BusinessDay

ASUU: Matters arising

Today, on this Monday morning, the mind is still on the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and its ongoing industrial action. In the language of our trade, what we have on our hands is a running story. Hence the commentaries must also assume a similar profile – they must be churned out until the issue is resolved.

This is why it is impossible to hold off from this running sore, i.e. the ongoing conflict between the Federal Government and the ASUU. So many thoughts come to mind here. The seemingly new turning point on this issue is the direct intervention of President Muhmmadu Buhari. The intervention can be observed at two levels.

 Still, something tells me that if ASUU was not standing at the barricades at this point in time, chances are that, the other unions will be on the western front – quiet

One, at a recent outing, he appealed to ASUU to call off the strike action and resume duties. He also mandated his Chief of Staff Professor Ibrahim Gambari to meet with the ASUU hierarchy. This was with a view to ensuring that the issues are resolved.

At the time of writing this, it looks as if we are still at a dead-end. According to reports, ASUU is holding on to its position. In this respect, the ASUU hierarchy is of the view that nothing concrete was brought to the table and as such the Union had no choice but to stick to its original position.

Again, the government appears to have missed it. Mere presidential bluster will not resolve these sticky issues. The government needs to come forth in a substantive way on these outstanding issues. For the sake of clarity, it may be necessary to restate them. The first has to do with the compensation package which ASUU is saying is grossly outdated.

Unfortunately, the wringing of hands by the government that there is no money will not wash. This is because ASUU as men and women of the knowledge industry are in the know as regards where all the dead bodies are buried.

They have therefore not wasted time in telling government a few truths as regards where the money is. What beats the imagination here is how the latest attempts could have failed in the light of the involvement of Ibrahim Gambari.

I believe that Gambari was auspiciously placed to mediate on this issue. Two main reasons are responsible for this stance. He is a professor; though the caveat can be entered that he left the University a long time ago. But even then such are his legendary negotiating skills during his tenure at the UN that he could easily have fallen back on these skills to salvage the situation.

However, we may as well remind ourselves at this point that the workman can only be as good as his tools. In this particular instance, since he did not bring anything to the table other than mere persuasion, failure was guaranteed.

The consequence is that we are back to ground zero. Meanwhile, we may even be worse off at the moment. This is in the light of the fact that there is a contagious dimension to the ongoing ASUU strike. As was pointed out last week, it is possible to see a pattern here. As in the past, once ASUU decides to down tools something happens to the rest of the educational sector at the tertiary level.

The reasons for this deposition are not far to seek. Since ASUU embarked on its industrial action, other unions in the tertiary education sector have followed suit. The most predictable entities are the other Unions in the university system itself. NASU, SSANU, and NAAT – all of them, non academics.

The kernel of the grouse for this category of workers revolves around the new payment platform. In terms of my own personal insight into this particular issue, it is possible to commend these other unions. On this note, it is instructive to appreciate here that, when the new payment system was birthed, these unions decided to give the novelty a chance. They went along with it.

However, and as the situation unfolded, it was found to be full of inconsistencies and contradictions. So on this note, I can almost take my words back that they are merely hanging on to the coat-tails of ASUU.

Still, something tells me that if ASUU was not standing at the barricades at this point in time, chances are that, the other unions will be on the western front – quiet. But there it is, despite the initial and contrasting positions of ASUU on one hand and the other Unions on the other, both of them can be found in the new Jerusalem. This is where again, the government comes up for a lot of blame.

The Federal Government could have used the opportunity given by the other unions to play the ball very well. Rather the federal authorities chose to drop the ball. The implication is that, as we write, there is an absolute dimension to the state of our University system: it is completely closed-under lock and key. The obvious victims are of course the students.

Read also: ASUU, others, turn down FG plea to re-open schools

Predictably, they are out there, angry and railing at the system. In the process, they are highlighting all the contradictions in our polity. Perhaps the most obvious and telling of these is the well-known contention that those in charge of this critical sector (education), do not have their children in these universities, and this may well explain the cold indifference of the government to the issues being raised by the strikers.

Meanwhile, as the sad drama continues to unfold, other side-lights begin to emerge. There was the exclusion which was visited by the UK authorities on the University system in Nigeria. This can be observed in the new visa protocols for skilled workers from Universities across the world. Predictably, and pointedly, Nigerian universities were excluded.

This is not surprising if only because every embassy in this country is here legitimately to gather information on the country. Our education sector is bound to attract their attention. They will readily appreciate that, most of the time, our universities are out of business. The immediate foregoing may well explain the snub, which the British authorities have decided to inflict on our university graduates. Would you blame them?

In this business of International Relations, national interest is paramount, and under the circumstances the Nigerian university system is not well placed to serve their interests. This is clearly a takedown for us. But then, if the evolving realities are anything to go by, one cannot blame them.

As things stand, however, and by the day, the polity continues to be heated up by this spate of industrial actions. This is because the larger industrial and umbrella unions are bracing up, ready to stoke the fire of unrest.

On this note, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), has since issued a statement to the effect that, if the issues are not resolved soon, they will engage in a show of solidarity with the other Unions i.e. ASUU and the others. The consequences of this can be imagined.

So, those who are in charge of Nigeria had better sit up on this issue. Even then, the strikes have since spread to the Polytechnics – another component of our Tertiary education system. Indeed, and as I write, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) has since embarked on a warning strike.

Beyond the students and Nigeria’s battered image in the eyes of the world; there are other victims of this horrible but avoidable experience. The references here, are to those defenseless, poor folks who make their precarious living on the platform of the informal sectors in our various tertiary institutions.

With the closure of the Universities and polytechnics, all is quiet in the university environment. The food sellers, cobblers, small scale grocers and photocopy machine operators as well as other traders are moping. They are hoping that one day, these protracted issues will be resolved, and to this extent, their economic activities will boom once again in.

What this translates to is lack and material deprivation for these poor folks. The situation has been rendered graphically by Professor Muhammad Waziri of the University of Maiduguri. He contended that other members of our society are also affected by the strikes.

According to him, transport costs by students at N200 per day for 20,000 students come to four N4 million daily.

Similarly, lunch for the same number of students another four million. Photocopy of 20 pages of documents at 10 per page – another four million. Therefore and according to him, these 20,000 students inject N12 million daily into the local economy of the university.

Thus, during the three months of strike, a total N1.08 billion would have been lost by these various businesses. This is what is lost in one single university. So one can easily appreciate how much all the closed universities would have lost.

Meanwhile, and despite much of the foregoing, the politicians are busy plying their trade. Afterall, this is the season of maximum politicking and minimal governance. One can only end it here as we did last week by saying: Cry The Beloved Country. For your saviour is not nigh.

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