By Sunny Ikhioya
ASUU has resumed duties, after six good months of lost mann hours, in productivity and other collateral damages, in the form of accidents and deaths. The losses cannot be quantified, for example; counterparts of final year students, in the private universities, are months into their National Youth Service programme.
Now that the strike is over, let us examine this ASUU – government relationship dispassionately, and in the process offer solutions, that, we hope, will help prevent future re-occurrence, that is; if heeded by all parties concerned.
The standard industrial relations structure comprises of three bodies; The government, The employer and The employee. Ideally, where(when) there is a dispute between the employer and employee, the government serves as the mediator but in cases, where government is the employer, like we have in ASUU, arbitration bodies are set up, and if these fail to work, the matter is referred to the industrial courts. Throughout the five months period of strike, we did not hear that any of these processes were activated. If, this was the case, it means that something is wrong with the way our system works.
Labour and Employer relationship is not all about fighting. In fact, the fewer the fights, the more productive the workers. It is important that, all parties realize the essence of a trouble free work calendar.
There is supposed to be an understanding of the facts on ground, as it affects the ability of the business to function, both on the side of the employer and employee. Under such conditions, it is the obligation of the employer to explain the challenges facing the business and how it affects the interest of the workers. Therefore, there must be effective communication between the employer and the representatives of the workers.
Clearly, this was missing in the relationship between government officials and ASUU. ASUU as a body, has intellectuals in its membership, convincing them to understand government’s inability to fulfil its obligations should not be a problem. Why was it difficult for government to lure ASUU to its side? My take on this, is that, there was no openness or sincerity of purpose on the part of government. If ASUU is convinced- with clear proofs – that government, from generated incomes, cannot meet its obligations, they would not have gone the extent they did, in calling for a strike action.
However, when government is engaged in open profligacy, channelling funds, that are meant for educational development, to frivolous projects, they are bound to face resistance. ASUU members have seen the colossus called, corruption and how it has taken over the country – pension funds, petrol subsidy, NCAA, oil thieves et al. They also know that if these wastes are halted, there will be enough fund to tackle the challenges of university education. If this is the situation, the government, should have negotiated with ASUU on the basis of their determination to tackle corruption, with clear action plans outlined and convincing enough to make the ASUU sheath its sword. Henceforth, government must be more forthcoming on the state of the economy and how income is allocated and managed. All forms of secrecy, that is associated with government’s management must be discarded. If you come open to ASUU, the association will be open to government. If both parties are truly convinced about government’s inability to perform, it will be fool hardy to engage in strike actions. I repeat, government must be open and sincere.
We have all been shouting about true federalism and the need to devolve power from the federal to the states; I find it very difficult to understand, why state universities should be dragged into a matter that is purely federal.
What is the relationship between state universities and the federal government’s inability to perform? It is not the responsibility of the federal government to run state universities. If state universities fulfilled their own part of the bargain, why not allow them run their programmes, like the private universities. I do not think, it is right, just as; it is not right for the federal government to fix remuneration for state employees. State governments, must begin to think of ways, to make their universities, truly independent. ASUU must not force states, to negotiate under the federal government conditions. In fact, the silence of the state governors, throughout the period of the strike, was disappointing. They saw it as the federal government’s burden, even opposition groups used it as a weapon against the federal government. We should know when to draw the line between politics and good governance.
ASUU on its part, has to show commitment. It must add value to the system. What has been its contribution to the enthronement of good governance? It is not only when matters affecting its welfare crops up, that it goes on strike. The association is made up of intellectuals, the beacon of hope to the masses, they should lead the way to a progressive society. They should be in the fore front to check the excesses of politicians, surely, the people need leadership in this direction.
ASUU must also begin to let their curricula reflect the needs of the Nigerian society. That is how it is done in developed societies. They must research and come up with solutions to the multitudes of problems besetting this nation. Curricula, that will make the students come out of the university and hit the ground running. There should be no lip service, a lecturer must be assessed solely on his contribution to research development, in his field of study.
These researches must also factor in, roles to be played by private businesses and governments. I believe, if the universities come up with viable research programmes, finding support and back ups will not be a problem.
It is important also, for universities to begin to think of ways of generating revenue internally. They could form consortium of consultants, present proposals and bid for jobs like their colleagues outside. As it is presently, it is not possible for government to satisfactorily meet the demands of our universities, those that cannot adjust to the present reality will surely lag behind. It is important that our universities brace up to these challenges.
In recent times, universities abroad teach students how to run their own business and even encourage them to start from school. In an MBA class at Wharton School, America, 75 percent of the students are entrepreneurs and self employed, adding real value to their environment. That should be our direction.
All parties – government, ASUU – must know their responsibilities henceforth, and not give room to avoidable strikes.
*Mr. Ikhioya, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Lagos.