As university students await return of academic activities after severe disruption as a result of last month’s warning strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), stakeholders have warned that continued shut down of schools might further destroy the already battered tertiary education system in the country.
The stakeholders, in their review of the sector, concluded that successive governments have failed to give the needed attention to tertiary education.
A professor of Business Studies, Pat Utomi; former vice-chancellors of the University of Ibadan (UI), Prof. Idowu Olayinka and that of Caleb University, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju; former Deputy Director, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bashorun Olorunfunmi and Prof. Adebayo Williams, all agreed there’s an urgent need for stakeholders to come together and ensure that the standard did not fall below what it is, at the moment.
Utomi maintained that for the nation to achieve the much-needed development, necessary steps must be taken to move the sector from where it is now.
He lamented that successive governments, over the years, have failed to appropriately manage the sector.
He noted, “in the 50s and early 60s, appropriate budgets were dedicated to education, such that the Western Region, under the leadership of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, came up with a free education system, Eastern region also came up with a laudable education policy.
“At independence, former Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, set up a commission on education headed by Erich Hasby and at that time, Nigeria had a university system that competed with Harvard and Oxford, and from that Olympian height, the system collapsed and degenerated to what it is today since the 70s when the military took over,” Utomi said.
Utomi also faulted the system of expanding the university system without commensurate funding, saying this contributed to the rot in the system.
He stressed the need for every university to have a culture of excellence, like it was in the early days, when there were layers of standards in tertiary institutions.
Utomi also suggested the need for government to pay lecturers well, noting that the country “is seriously bleeding in this area.”
Olukoju said incessant strikes, no doubt, have dented the reputation of the nation’s institutions.
The former vice-chancellor said the alternative to strike is, trust. He also points to respect by negotiators and a focus on lasting solutions as essential.
According to him, there should be mechanisms for conflict avoidance and speedy resolution, spotting and tackling early warning signs, adopting proactive engagement rather than reactive, knee-jerk responses.
Besides, he noted that those in the position to resolve labour issues must avoid short-term solutions and eschew brinkmanship in resolving conflicts.
For the current strike, Olukoju sought the intervention of non-governmental organisations, parents, students and labour unions, by pressuring the government to honour agreements signed with ASUU.
Beyond the usual issues of facilities and infrastructure, the university teacher said the negotiation should end by substantially increasing the wages of university workers.
In the same vein, Olayinka lamented that in the last 20 years, the nation’s universities have lost four years to strike, and expressed hope that the present action does not extend beyond one month.
Olorunfunmi, on his part, took a swipe at university lecturers for their insensitivity towards Nigerians and the young generation.
He said since Nigeria has been facing a series of challenges, what suggestion has ASUU come up with on how the problems can be fixed?
Williams also expressed concern that the sub-sector is collapsing and would need a radical approach to revive it.
He berated the government for lacking the courage to do the needful, saying a country like Ghana once shut its universities for a year.
AREWA leaders have also warned that continuous strikes by ASUU may further destroy the nation’s education system.
The group wondered why the government kept establishing more universities when it lacks the funding capacity to cater for existing ones, saying the situation has resulted in pressure on funding the institutions and teachers.
Spokesman of ACF, Emmanuel Yawe and President of Arewa Youths for Development and Progress (AYDP), Danjuma Sarki, urged well-meaning Nigerians to wade into the face-off between two parties to save the country from the negative socio-economic impact it could have in future.
Yawe, while speaking with The Guardian, said: “Strikes always have adverse effects on the future of university students, particularly, when they don’t graduate on time.
“If ASUU and government can find a common ground, it would be better. Both sides should dialogue.”
In the same vein, former Secretary-General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani, lamented that too many strikes have contributed in no small measure to lower the standard of education in the country.
Sani noted that since education is responsible for human capital development, incessant strikes have adversely affected the human development index of the country, leading to a negative impact on socio-economic development.
