According to (Enrinco Fermi, 1901-1954) an Italian theoretical physicist, “It is no good to try to stop knowledge from going forward. Ignorance is never better than knowledge”.
In the attempt of the Nigerian government to stop knowledge from going forward, it has consigned the university teachers to perpetually embark on strike because of its refusal to do what is right for the university education. So it has become a ritual for the lecturers in the universities to embark on strike at least once every year with some strikes lasting up to four months or more. University lecturers, under the aegis of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, usually embark on strikes over agitations for improved salaries, allowances and infrastructural development of universities.
The ongoing strike, which commenced on July 1, 2013, was as a result of an agreement government reneged on. The union adopted a resolution to go on strike after its NEC meeting at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State in June. Government’s response conveyed through the Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, was that it was working hard to resolve the impasse.
But ASUU National President, Dr. Nasiru Fagge, said Nigeria’s economy has been taken over by the Chinese as political leaders in Nigeria have refused to provide quality education to the people.
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Mr. Emeka Wogu, while presenting the scorecard of his stewardship to the leadership of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in Abuja, also said government was re-negotiating the 2009 agreement with ASUU to make it implementable. But ASUU said it will not suspend the strike until government fulfills its part of the agreement.
However, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) threatened to join the strike if the Federal Government failed to address the demands of the lecturers. The threat was issued by the President of the NLC, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, at the opening ceremony of the 2013 Rain School in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. Omar said, “We call on the Federal Government to have meaningful dialogue with ASUU with a view to implementing the agreement. Should these strike persist, workers of Nigeria will not hesitate to join them in solidarity.”
At the stakeholders meeting held in Lagos, the Joint Action Front, JAF (a body of civil society coalition and the trade union movement), in sympathy with ASUU, also threatened to mobilize for a mass protest if government failed to call the lecturers to negotiation table to resolve stalemate. In a statement by the Chairman and Secretary of JAF, Dr. Dipo Fashina and Abiodun Aremu, the body said preparations were in top gear to mobilize for nationwide mass protests.
While throwing more light on some of the issues at stake between the union and the government, a lecturer at the University of Abuja, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said ASUU was tired of government’s unwillingness and inconsistency on issues that affect university education in Nigeria. This lecturer said government is paying non-challant attitude to issues of university education in Nigeria because most of the people in government don’t have their children in Nigerian universities. According to him, some of the issues at stake between the union and government include Academic Earned Allowance, AEA, to be paid to lecturers for excess work load and allowance for supervision of post-graduate programmes. He said the highest AEA is N12, 500 per month and then wondered why it was difficult for government to pay such small amount when lawmakers take home millions of naira as Sallah and Christmas bonuses.
Some university students blamed government for the strike. Nanbal Panpe James, a final year student in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Jos, said government is not concerned about the welfare of lecturers and infrastructural development in universities because almost all the children of the people in government are not schooling in Nigeria.
Eric Dakwo, also a final year student of Mass Communication Department of UNIJOS, was not happy that the strike has temporarily put on hold his desire to graduate before the end of the year. He queried why the government is saying that it does not have money to honour its agreement with ASUU but the same government has money to lavish on frivolous things like payment of huge allowances to members of the National Assembly.
Comrade Morgan Anigbo, a veteran trade union leader and former acting General Secretary of the NLC, speaking on the way out of lecturers’ strikes, wants government to call for a conference on university education. According to him, until that is done, our educational system would continue to falter. He is of the view that government should have the political will to fund the universities and thus foster academic excellence among lecturers and students .I agree with Anigbo’s suggestion.
Tahir Hashim is a 400 level Mass Communication student of the University of Jos.