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ASUU’s strikes as a game of musical chairs (3)

By Douglas Anele
I STRONGLY suspect that the former would be higher, since the “pigs” have the financial power to pay tuition fees and other “incidentals” required for university education in foreign institutions. Because top government officials benefit from the skewed emolument system in Nigeria , they do not really appreciate the daunting sacrifices lowly paid Nigerians, including lecturers make daily to keep things going.

If government officials are really serious about the negative impact of the current global economic situation on our fragile economy, why are they still collecting outrageous allowances while at the same time calling for understanding by university teachers? Why has President Yar’Adua failed to trim down his over–bloated cabinet? Why is Nigeria’s democracy still among the costliest, if not the costliest, in the world?

The fact is that this government is not really serious about the improvement of education at all levels in the country. If it were, then serious efforts should have been made to drastically reduce the cost of running the political machine by the “servant-leader”, Yar’Adua, and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party.

There is no reason, apart from corruption and planlessness, why the federal government should not meet the 26 percent of budgetary allocation recommended by UNESCO for education. In the knowledge-driven world in which we live presently, education is the most important ingredient for national development.

That is why serious and reasonable governments all over the world are investing heavily in education. As Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States aptly remarked, “countries that out-teach you today will out-complete you tomorrow”.

Therefore, considering the crucial importance of education in all aspects of our national life, in addition to the fact that the president and vice president were lecturers before joining politics, it is quite disappointing that government did not take proactive measures to prevent ASUU from going on an indefinite strike this time around.

Neither Yar’Adua nor Goodluck Jonathan has made serious reconciliatory pronouncement on the current impasse. Is it that they are nonchalant about the sorry state of education as a whole, and university education in particular, throughout the country?

Now, while I agree that ASUU’s demands are legitimate and can be met up to seventy percent at least, and that government must put education on top of its agenda for national development, there are some very important elements of the on-going stalemate which my colleagues should ponder about.

The first one relates to the frequency with which ASUU declares indefinite strikes. In the last fifteen years, the frequency of strikes by lecturers has increased. But no one knows precisely the impact of the persistent disruptions of academic work on the entire university system. As academics, research is fundamental to our profession.

Hence, I am surprised, and disappointed as well, that leaders of ASUU have not considered it necessary to institute a scientific investigation by experts to establish the consequences of incessant strikes on students, lecturers, parents and guardians, and on the quality of education in the universities.

What I usually hear from colleagues is the threadbare argument that strike is the only “language” that Nigerian government at any point in time understands.

That may be true; still we must endeavour to find out the impact of that “language”, and of government’s responses to it, on the system over time. I dare say that until a well thought-out research programme is implemented which documents the various dimensions and consequences of frequent prolonged strikes by lecturers, we do not really know what we are doing.

What I believe is this: Apart from some improvement in the salary of lecturers, strikes have not really helped to improve teaching and learning in our universities. Indeed, strikes have become a game of musical chairs.

A strike leads to negotiations between ASUU and government, which produce an agreement that government would not fully implement, which will later lead to another strike, followed by another round of negotiations which generates another agreement that government would partially implement, leading up to another strike, ad nauseam.

Thus, strike action, in my view, has uncritically been overrated and overused by lecturers; it has not actually enhanced quality education in our institutions of higher learning. Evidently, stability is crucial for the growth of any educational system no matter its quality.

Frequent disruptions through strikes or through any other means are detrimental to qualitative education. Therefore, despite marginal improvement in funding of education by government arising from strikes, there is no solid evidence to suggest that the direct and collateral damages to the system due to frequent stoppages of academic work are trivial or can easily be repaired once government accepts all the demands of ASUU.


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