FG, ASUU and assaults on tertiary education

True to its oddly familiar nature, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) followed through its numerous threats by declaring a monthly warning strike last week.

Much to the consternation of students, parents and many well-meaning Nigerians, this strike, ASUU stated, is only preparatory to a much comprehensive shut down of universities should the Federal Government refuse to heed to the union’s demands.

By pursuing this all too familiar style of relating with the government, both ASUU and its principal have undermined tertiary education in a most insensitive and misguided manner that has made a mockery of the educational sector.
This is a clear demonstration that public tertiary education in this country is treated with utmost disregard, especially when it is evident that those who bear the brunt of these frequent crises are not privileged to seek alternatives. Yet, it is such irresponsibility, particularly on the part of the Federal Government, that has shoehorned the citadels of learning into theatres of despair.
ASUU’s grievance with the government is very well known to all stakeholders in the educational and labour sectors. It includes mainly the Federal Government’s failure to fully implement the Memorandum of Action (MoA) it signed with ASUU on December 23, 2020, even when the draft report of the Renegotiated 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement had been submitted for finalisation for more than nine months. Besides, ASUU also noted that the forceful payment of ASUU members’ salaries and emoluments with the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) and non-adoption of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) have continued to short-change its members.

Highlights of the contentious FGN/ASUU 2009 agreement includes the following: funding of the universities to provide infrastructure and facilitate teaching and learning, university autonomy and academic freedom, improved staff welfare and condition of service, refusal to honour the Earned Academic Allowance (EAA), and re-negotiation of the agreement.

Like all former attempts by the academic union, the demands of ASUU transcends obligation to contracts. Repeatedly, ASUU complains about its working conditions and the quality of students Nigerian universities churn out. Prominent members of the union have argued that ASUU’s grievance transcends legal commitment, but is a moral issue. The highlights of the 2009 agreement border on the moral obligation its members have to the Nigerian society. They further argued that the laxity of other sectors, in not showing serious concern about the parlous conditions of universities, the teaching profession, and the products they churn out, has been the bane of the Nigerian misdirected society. 

While Nigerians sympathise with ASUU over the government’s insincerity and ignoble disposition towards an agreement entered into with the academic union, this medium admonishes ASUU to reconsider the damning consequences which negative publicity of their incessant strike actions might have a cost university education and adequate manpower development. It should also consider the grisly metamorphosis that is turning Nigerian universities into a haven of mediocre professionals that lack the capacity to groom the finest minds in this country.

The scenario depicted by the strike brings to life the saying, “when two elephants fight, the grass suffers.” Indeed, ASUU and the FG have become two conceited elephants whose protracted duel over territorial supremacy has subjected the ambient underlings to assaults and irreparable devastation.

Since its inception, this administration has left no one in doubt that it should not be trusted with negotiation with unions nor fidelity to pact. With a labour minister who lacks finesse leading an arrogant team devoid of negotiation decorum, it is evident that any negotiation with the Federal Government was tantamount to a conversation with the deaf. However, the greater folly lies in ASUU believes a civil, respectable agreement could be arrived at through such conversation. We observe that in the long-drawn-out FGN-ASUU crisis, reason has taken flight. There is a bare-faced demonstration of power. Who will blink first?

This newspaper believes that this grandstanding must stop. Now, reason must be called back in all these industrial disputes. The saner, more reasonable party has to exercise its moral superiority over the inanities of devious politics. That ASUU takes up the moral responsibility to shield the country from its crumbling tertiary education should not be misconstrued by its members and all as a sign of weakness. Rather, it is an expression of the respect, that enlightened minds should have for human dignity. Clearly, the virtues of character and learning which universities claim they bestow on graduands should be instructive here.

Indeed, ASUU is the last bastion against the destruction of the educational sector, and tertiary education in particular.

Yet, it must tread with caution as it canvasses structural cum infrastructural revitalisation of the university system and welfare reforms for its members. It should carry all stakeholders along through adequate, meaningful and consistent public enlightenment about its activities. Or else it will become the enemy of the Nigerian people, an object of ridicule and be despised by the same people whose cause they are pursuing.


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