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Tinubu, Atiku and ASUU: Matters arising

Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Abubakar Atiku are trending in the news at the moment. The reason for this is obvious enough. Both are the winners of the just concluded primary elections of the ruling party-APC and the PDP. Incidentally, these prospective Nigerian presidents appear to have keyed into my thoughts as regards the ongoing tiff between ASUU and the Federal Government.

This is in view of the respective promises that they have made about our educational system. This coincidence can be observed in the fact that, on this Monday morning, and on my own part, 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.

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

So, many thoughts come to the mind. The seemingly new turning point on this issue is the direct intervention of President Muhmmadu Buhari on this issue. The intervention can be observed at two levels. 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. For, according to reports, ASUU is holding on to its position. In taking this position 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 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The first has to do with the compensation package which ASUU is saying is grossly outdated.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. He is a professor; though the caveat can be entered that he left the University a long time ago.

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, in a previous piece, 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 educational 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.

It is instructive to appreciate here that the non-academic tag is a very 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 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.

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, the minister of labour 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 valid and truthful, is being said about the overall picture.

Meanwhile, as the sad drama continues to unfold, other side-lights begin to emerge. There was the ostracization which was visited by the UK authorities on the university system in Nigeria. It is an interesting message from London which does not bode well for Nigeria.

Specifically, there are 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 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 ie 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 actions 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 which could well tail off into something indefinite; in what is arguably, a replication of the sad dynamics currently playing out between ASUU and the FG.

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 Nigerians who make the precarious living on the platform of the informal sectors in our various tertiary institutions.

Read also: ASUU strike forces students to acquire skills, start businesses

With the closure of the Universities and polytechnics, all is currently quiet 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 in our universities. As things stand, everything is in a limbo here in UNILAG.

What this translates to, are lack and material deprivation for these poor Nigerians who continue to mope and hope that one day the Schools will reopen.

Meanwhile, the Neros are busy, fiddling with their self-serving electoral process, while the Universities remain under lock and key. Sad!!.

Luckily however, it appears that the situation will ease for the better very soon. This is in view of the promises being made by the duo of Tinubu and Atiku. But this is in the long term and may well amount to nothing ultimately given the vapour-like promises of politicians. In the immediate sense however, it is possible to see a ray of hope.

This is in view of the hints being dropped by the ASUU hierachy that the Union is currently engaged with the Nimi Briggs committee. This is with a view to reaching common grounds, such that soonest, our Universities will be open once again for our teeming youths who are currently wasting away at home.

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