Prolonged strike: Why ASUU should share some blame

Academic activities in public universities in Nigeria have been shut down since February 14, 2022, as university lecturers have withdrawn their services over what they termed as continuous neglect and gross insincerity from the government.

The government has been accused of dishonesty in honouring the 2009 agreement with the union, with less than 20 percent of the agreement yet to be fulfilled. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has embarked on its 16th industrial strike since 1999. ASUU continues to argue that the strike was in the best interest of the education sector in the long run. The demands are genuine and justifiable, but certain underlying issues require public scrutiny and analysis. While it is important to acknowledge the carefree attitude and lack of seriousness on the part of the government to improve Nigeria’s education sector, ASUU has some blame to share in the ongoing strike.

Since 2007 till date, the eminent personalities of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and Professor Yemi Osibanjo, former members of ASUU, have been president and vice president of Nigeria respectively. Yet, there has been no sustainable solution to the challenges bedevilling the education sector.

Presumably, before their emergence in the country’s two most influential positions of authority, they once criticised the government for handling the education sector or probably canvassed for transforming the education sector in their manifestos. They knew the challenges faced by universities more than anyone but failed to address the issues prompting the strike actions. If two academic dons who were former members of ASUU have not been able to address ASUU’s demands as president and vice presidents, I wonder what could be their excuses?

Read also: Strike: NUEE urges FG to resolve impasse with ASUU, poly lecturers

There have been examples of professors who were governors and ministers with no clear legacies or blueprint in the education sector. When academic dons become politicians, they become distracted; they sometimes act like politicians rather than real experts with a penchant for a sustainable solution.

From 1960 to date, Nigeria has had 51 ministers of education and ministers of state for education. Interestingly, 23 of these were teachers at different levels before their appointment; 15 read educational courses in the university and colleges of education, while 11 have been seasoned educational administrators or university dons (professors or senior lecturers).

Professors and lecturers are used as returning officers during general elections at the national, state, zonal and local government levels. However, few have been accused and caught indulging in electoral malpractice to favour politicians. ASUU members have aided in enthroning Nigeria’s current crop of bad leaders, which is largely responsible for these leaders’ inability to honour agreements with ASUU. There has been a growing disdain for the ASUU strike recently. ASUU has lost public support each time they chose to embark on a strike, only to call off the strike after a few billions have been released for their earned academic allowance (EAA). At the same time, others remain a promise for the future that the government may never fulfill.

There have been cases of university lecturers who trade grades for sex. While some award undeserving grades to students in exchange for money, with multiple examples on many campuses in Nigeria. The government, addressing the genuine funding and welfare needs of university lecturers will not end this ugly trend. Many university vice-chancellors have their children in foreign universities and have failed to give valid accounts for the little sum of money from the government and internally generated revenue. Accusations and counter-accusations of corruption and financial recklessness have come against university administrators who are equal members of ASUU. Several university managements in Nigeria have banned or “killed” student union activities that have the responsibility to protect their students’ interests. At the same time, ASUU remains a formidable force that fights to protect the welfare of lecturers in Nigeria.

While all the demands of ASUU in 2009 and the MOU of 2013 are very genuine and essential, there is a need for the union to internally re-evaluate its actions and contribution to Nigeria’s education sector’s decay. There might be a need for some selected student leaders to be at the negotiation table and observe proceedings and understand the actual position of things. A multi-sourced financing system remains the only sustainable solution to end the incessant ASUU strike and ensure Nigerian universities have access to more funds to become globally competitive. The government must show a high level of sincerity and do all that should be done to get our universities to a world-class standard and ensure students return to school.

Alikor Victor is a development economist & policy analyst at the Nextier Group