by Osho Adetunji
Strike is the song of the average Nigerian worker – a national anthem. And if is the song the workers sing; therefore it is the song the government dances to.
During President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure, there were several paralysing nationwide strikes spearheaded by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). These strikes were due to the consistent hikes in the pump price of petrol. The state of democracy in Nigeria shows clearly that our leaders seem to be blind, deaf and dumb once they are elected into office and do not care about the needs of the hapless electorates that gave them the mandate.
The Machiavellian conquistador that is called Federal Government has once again denied the masses the dividends of democracy by depriving the Academic Staff Union of Universities their rights. As a student, I was a victim of the one-hundred and twenty four days strike that was meted out to the students of Federal and State Universities in 2009. That strike was formally called off on October 23, 2009, but before it could be called off, the Federal Government under the leadership of late Umaru Musa YarAdua agreed to implement certain demands of ASUU.
Two years after the agreement was reached by both parties, majority of the demands were yet to be implemented. So on September 26, 2011, the union led by her national president, Ukachukwu Awuzie embarked on a two weeks warning strike to help the sleeping government recall the agreement. At the end of the warning strike, a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) was signed by the FG with the union, promising the fulfilment of demands by November 22, 2011. Here we are in August 2013; the government is yet to fulfil her promise. This clearly depicts the overwhelming insensitivity of the government.
Amidst these crises that plague the giant of Africa, what comes to mind is how fast the table turns. This should be the time when the masses should enjoy the fruits of their labour and believe strongly in the vision of the leader (if one exists). Disappointment can be seen on the faces of Nigerians at the character displayed by these literates in the corridor of power. Gone are the days when our leaders were illiterates, majority of our present ministers are first degree and PhD holders from indigenous Universities. INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega was once the President of ASUU. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan bagged his doctorate degree in Zoology from University of Port Harcourt; once a lecturer and an academician before going into politics in 1998. He was once in the shoes of these lecturers that are clamouring for their rights. Our vice president, Namadi Sambo is an architect and a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. This depicts the rate at which politics corrupt. If we are ruled by literates, then they should think like literates and treat ASUU like literates.
Today, August 28, 2013 marks day 58 of an indefinite strike embarked upon by ASUU on July 1, 2013. This strike portrays a breach of contract between the two parties. The strike has caused serious damage and paralysed academic activities in Federal and State Universities. Does this present pain worth the ‘hypothetical gain’ believed to show up in the future? A saying goes thus: “You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs”. The question that comes to mind is; do we need to break these eggs of time to secure an omelette for the table of posterity? ASUU strongly believes that the answer is YES! The demands of ASUU are feasible, reasonable and they promise to reshape the scope of tertiary education in Nigeria. One of the demands that seem difficult for the government is a plea for progressive increase of yearly budgetary appropriation of 26% between 2009 and 2020 to education. The rest can be achieved by promulgating some laws.
It is disheartening to know that the current allocation of the budget for education in Nigeria (about 170million people) is a meagre 8 precent. An underdeveloped nation that is aiming to be one of the world’s leading economies by 2020 should not have a rotten educational sector. Have you ever visited convocation ceremonies of our universities? Have you asked the brilliant brains among the graduands about their future? All they will tell you is about their plans to pursue their postgraduate studies abroad and you begin to wonder why not in Nigeria? The reason behind this attitude posed by the graduands is the moribund state of education in the country. The graduands cannot be blamed since they are looking for greener pastures that will favour them and equip them for the tasks ahead.
It is high time the government realised the fact that youths are the leaders of tomorrow. If they want to secure the future of the country, then they should fund education and educate the minds of the youths. Education is a form of empowerment that prepares youths for the future, if we are talking about the future of Nigeria, then progressive increase to 26% of the budget is absolutely worth it.
As the drama unfolds and new episodes of the ASUU-FG movie flickers on the screen; the strike took a new twist last week when after many deliberations and meetings which ended in a deadlock; ASUU threatened to pull out of discussions with the Presidential Committee on the Implementation of the Committee of Needs Assessment of Nigeria (Public) universities, CNANU. In a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on the Implementation of the CNANU report, Gabriel Suswam of Benue State; the aggrieved Union highlighted major unscrupulous acts (distortions) of the Technical Subcommittee of CNANU Implementation Committee.
ASUU stated that only 500billion naira will meet the immediate needs of the universities as stipulated by the funding requirements in the 2009 ASUU/FGN Agreement and the Jan. 2012 MoU. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, announced at a meeting with Pro-Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors of Public Universities that the FG is ready to pay 100 billion naira for the funding of Universities and N30 billion (as against Okonjo Iweala’s estimated N92billion) to defray the peculiar allowances of ASUU members which had remained outstanding. However ASUU wants the FG to send the monies (N100billion) to the Universities just as it is the practice of TETFund and Capital appropriation. ASUU wants stark transparency.
According to an African proverb which says that; When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled. As ASUU battles the Federal Government; the questions that come to mind are: Who is suffering for the pains inflicted? Whose eggs are broken? Of course, it is the students who bear the brunt of the whole saga. The students are the trampled grass under these two elephants. Academic calendars are getting more complicated by the day, majority of students are wasting away at home and the delay in obtaining a degree is obvious. The strike does not stop the salaries of the lecturers and many of them made use of this opportunity to do more research and churn out more publications.
There is a saying that “every cloud has a silver lining” which means that every bad or difficult situation has a positive side. Contained in ASUU’s report are detailed allocations for erection of new infrastructures in the Universities; laboratories, libraries and hostels. ASUU demanded for N1.2 billion each to construct 3000 bedspace hostels to the 10 Category1 Universities, N1.0billion for 2500 bed space hostel to the 16 category2 universities, N500 million each to construct 1250 bed space hostels in the 12 category3 universities and N250million each to construct 625 bed space hostels in the 13 category4 universities. The students should however take syrup of optimism that the strike would soon be over.
If we can have a well-developed educational sector, then we can produce inventors, Nobel laureates and outstanding writers. When you look at the light bulb, you remember the assiduous efforts of Thomas Edison, when you are on Facebook chatting with your pals, the illustrious achievements of Mark Van Zuckerberg comes to memory and when you are on your mobile phone talking with your Dad, you remember with nostalgia the undying works of Graham Bell. It is high time we produced the likes of Archimedes, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Bill Gates that will write the name of this country in good books. We can only achieve this if the government will invest in education and answer the cries of ASUU. The Federal Government should remember the immortal words of Malcolm X which says that “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it”. If the government remains obstinate and does not see a reason why they should keep to their promises, then ASUU has no choice than to sing the song the FG understands, and the FG must dance.
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