ASUU: What Next After This Strike?
“Calling off the strike is no big deal nor yet a cause for celebration,” once wrote Adamu Adamu in his then widely-followed Friday column for Daily Trust newspaper. “(I)t is not just its calling off that is important, what is more crucial is what eventually happens to the university system as a result.”
This was a part of his serialised policy recommendation about two years before his engagement as Nigeria’s chief education officer in 2015, and tasked with administering the medicine he had prescribed. Although Malam Adamu doubted the efficacy of endless strike actions by the Academic Staff Union of Universities then, he was sympathetic to their struggles and unsparingly critical of his would-be predecessors.
His decisions since assuming responsibility at the Ministry of Education, unfortunately, had only guided the country through a one-month strike in 2017, four-month strike from late 2018 to early 2019, and then the recent 10-month strike, and with yet another of the Federal Government’s familiar promises to redeem its pledges as documented in that defining 2009 Agreement. The government has always known ASUU’s weakest spot, and that’s the personal welfare of the union’s members. The government has agreed to settle the members’ accumulated arrears, which was a part of their conditions for calling off the strike, and the N40 billion earned allowance approved has already sparked trouble in paradise as non-teaching staff unions of the universities are issuing threats to shut down the university system early next month.
The worst victims of these clashes of mostly selfish interests are the students asked to return to schools with no functional video conferencing facilities during a pandemic and expected to adhere to social distancing rules in under-staffed institutions with inadequate and outdated online library resources and overcrowded lecture halls, and hostels. The dignity of these students doesn’t feature in the series of disagreements that have instigated strikes that kept public universities closed for a cumulative period of over four years since the return to democracy in 1999.
ASUU might be a victim of Nigeria’s generational neglect of the education sector, but the rot in the system isn’t without their permission. Nigerian public universities, under their watch, have been concentration camps of young and vulnerable students victimized academically and exploited sexually by the same hypocrites pointing to the government as the sole enabler of the escalating ruins. For several decades, students have endured the horror of predatory lecturers with unfair and unchallengeable grading policy, grumpy supervisors uninterested in mentoring students, and randy lecturers who must sleep with possibly every female student to pass their courses.
This time, ten months later, ASUU only managed to secure N30 billion out of the N110 billion it demanded for revitalising public universities. But even if a trillion Naira had been approved for this purpose, the system is still going to be managed by the same intellectually lax, randy and vindictive ASUU members preying on students and gaslighting the outspoken. Several public universities have even neutralised and outlawed the functions of student unions, to prevent opposition to administrative tyranny.
As ASUU agrees to return to the classroom, the main victory recorded from this omission of a whole academic year is the arrears approved by the government. Because the government, as is always the case, isn’t going to honour any agreement. The road to a lasting solution has been strewn with contradictions. ASUU, which is incapable of generating funds from a source other than the government, seeks outright university autonomy and yet insists on unceasing financial obligation from the government.
The union has also not been able to attract the public sympathy it seeks because its credentials are uninspiring, and the first reform requires zero Naira to actualise. The questionable degrees being produced at our universities are facilitated by morally bankrupt lecturers and serial plagiarists unchecked by the management, and these gate-keeping sadists are also quick to remind students of the choices to make off the books if they intend to graduate in record time or achieve desired grades.
ASUU can afford to keep their students grounded at home for almost a year because the government isn’t their only employer. Some of them also teach at more than one private universities, which have been open even in the pandemic. The irony of this arrangement is, the same miniature tyrants who masquerade as lecturers in public universities lose the guts to violate students’ rights in these private universities because the latter don’t take the nonsense overlooked and institutionalized by ASUU in public universities.
It would be devastating if private universities, which are still young in Nigeria, ever get to dim the glory of public universities in the fashion private secondary schools have overtaken government-owned secondary schools. So far, Covenant University, which is less than two decades old, is setting a pace for tertiary education in the country. And the facilities being installed in the new private universities springing up across the country, with attention to student – lecturer relations, should alarm the government.
Someone has to spell it out for the irreverent ASUU members that the allowances from Abuja aren’t a realistic intervention. Our education system is unsustainably subsidized, and decentralizing it to adopt a market-competitive tuition fee structure is the first doorway out of this seeming stalemate. Reactions to this position in the past, some of them superficially populist, have emphasized the economic reality of potential students, most of whom are demographics who can’t afford private school education, to shut down the idea. It’s a fair point, one that justifies setting up a student loan system to cater for deserving students.
That ASUU thinks it can compel our policymakers—whose children are in private and foreign universities—to do its bidding, is baffling. The students who’ve just lost a year of their academic life don’t matter to those expected to act on the 2009 Agreement, and the compromise that led to calling off the strike won’t change anything. If there’s any doubt about this, it must’ve already been cleared by the proposed 2021 budget presented to the National Assembly, with only N742.5 billion of the N13.08 trillion budgeted, allotted to education. That’s a paltry 5.6 percent of the total, and the lowest in 10 years. Even so, only N127. 3 billion is earmarked for capital expenditure, as personnel cost consumes N579. 7 billion and overhead cost N35.4 billion.
In 2013, when Malam Adamu was carpeting his would-be predecessors for failing to prioritize education, the allocation for education sector was 8.4 percent of the national expenditure, much more than what’s secured under him, and his anger then was palpable as he rolled out names of poorer African countries investing more in education, and then concluded that Nigeria “has in fact been busy laying solid foundations for an ignorance economy.” This time, ironically, Malam Adamu is in the best position to tell Nigerians what “happens to the university system” after the strike.
Source: Daily Trust