establishment of pirate universities by the political elite in the country, citing how former President Olusegun Obasanjo allegedly granted himself and his erstwhile deputy, Atiku Abubakar, operational licences for private universities.
Mr Obasanjo-owned Bells University of Technology, Ota, ranks the first private university of technology in Nigeria, which was granted a licence and started operation in 2005 while the promoter was Nigeria’s President.
Mr Abubakar’s American University of Nigeria (AUN) was also founded in 2004, while serving as the vice-president.
The editor lamented that with the failing negotiations between the federal government and ASUU, Nigerian academics have continued to languish, saying they have been paid with the same salary scale since 2009.
Also speaking, a former president of the students’ union at Obafemi Awolowo University between 2002/2003 academic calendar year, Akinwunmi Olawoyin, condemned what he described as a very poor budgetary allocation to the education sector.ⓘ
He said, “The question is not so much about the non-availability of these funds, it’s about the application of these funds.
“We have almost lost the battle at the primary and secondary school levels due to the sorry state of the basic education sub-sector, and so we cannot afford to lose the public tertiary education to our oppressors.
Mr Olawoyin said a strike is an internationally accepted way of seeking better working conditions globally, “especially whenever it seems the only option left.”
Taiwo Hassan, the national coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) popularly known as Soweto, called on students to support ASUU, saying it is in the interest of Nigerians to mobilise support for every effort aimed at repositioning the education sector for the better.
He said; “In 2013 or thereabouts, when a similar strike was declared by the union, we were able to mobilise students in protest, calling on the government to meet the demands of ASUU so that students can resume.
“That kind of struggle played a role in compelling the government to act at the time. And I think that that kind of approach is equally needed at this period.”
An assistant lecturer in one of Nigeria’s universities, who is currently a PhD student at the University of Reading in England, United Kingdom, Raheem Aminu, decried what he described as the poor state of Nigerian tertiary institutions and the poor welfare conditions of the workers.
Mr Aminu said as an assistant lecturer at an undisclosed university in the country, his net monthly pay is less than N120,000, saying until he is a senior lecturer, he might not be able to earn up to N200,000.
“But I am in the UK here and lecturers are threatening strike because they want special facilities for PhD students just like full-time lecturers while at home, we are just begging to be paid ordinary salaries,” he said.
The young lecturer lamented the poor infrastructure in the country’s tertiary institutions, saying changing the fortunes of the institutions would require deliberate actions.
Other contributors at the forum said they acknowledged the pain that comes with each industrial action, especially on the part of the students, they said the better alternative that could guarantee a lasting solution to the perennial crisis would be to massively support repositioning efforts.
SOURCE: PREMIUM TIME