by John Olaniyan
So the ASUU strike is in its sixty third (63rd) day at the time of writing, hence by a simple process of deduction, Nigerian undergraduate and postgraduate students have had an abrupt interruption to their studies for that long with no conceivable end to the Mexican stand off in sight.
Now this is no news, it’s public knowledge and I am sure a lot of people are even getting fed up with the never ending rolling news and continuous commentary. However what prompted this article are some misconceptions and erroneous assumptions I have heard from a number of people while interacting about the ASUU strike and demands.
It has gotten to the stage where the association is being perceived as insidiously self-centered, only driven in the struggle solely for their own pecuniary interests as if they are not due the welfare benefits and remunerations they are clamouring for.
This is in a country where government officials are paid obscene amounts just for sitting around in a plush and air conditioned office exchanging banters and jokes with little proactive and responsive governance. This prompted me to wonder how we can expect the optimal output from the lecturers vested with the significant responsibility of shaping students present and future endeavours while paying them in nominal form.
I must publicly offer a disclaimer that I am neither part of ASUU nor have any stake in the whole issue, all I am after as a patriotic Nigerian is to see the educational institution in my country achieve its rightful place, to see a situation where our certificates will not be treated with levity abroad and our students will not be swindled by mushroom non-accredited institutions.
To get all the issues in the proper perspective, it is incumbent to look at the specific issues ASUU is fighting for and how this will impact in the long run on the Nigerian educational institution concerning both the level of education and the financial returns in the short and long term. This is in order to counter the poisonous and mischievous misinformation which seems to be flourishing and steadily gaining ground.
ASUU’s lists of demands encompassing the 2009 roll over to the present time are as follows
i. Funding requirements for revitalisation of the Nigerian Universities
ii. Federal Government assistance to state universities
iii. Establishment of NUPEMCO
iv. Progressive increase in annual budgetary allocation to education to 26% between 2009 and 2020
v. Earned allowances (which is where the bone of contention and stalemate presently lies)
vi. Amendment of the Pension/Retirement age of academics on the professorial cadre from 65 to 70 years
vii. Reinstatement of prematurely dissolved governing councils
viii. Transfer of federal government landed property to universities
ix. Setting up of Research Development Council and provision of research equipment to laboratories and classrooms in our universities.
However in the ensuing myriad of negotiations between the government led by Governor Suswam and the ASUU team over several weeks, the negotiations ended in a stalemate with ASUU declaring that the government has failed to meet their demands, while the government has countered that ASUU has rejected the 30 billion Naira offer. While both contending parties as it were, seem to be fluid and flexible in their negotiations on most of the 9 demands above, it seems the sore point in the negotiations is the ASUU demand of 87 billion Naira being accumulated money owed them which government has retorted they are not able to afford.
Like I inferred from the start, this has of course unleashed a flurry of criticisms and even recriminations both from parents who are tired of their children and wards’ continual stay at home and the students’ increasing frustration at their continued hibernation while their counterparts in private institutions and worldwide continue their studies uninterrupted.
This situation has created a conundrum: Should ASUU be blamed for insisting on their demands being met or should the government be blamed for not acceding to their demands?
While their actions are open to diverse interpretations and views, personally I reckon the government must be blamed for the break down.
The Federal Government and ASUU both mutually agreed to and signed an agreement in 2009, which has addressed and adequately covered all the contentious grounds being revisited presently, but no part of it was honoured and the agreement effectively jettisoned by government until the present strike.
Secondly,while ASUU’s demand might be seen as opportunistic and rapacious we must realise this is as a result of an educational rot which has been festering untreated for years being rolled over by successive governments until present.
Lastly while the sum total ASUU is demanding might seem like a lot of money, putting it in perspective, is the subsidy payment presently this year alone standing at more than 2 trillion Naira more justified than the resurrection of a moribund higher educational sector? This is more so as the medium and long term returns on the investment will point towards a positive outcome over all.
Presently Nigerian students abroad spend an estimated 1.5 trillion Naira studying outside Nigeria. This is not factoring in how much is lost by Nigerian students to non accredited institutions abroad who most times do not refund monies paid to them but simply close shop and shut down their operations. I have met Nigerians who have lost as much as £3000 while the home office also rejected their student visa applications. This is not considering the extortionate amount spent processing visas and the lost man power after graduation.
In addition to these considerable funds and associated losses that will be retained in our economy with a standard and world class educational institution, the money requested from the Federal Government will also afford us standard Agricultural and scientific research institutes.
An enabling higher institution of learning will bring back the foreign student exchange programmes which flourished in the 1960s and 70s which in turn will create a mutual exchange of ideas and diverse intellectual knowledge linking our educational institutions of learnings with their counterparts world wide. This is not just important but imperative in a global world.
A flourishing higher education sector will drive micro and macro economic growth in form of student accommodation, small and medium businesses both for the universities and private entrepreneurs, the financial institutions including insurance companies in form of loans crafted and targeted at students, insurance mainly for student possessions, tuition and associated fees.
In addition, knowing that some of our university administrators have a questionable moral compass, the release of the funds for the upgrade by government must come with an inbuilt mechanism in place in order to make absolutely sure the funds will be used for the purpose it is meant for. There must be checks and balances, inbuilt caveats attached to make whoever is in charge of disbursing the funds accountable and transparent to avoid anything untoward.
The prevailing distrust of lecturers and vice chancellors by students and even average Nigerians not helped by their antecedents and past events makes it imperative that checks and accountability must be a veritable interface to entertain any hope of getting things right this time.
However, irrespective of the reservations expressed towards ASUU’s vested interests and moral deficit, we must look towards the bigger picture and greater good the fulfilment of these demands will bring to the medium and long term existence of the Nigerian higher educational sector. If the demands are not met now then it is only safe and fair to predict that the rot in the higher educational sector just like a malignant tumour will continue to ravage it relentlessly.