He added that while the government is expected to deliver on its promises to ASUU, the union should also be considerate in using undue pressure to secure such an agreement.
“This is because when the government does not have enough money to go around all socio-economic sectors, it cannot deliver on the promise of such agreements that are made without adequate consideration for the sources of the needed funds.
“As the custodian of intellectual prowess, ASUU cannot claim it is also unable to make a clear distinction between the power of government and claims made on behalf of such powers. Government exists to balance competing socio-economic sectors with resources at its disposal. ASUU should not only help the government on how best to increase sources of needed resources, but it should also make universities increase the yield of whatever is available. Therefore, instead of going on incessant strikes that are never helpful, other options should be used in interactions with the government for the good of all,” Sani stated.
Only yesterday, the Federal Government expressed hope that the one-month warning strike embarked upon by ASUU on February 14 would soon be truncated.
ASUU called its members out on the warning strike to compel the Federal Government to address their demands, some of which had been lingering since 2009.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, expressed the hope of truncation of the warning strike when he spoke with newsmen at the end of a conciliation meeting between the government and the union.
Ngige said the meeting agreed on many issues and a timeline was scheduled for the implementation of the agreements.
According to him, ASUU officials agreed to return to their members with offers made by the government and revert to him before the week runs out.
He noted that many of the items in the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA), had been dealt with exhaustively, while some were being addressed.
“We have only one or two areas that are new. One of the new areas is the renegotiation of the Conditions of Service, which is called the ‘2009 Agreement’.
“An agreement was reached in 2009 that their Conditions of Service would be reviewed every five years. It was done in 2014.
“We started one in which the former UNILAG Pro-Chancellor, Wale Babalakin (SAN), was chairing the committee.
“After Babalakin, Prof. Manzali was in charge and the committee came up with a draft document, proposed by the Federal Ministry of Education and ASUU.
“Today, Manzali’s committee has become defunct because many of the people in the committee are no longer pro-chancellors,’’ the minister explained.
Ngige said that a new team had been constituted to take a second look at that document.
“This is to make sure that some of the allowances are not against the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) fixed rates for wages and allowances.
“If you propose allowances that do not comply with NSIWC rates, the government will not be able to accept it.
“So, it is important that they do the right thing from the beginning so that whatever the committee presents can be approved by the Federal Executive Council,’’ he said.
Ngige also said that the meeting fixed a timeline of six weeks for the new committee set up by the education ministry to round up everything on the Conditions of Service.
“He noted that on the issue of University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) for the payment of salaries, the meeting mandated a joint committee to conduct an integrity test on the platform in conjunction with neutral experts.
The joint committee has ASUU, the National Universities Commission and the National Information Technology Development Agency as members.
“We told them to conclude the test by March 8. If they conclude, we are expected to work on it within six weeks,” Ngige said.
ASUU had agitated for the adoption of UTAS to pay varsity lecturers’ salaries in preference to the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System insisted upon by the Federal Government, reports the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Ngige said there was no problem with the issue of Earned Academic Allowances, apart from the reconciliation of payments made in tranches to the university system.
“Once we conclude the reconciliation, if the Federal Government is in arrears on any tranche, the finance minister will look for money to pay; even though the Federal Government does not have money.
“Earned allowance is an allowance for the excessive workload. Last year, it was paid based on the rule of the thumb theory of 10 per cent of total personnel cost.
“This year, we have told the National Universities Commission to put up a committee and within the next three weeks, come up with a figure that will be sent to the finance minister.
“For me, I think, we are on course, ASUU should go to their members, show them offers made to them by the government so that they can call off the strike,’’ Ngige said.
Earlier, the President of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, said members, students and Nigerian people want to see action from the government.
“The education sector in Nigeria is in crisis and money is being lost at the primary, secondary and tertiary education levels,” he said.
He noted the quantum of money that ought to have been used to fund education in Nigeria was being lost to other countries.
