By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
The ability of the current Minister of Education, Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu to come up with a Roadmap for the Nigerian education sector a few weeks after the removal of his immediate predecessor, Dr. Aja Mwachukwu gave the impression that the nationâ€™s education sector in 2009 would fare better than previous years which are characterised by neglect, poor funding, non-implementation of policies, unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks and sheer selfishness on the part of those implementing policies.
But the euphoria which attended the public presentation of the Roadmap, a document that articulates the strategies for addressing the multi-faceted problems bedeviling the sector, was short-lived. The first litmus test came from the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) when it declared an indefinite strike action from February 25, 2009 in all the states that were yet to implement the enhanced Teachers Peculiar Allowance (TPA) of 27.5 per cent salary increase.
As a result, all public primary and secondary schools in 25 states of the Federation were shut down. The school children were left to roam the streets.
The strike came as a result of some state governmentsâ€™ failure to honour the agreement reached on August 6, 2008 between the NUT and the Governorsâ€™ Forum led by Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State.
The handling of the NUT strike action by both Federal and state governments left much to be desired. While the former clearly stated that it was unconstitutional for it to give financial support to state governments on the implementation of the 27.5 per cent increase of teachersâ€™ basic salaries, state governors on their part cited the global economic meltdown as the reason for their inability to pay.
But the teachers were unconvinced. They argued that the agitation for the Teachers Salary Scale (TSS) predated the economic meltdown and that governments did not pay the enhanced salary package then. They remained adamant, forcing some state governments to pay the salary increase after the schools were shut for about six weeks.
Up till now, some state governments are yet to pay teachers the allowances. They only suspended the strike action after they were cajoled, intimidated or tricked into breaking the strike by their unconscionable governments.
These shortchanged teachers cannot be expected to put in their best in classrooms and the negative effect of this half-hearted discharge of their duties is enormous on the nationâ€™s education system. This also impacts disastrously on the Federal Governmentâ€™s Vision 20/2020, Education For All and the Millennium Development Goals as education is expected to play a key role in the attainment of these national and international goals.
The dust raised by the strike called by the NUT had hardly settled when the members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) gave the signal in May, 2009 of their readiness to cripple academic activities in all public universities (state and Federal) if government fails to sign the re-negotiated 2006 agreement which was a review of the 2001 government.
They made good their threat as they embarked on a two-week warning strike, from May 18-31, 2009. This short disruption of the university system was enough to destabilise the academic calendar of these universities as many of them were already running behind schedule.
So, many had thought that the Federal Government would act fast to nip the brewing crisis in the bud. But, nothing concrete was done before the expiration of the two-week warning strike and the ultimatum given by ASUU.
This led to the commencement of a total and indefinite strike action on June 22, 2009 at a time when the universities were in shambles occasioned by inadequate funding, infrastructural decay, brain drain and constant disruptions of academic activities through strikes.
It was not only ASUU that went on strike in the out-going year. The other unions â€” the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Related Institutions (NASU) â€” also battled the Federal Government, pressing for the signing of one agreement or the other which they allegedly reached with government.
The strike by these three unions in the university system lasted for four whole months, with the Federal Government demonstrating ineptitude in crisis management. While the previous negotiations with ASUU were centrally done, government later rejected collective bargaining, asking the unions to negotiate with their individual governing councils. But ASUU insisted on collective bargaining.
This created a crisis of confidence between them which led to the rejection of the initial 40 per cent and 20 per cent salary increase awarded to ASUU and other non-academic unions respectively. The head of government negotiation team, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode could not resolve the impasse until Comrade Adams Oshiomhole brokered peace.
ASUU eventually called off the strike after government reportedly signed the 2006 agreement, with government allegedly raising the salaries of the university teachers to about 53.5 per cent and that of the non-academic staff to 25 per cent.
The mother of all strikes has come and gone but both students and the nationâ€™s university education are still nursing its devastating impact as some universities lost a whole academic session, many graduating students were unable to go for NYSC as well as the inability of these universities to take in new entrants.
The polytechnic sector was not insulated from the crisis of strike that rocked the school system in 2009. Members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnics (SSANIP) also went on strike in protest against the alleged non-implementation of the Staff Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure (CONTISS) 15 amongst other demands.
However, the landslide victory of the sacked 49 Unilorin lecturers following the Supreme Court judgement, which ordered their reinstatement, came as soothing balm to those of them who are still alive as well as to ASUU which relentlessly fought for their cause since 2001 when their ordeal started.
But ASUU knows that the battle is not yet over as the authorities of the University of Ilorin have been allegedly foot-dragging in implementing the directive from the apex court in the land for the second batch of 44 dons.
To consolidate on the truce reached with ASUU, government needs to devote more funds to the university system and to ensure the successful implementation of the new 9-year Basic Education Curriculum in primary and Junior Secondary School both Federal and state governments must step up the on-going efforts at building the capacity of teachers nationwide. This is necessary because no educational system can rise above the level of its teachers.