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ASUU And The Power Of Paradigm (II). by Temitayo (f): 9:21pm on February 24
Adelani Temiloluwa
School Of Nursing Ondo
Nursing Student
300Level, Nigeria.

When the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), commenced its now suspended strike action three months ago there was an outcry as always. Some analysts appealed to the union to explore alternative means of compelling the government to honour its part of whatever agreement it enters into with the union. But these analysts failed to propose what these “alternatives” should be in a country where those in authority do not value public education. One thing is however clear: this certainly would not be the last strike action by ASUU – as the union pointed out in very clear terms.

Prior to the suspension of the strike two weeks ago, a memorandum of action was signed by the two parties. The minister of labour and productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige had earlier said the government had resolved the eight contentious issues that led to the strike, maintaining that some of the items have been implemented. The minister said the union agreed with the government that N25billion naira will be released toward the revitalisation of public universities.

Accordingly, visitation panels would be constituted to commence work on March 2, 2019. From ASUU’s standpoint, it embarked on the now suspended indefinite strike following government’s failure to implement the agreement reached with the union in November 2016. In announcing the suspension of the strike, ASUU president, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi listed eight items contained in the agreement signed with the federal government.

“In addition to the N20 billion for 2018, the sum of N25 billion only would be released in April/May 2019, after which government would resume full implementation of the MoU of 2013…While announcing the suspension of the nationwide action, however, our Union made it categorically clear that ASUU will not hesitate to review its position should government renege on the signed Memorandum of Action.

“Comrades and compatriots, as we have always argued, the last thing ASUU members love doing is to cause disruption in smooth intellectual engagements with colleagues, friends and students right on our university campuses. This has nothing to do with the dubious advertorial of “non-disruption of academic calendar” by proprietors and administrators of some cash-and-carry universities and other self-styled enemies of ASUU. Rather, it is about deep-seated pains members of the Union undergo to prevent strike actions and the equally painful consequences strike.”

Now that academic activities has begun on our campuses the questions on most people’s minds is when the next strike action would happen with its attendant disruption and dislocation in academic calendars. From ASUU’s statement the ball is in the governments’ court. For now, all we need do is wait to see what the government would do from May.

However, ASUU is strongly convinced – and rightly too – that if academics fail to fight the cause of university education, the fate that befell public primary and secondary schools would soon become the lot of the public university system in Nigeria. ASUU’s advocacy on the need to stem the continued slide into rot and decay in public universities since the 1980s has fallen on deaf ears. By its numerous actions the union has shown that successive governments in Nigeria always entered into negotiated agreements only to placate those pleading the cause – be it education, health, civil service etc.

One cannot help but sympatise with ASUU because of the proclivity of the Nigerian ruling class to look the other way when issues that affect common citizens are on the front burner. With over 100 private varsities – and still counting – it can be assumed that issues bothering on public varsities are far from the minds of the elites. After all, their children and wards do not attend public varsities in the first place. But suffice to say that had it not been the agitations of ASUU, our public varsities would have been placed on the chopping block of dubious privatisation.

As we move forward, what, according to ASUU, are the outstanding issues that would bring a semblance of normality? They include: funding for the revitalization of public universities based on the FGN-ASUU MoU of 2012, 2013 and the MoA of 2017; reconstitution of the current Government Team to allow for a leader and Chairman of the FG-ASUU Renegotiating team who has the interest of the nation and the people at heart; release of the forensic audit report on Earned Academic allowances (EAA), offsetting the outstanding balance of the EAA and mainstreaming of same into the 2018 budget.

Other outstanding issues include: payment of all arrears of shortfall in all universities that have met the verification requirements of the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA); provision of a platform by the federal government for ASUU to engage Governors on the proliferation of universities, underfunding of university education and undue interference in the affairs of the universities; release of PFA operational license to NUPEMCO and the payment of EAA to loyal ASUU members at the University of Ilorin.

While it may be clear that these demands cannot be met in the immediate, the government should ensure that the doors of continuous dialogue remain open. This is to forestall the incessant strike actions in our public varsity system from becoming a marketing tool by unscrupulous private varsities to attract students.

Beyond this, I support the concern raised by ASUU regarding “the covert and overt roles of some vice chancellors in the management and application of funds attracted by our Union to Nigeria’s public universities.” The union consequently condemned, in the strongest terms, “Vice-Chancellors who have made efforts to undermine and, in some cases, attempted to break our patriotic struggles for the revitalization of public universities in Nigeria. ASUU will not shy away from taking headlong those Vice-Chancellors who are reputed for acts of impunity, nepotism and other forms of conduct which are antithetic to university culture and the progressive development of our universities.”

As the dialogue with the government continues, ASUU members should also begin putting their thinking caps on so that we can effectively address the issue of alternative funding for our public varsities since it is gradually becoming clearer now that only government cannot do it alone. Perhaps it is now time we start by having honest discussions about the possibility of shifting some of the burdens to the students. Painful as this might sound, it is a conversation we must honestly have.

If we start having such conversations we’ll be opening ourselves to answer tough questions like how do we assist brilliant indigent students to acquire university education? How can we encourage private individuals and organisations to give scholarships to this group of students? How feasible is an education bank in Nigeria? What roles should our varsities play in opening up the economy so that opportunities would abound? There are enormous untapped resources in our varsities; the question is how do we tap these resources? Is the solution to the crises in the tertiary education sector the proliferation of more varsities? There are many other questions we can ask and proffer answers to.

From the federal, state to private, our universities appear to be failing in the area of promoting scholarship in the real sense of the term. Lecturers and professors have become contractors and prefer executive positions to academic ones. Some have failed to serve as mentors to younger academics because they are not on their seats to offer direction and guidance. I wonder how many professorial chairs are truly funded by either corporate organisations or government. If the chairs are not funded, how will the professors conduct research? So many things are wrong with our universities. Beyond the strike we are on an intellectual war!

University administrators are also partly culpable for the internal rot within the universities. However, it must be equally acknowledged that those internal problems are rooted in under-funding, under-staffing, and under-equipping of the universities as well as the devaluation of education and scholarship by successive governments and the substandard environment under which teaching and learning are now taking place. This is the crux of the matter now.

Source: http://thenationonlineng.net/asuu-and-the-power-of-paradigm-ii/

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