BY DAYO ADESULU, AMAKA ABAYOMI & EBELE ORAKPO
…As parents, students differ on prolonged strike…
As the industrial action of Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU, entered its second month, former executive secretary, National Universities Commission NUC, Professor Peter Okebukola has stated that the NEEDS report justifies the demands of ASUU.
Okebukola who is a consultant to UNESCO and a visiting Professor at the Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia spoke at Albesta Academy graduation saying that many Nigerian universities are like glorified secondary schools when compared with other universities in the world. According to him, the lack of funds ravaging the sector speaks volumes of why none of our universities is ranked among the first thousand in the world.
“In the universities,we have challenges regarding teachers number and quality as large proportion of our lecturers do not have PhD. The Federal government committee on NEEDS assessments revealed that these deficiencies is prevalent in many universities.
On the implementation of the 2009 agreement, he urged ASUU to push the dialogue with the FG to a point where the government will have a firmer commitment to these issues.
“The union should take the dialogue to a point where they can extract firm commitment from the Federal Government and this can happen in two weeks if there are genuine political will from the government.”
Explaining the difference between ASUP and ASUU, Okebukola said the high level of human resources involved in the university system is higher than that of polytechnics.
To resolve the strike, Okebukola maintained that government should address the issues raised in the agreement.
“Government entered into six area agreement with ASUU, and one or two of the areas has been addressed. There are four outstanding which I think government should take steps to tackle. Government entered into what I called supplementary agreement, because there is one big agreement. That supplementary agreement was the MoU that states that government is going to do this and that.
“My view is that government should expedites action in all those areas that are still outstanding.
Moreover, if government had any challenge in implementing any of the agreements, they should have called on ASUU before now to explain reasons for defaulting and not to wait when asked.
But since government went to sleep after the agreement, the Union had no choice than to go on strike.
“I suggest that government should do its best to implement the signed areas. If it is clear to ASUU that there are some area that cannot be done immediately, ASUU and FG can reach a compromise that will define when such areas would be worked on.
“If government says it can afford N100b out of the N400b for now, let the machinery roll into that N100b. And have a firm pledge that at such and such a time the following will be redeemed.
Meanwhile, parents and students are divided as to which side of the warring parties to support.
Leading those opposing the ongoing strike is the President, National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, Comrade Yinka Gbadebo, who is pleading with the striking lecturers to return to the classrooms while negotiations are ongoing.
According to the NANS President, anyone conversant with the history of the ASUU strike would appreciate what the Union is fighting for but a major cause for concern is the lecturers abandoning the fight once their emoluments are paid.
“In as much as their cause is noble, but certain aspects of the agreements, like earned allowances and other emoluments have to be reviewed because they are outrageous. Which student doesn’t pay lecturers before getting their projects approved? Most of them still lecture with 1950 textbooks while others come to lecture two weeks before examinations. All these question their request for improved allowances,” Gbadebo said.
Also opposed to the strike action is a 400-level Political Science undergraduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, Wale Akinola, who said the strike would prolong students’ stay in school and limit their chances of get employment.
“The longer we stay here, the lesser our chances of being gainfully employed because most blue chip companies prefer to employ graduates not above 25 years, but how do they expect us to graduate before that age if ASUU continues with its incessant strikes?”
In the same vein, the Principal, Kings College, Lagos, Otunba Dele Olapeju, and an educationist, Mrs. Arinola Oyegunwa, both opposed to the strike, tasked ASUU to be scientific in its approach to getting government to listen to them.
“Though they claim to be fighting for improved academic environment but we know that all these would end once money exchanges hands. It is the students that are suffering as most of them would take to crime and prostitution,” they said.
Not just opposed to the strike, some of the respondents who spoke to Vanguard Learning, suggested alternatives other than strike which ASUU can use in getting government committed to its end of the bargain.
Comrade Gbadebo said the greatest weapon ASUU can employ is gaining the confidence of students to fight their cause.
“I believe the fight for reviving the varsity system should be done by students, especially if these lecturers would stop victimising and rusticating student activists from schools. Also, govern-ment can honour other aspects of the agreement except the lecturers emoluments while mechanisms can be set in place to monitor the disbursement of developmental funds.”
Another option, according to Akinola of OAU, is for ASUU to get the Senate to pass a law that would compel all public officers, the executive and legislative office holders to send their children for undergraduate studies in Nigeria and only send them for postgraduate studies abroad if they so desire.
“If their children have to go to university here, our leaders won’t play politics with the education sector.”
A senior lecturer, Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos, Dr. Douglas Anele, opined that varsities be given the requisite capacity to mount viable academic programmes which can generate additional revenue so as to reduce the over dependence on government funding.
“NUC’s overbearing stance in this regard is suffocating. For instance, why must NUC compel a solid, upwardly mobile institution like the University of Lagos to stop its evening programme at a time many people are benefiting from it?”
Supporting the striking lecturers, a parent and the Managing Director of AugustMoon Plastics Limited, an Ibadan-based educational materials production company, Mr. Ajibola Olatoye, said the strike is for the betterment of the varsity system and called on both parties to meet half-way.
“For the study environment in varsities to be improved, education should be massively funded by government. One of the ways in resolving this is for government and ASUU to meet half-way and share the financial burden. Let government take up tuition while parents pay for accommodation and books.”
Agreeing with him is the Medical Director, Pinecrest Specialist Hospitals, Lagos, Dr Omadeli Boyo, who added that lecturers themselves should have a peer review mechanism in which the varsity system is able to assess lecturers.
“ASUU should put in motion internal mechanisms to ensure that government is reminded of these agreements and when they are flouted, they should take pages in the papers and draw the attention of the general public to the problems.”
For Mrs. Kate Oragui, whose son is a 200 level engineering student at the University of Lagos, the strike is in order because it is better to have students on the streets than on the campus learning ignorance
“Strike is the only language government understands and though I’m not happy that my son is at home, but it is for the general good of the students and the nation as a whole- because teaching ignorance to this generation is more deadly.”
Calling for the continuation of the strike, 400-level medical student, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Akinwunmi Ayeni’s opinion sums it all.
He said he is not fazed by the fact that he may end up spending more years in school than the stipulated six years for his course.
“The state of facilities and educational resources in most institutions of higher learning are in shambles and this is made worse by our being so fixated on short term goals.
“If I have to spend two more years to acquire quality education, so be it because I know my certificate and knowledge would be at par with what’s obtainable in other climes.”