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Avoiding total collapse of the Ivory towers

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By Adewale Kupoluyi

NIGERIAN public universities remain desolate since June 22 when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other unions embarked on strikes, as their last options, to agitate for better welfare for their members and improved working environment.

In what appears to be a way out of the quagmire, the Adams Oshiomhole team, leading the Federal Government delegates tried to broker peace with the leadership of ASUU after weeks of deadlock.

The inability of the Federal Government team to find a lasting solution to the stalemate is a serious indictment as custodians of public trust. While the nation anxiously awaits the government to seize the opportunity afforded by the coming together of erstwhile warring faction, it is now a case of one step forward, ten steps backward. Apart from universities, other sectors of the economy are crippled by one strike or the other.

The spill-over effects of these avoidable strikes have been a tale of woes and regrets as virtually all the stakeholders have been counting their losses. The hopes of parents and students for early resolution of the crisis and resumption for serious academic work were dashed.

Calling the bluff of other staff unions in the university such as the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) by the government’s refusal to go into meaningful  negotiation was a costly fallacy of the highest order.

Government has allegedly described the other strikes (except ASUU’s) as “opportunists’ strikes”. The onslaught is that the three unions are latching on ASUU strike for their own agitation.

The import of selective agreement with just ASUU at the expense of others is a failed attempt to further polarize and fractionize the university system. Regrettably, the recent action by the Federal Government is a clear manifestation of insincerity, insensitivity and insult to the collective intelligence of the system.

SSANU, NASU AND NAAT have directed their members to commence strike. Nurses, doctors, accountants, engineers, administrators, radiographers and others, performing strategic functions in the administrative capacity were asked to stop work.

Comrade Promise Adewusi, Chairman of the Joint Unions, lamented that “since we (Joint Unions) have been called idiots and called names, by this pronouncement, we are withdrawing all the concession we had given”.

Before now, the three unions, under the aegis of Joint Unions had demonstrated high level of patriotism and maturity by ensuring that the university system did not collapse by providing skeletal services.

It is the bitter truth that the government has always been the apostle of the polarization and fractionalization that have done a lot of damage to the very fragile system. Recently, the government announced a 40 per cent salary increase for ASUU members while other unions got 20 per cent, thus, giving the impression that they are more important and superior in the system.

The seeming perpetual mistrust and distrust that exists between the academics and non-teaching staff in the university system arose from the fact that in the early years of the university, academics performed administrative functions along with their traditional functions of teaching and research but the phenomenal growth which the university had witnessed over the decades naturally resulted in the emergence of a corps of career administrators.

Disparities among all cadres of staff in the university have been of great concern in terms of emolument, remuneration, appointments, privileges and constitution of governing councils. Apart from government appointees, council members are dominated to academic staff.

It is instructive to state that academics in the system are not better than their non-teaching counterparts in terms of intelligence and qualifications, as it were. In fact, many non-teaching staff possess doctorate degrees while not a few academics still battle with theirs until the National Universities Commission gave them a marching order. Being in academics is a matter of choice. Simple.

Therefore, government must go extra length to pacify the sidelined unions by going into meaningful dialogue and, if possible, put a hold on implementing any agreement it has reached with ASUU for the sake of peace and progress. The national leadership of ASUU also shares this position.

The National President of ASUU, Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie who was aware of the consequences of the disposition of the government towards resolving the impasse with other unions, warned that if ASUU crisis was settled only, more problems will be created.

Awuzie advised that all the grey areas should be ironed out “to quickly resolve the dispute with the other unions in the universities so that when we return, we shall have a university”.

As an issue of topmost national priority, what the government should urgently do is to put in place, measures that will bridge the gap of disparities and foster enduring policies, which will make Nigerian universities to attain enviable global ranking among universities. Government should be more pro-active in crisis management.

One does not need a soothsayer or prophet before telling what will happen if the Joint Unions carry out their threat to make the universities unbearable and un-conducive for any academic work. What obtains now is just graveyard silence.

The nation cannot afford a total collapse of its ivory towers by allowing all the staff unions to embark on this strike which is likely to be mother of strikes. It must be halted!

Mr.  Kupoluyi  writes from the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State.

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