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ASUU, the Neros and other unions

Today is another Friday. Despite the relaxed atmosphere, it is impossible to hold off from this running sore, i.e. the ongoing conflict between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

So many thoughts come to the mind; it is possible to see a pattern here. 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 educational sector have followed suit. The most predictable entities are the unions in the university system itself. NASU, SSANU, and NAAT – all of them, non-academics.

Although, if the reader may want to know, the non-academic tag is a much-contested term. These union members would prefer to be called non-teaching staff. That indeed is Nigeria for you; everyone in the university system wants to lay claims to the seemingly exalted tag of academic. But even then, I digress.

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 contradictious. 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 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. 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 unions.

For the records, however, it is important to draw attention to what Dr Chris Ngige, minister of labour and employment, has said, according to him, his own children are in Nigerian universities.

Let it be also noted that a response has since come forth from the president of ASUU, who asked: what percentage of the total is that? In other words, the posture from the minister is really something of an exception; and like all exceptions, something is being said about the overall picture. Meanwhile, as the sad drama continues to unfold, other side-lights begin to emerge.

There was this interesting message from the UK authorities on new visa protocols for skilled workers from universities across the world. Predictably, Nigerian universities were excluded.

This is not surprising if only because every embassy in this country is here to gather information on the country. Needless to say, our educational sector is bound to attract their attention. They will know and note 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 can almost say: who cares?

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 unions are bracing up, ready to stoke the fire of unrest.

On this note, the Trade Union Congress 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.

But 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 has since embarked on a warning strike, which could well tail off into something indefinite, in what is arguably a replication of the dynamics playing out between ASUU and the government.

Read also: Buhari pleads with ASUU to call off strike

What is also not often appreciated is that, as these ungainly realities unfold, 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, the economic activity is on break in the university environment.

The food sellers, cobblers, small-scale grocers and the 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.

For instance, everything is in a limbo here in the University of Lagos. What this translates to are lack and material deprivation for these poor folks while the strike lasts. Meanwhile, the Neros in our brutalised polity are busy, fiddling with their self-serving electoral process, while the universities remain under lock and key. Sad!!

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