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ASUU vs FG: A national tragedy

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By Dele  Sobowale

0805-851-8305: Dele, Dele, Dele, how many times did I call your name? Devote your time, energy, and column to ASUU impasse! Let’s save our education now! — Olu

Numerous are the streams that lead to social prosperity, but all spring from the same source and that is public education —Gaspar Jovellanos, 1744-1811, Vanguard Book of Quotations, p. 46

BEFORE that text message from brother Olu, I had received some text messages requesting that I write on the ASUU/FG stalemate which has grounded our tertiary education in public universities while simultaneously providing those in private universities, whose education goes uninterrupted, with an advantage to which they are perhaps not entitled. Some of the messages accused me of neglecting the issue because my kids are schooling abroad.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. All my four girls, born in Nigeria, now graduates (computer science, medicine, civil engineering and law), attended universities in Nigeria and suffered the same deprivations as others each and every time government and ASUU closed down the schools. Incidentally, none of the ASUU leaders, if he taught in a private university, where unions are not allowed, would go on strike for any reason. Meanwhile, top government officials seldom send their kids to public universities.

So they have no stake in the outcome of strikes. There might be something for consideration in that observation. I had tried to evade the issue for three reasons which are interrelated.

National insanity
First is the demonstration of national insanity on display each and every time this happens; insanity being defined as doing the same thing over again while expecting a different result. Since the 1970s, or so when I first experienced, a national strike by the academic staff of universities, at least ten strikes of varying durations have been embarked upon – almost always for the same two broad reasons.

Salary/wage disputes and provision of conducive environment for teaching, research and learning have almost always closed the schools. One of my daughters required eight years to finish medical school which required no more than six since she did not repeat any class.

The second reason for my reluctance to get drawn into the problem is related to the origin of the problem itself. To the best of my knowledge, Nigeria is the only country in the world where all the public universities are closed at the same time on account of strike. And this is so because under the Gowon administration, in the 1970s, the military government seized control of the existing universities and created a monster called the visitor.

That creature of the military administration, which has no clone anywhere else in the world, is the head of state or president of Nigeria; he is also the “commander-in-chief of the universities.” His word is law in the universities throughout Nigeria, and he has absolute power. And as we know from Lord Acton, 1834-1902, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely”.

(Vanguard Book of Quotations, p.195). Almost right from the start, the absolute power given by decree to Nigerian leaders has produced the incessant strikes we experience. But, it has a helping hand.Centralisation of power by government in the office of the Visitor resulted in the creation of two monsters to counter it.

The first was Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU; the second was NASU, Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities. Suddenly, Nigerian universities which had previously enjoyed autonomy became hostages to three forces; each of whom could get the universities closed for any length of time.

Between those three “Made in Nigeria” institutions – the Visitor, ASUU and NASU – Nigerian public universities have probably lost the equivalent of five sessions since the nation took the wrong turn on the road under the military in the 1970s. And things have gone from bad to worse since then.

The third reason I have refrained for so long is related to a strong feeling about conflicts which had stayed with me for years. There are two dimensions to that feeling. One, the most difficult conflicts to resolve concern disagreements between two “rights or half-rights.”

It is easy to decide when all the facts support one side or the other. But, issues become complicated when the two have evidence to support their positions. Two, matters become even more complicated when one side or both reject mediation or arbitration from any quarters or when compromise is totally rejected by one party or the other. Mr Olu can observe from what has been written that the ASUU/FG disagreement is precisely at that point where neither party is prepared to negotiate or accept further mediation.

As the great current father of  Africa, Nelson Mandela had  observed,“If you don’t intend having c compromise, you don’t negotiate at all”. (Vanguard Book of Quotations ,p.171). Like all long drawn out wars in which the cease fire is turned down, a war of attrition follows. It is now a matter of who blinks first.

Ordinarily, one would have left the two parties to slug it out. Unfortunately, there is a third party involved in this tragedy – the student body of the universities. Like civilians caught in the war front, they get trampled upon by the warring parties without being able to lift a finger to save themselves. And nobody else seems to be able to help them either at least legally.

In fact trying right now to appeal to both sides in this great conflict ruining our nation’s future is worse than talking to a wall; it amounts to talking to two walls at the same time. Yet somehow, a solution must be found to this stalemate in the national interest.

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