Osodeke, therefore, called for a declaration of emergency in the sector to solve the problem.
Speaking with The Guardian, Senator representing Kogi West, Smart Adeyemi, appealed to the two parties to come to a middle ground for the sake of indigent children.
He reminded that most children of the elite are not schooling in Nigeria, so there is a need for a compromise between the parties.
“We must bear in mind that ASUU members deserve good condition of service but the good condition of service must always be within available resources.
Government and ASUU must bear one thing in mind; it is the children of the poor that are in public universities.
“I want government and ASUU to reconcile, I want them to sit down again nobody should take extreme position because the role of ASUU is so crucial and critical to national development.
Meanwhile, stakeholders and parents have appealed to the two parties not to endanger the future of education in the country.
Vice-Chairman, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria branch, Dr. Ibrahim Abubakar, said academic activities have been grounded to a halt since the government has failed to meet their demands. The situation was the same at Kaduna State University (KASU).
Some of the students, who spoke with The Guardian, lamented the uncompromising stance of both the government and lecturers.
A lecturer, Dr. Nuhu Ibrahim, who expressed satisfaction over the level of compliance in his school, accused the government of not setting its priority right.
He wondered how the government could allow individuals in government to defraud the nation and go free when major institutions and structures are suffering.
At the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), only a few students were seen around the campus. A 300-level law student, Joy Osueke, said she stayed behind “to attend to some classwork and read. She expressed hope that the strike would be called off after the one-month warning window.
Osueke lamented that the strike had compounded the academic situation in the southeast, which had been bugged by incessant sit at home order, especially on Mondays and any other day the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, was going to court.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to study in the southeast. On Mondays, we don’t receive lessons because of the sit-at-home order or any other day that there is a court session for Kanu. Now, there is a strike. Where do we go from here? The burden is increasing on daily basis. That is why I am appealing that the Federal Government should resolve whatever issues they have with ASUU to enable them to return to classes.
“Our colleagues in other parts of the country have been ahead of us before this strike. What it means is that if we go by the way classes are handled in the Southeast, our mates will graduate before us. It is no longer a sweet story for students in this area,” she said.
Obinna Enwerem lamented that he had barely settled down for the semester when the strike commenced. He disclosed that those who stayed back in the school decided to do so “because of the big workload we have to cover.”
“I am hopeful that after the one-month warning strike, we will resume. But I am particularly not happy with the way we engage in strikes in this country. Why must government allow lecturers to go on strike before they would do something about their welfare? It is sad.”
A lecturer in the department of Mass Communication, Dr Jerry Ogu, said allowing the current strike to continue would impact negatively on students.
To Ogu, “This is not how a country that is committed to the growth and development of its youths should behave. Time is now for the leadership to address some of these issues to allow a smooth running of the sector in the interest of growth and development.”
A final year law student of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, Ibijoke Sanni, said she has been affected in a lot of ways as a result of the strike.
“As a final year student, I will have to pay another house rent because I have calculated when I will be done and paid for my house rent. As it is, I have to look for money to solve many issues and this is draining my pocket.”
She, however, pleaded with the government to try as much as possible to agree to the demands of ASUU.
A final year Sociology student at, the University of Ibadan, Folayemi Opekilede, said the situation calls for concern as the sector has witnessed disruptions in the academic calendar over the years.
Another 300-level Chemical Engineering student of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Ayodeji Oluwole, said the ASUU strike is a problem students are getting used to. He said the disagreement between the government and ASUU has always been like the case of when “two elephants fight,” because it’s the grass that suffers for it.
“Lecturers go on strike without considering the plight of students, in the end; they get what they want from the Federal Government. What about students, are they included in the fight?
Now students venture into different things to make money, and it’s affecting the country as crime rates increase. After gaining admission and spending like extra three years because of strikes, opportunities that come with age limits will be lost. Life is hard, living in Nigeria is harder and being a Nigerian student is the hardest,” he said.