By Douglas Anele
AT the national secretariat of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), one can access documents detailing the history of the unionâ€™s activities, particularly with regard to its attempts through strike actions to compel unwilling governments to enhance the welfare packages of lecturers and improve the funding for university education.
Apart from strikes, ASUU had organized the 1984 and 2002 national conferences which provided a platform for academics to contribute ideas and strategies to further our national development. Thus, historically speaking, ASUU, whose members are important stakeholders in the Nigerian Project, has always been sensitive to the need for academics to contribute meaningfully to the country.
It is pertinent to point out here that ASUU evolved from the Nigerian Association of University Teachers (NAUT) in 1978, the year which marked the beginning of the decline in the oil boom. The decline in question was the cumulative effect of the failure of Nigerian military rulers and their civilian collaborators to make intelligent use of the huge revenue from crude oil exports to bolster industrialization, wealth creation and social welfare for the citizens.
Consequently, as the years go by, members of the union, and Nigerians in general, look up to it to provide reasoned constructive engagement with the federal government and render intellectual leadership in the struggle to create a just, equitable and progressive society.
The principal foci of NAUT were the improvement of the condition of service for lecturers and enhancement of the socioâ€“economic well-being of the country.
At inception ASUU retained the same orientation of its predecessor. However, due to the corrosion of university autonomy and academic freedom by military dictators, ASUU, from the 1980s, became radicalized: its focus shifted to broad national issues. The union concentrated more on confronting the oppressive, authoritarian and anti-people policies of the government.
Presently, ASUU has not renounced any of the fundamental agenda it inherited from NAUT. Nevertheless, due to its fixation with indefinite strikes which have done a lot of damage to the morale of both lecturers and students, and to the quality of teaching and learning in our universities, many Nigerians consider ASUU as a strike-intoxicated union.
Worse still, some uncharitable people describe the union as a strike or aluta machine. This negative perception of ASUU, although seemingly justified by the unionâ€™s incessant resort to indefinite strikes in recent years, should be corrected so that it can regain the respect and trust of Nigerians in its effort to enhance the quality of university education in the country.
In this connection, as a loyal but critical member of the union, I wish to make some observations and propose a few ideas about how ASUU can achieve a positive or progressive paradigm-shift in its quest for improved welfare system for lecturers and quality education in the universities.
For starters, the leadership of ASUU and, indeed, all the members of the union, must recognize that no matter the validity and legitimacy of its demands from pachydermatous governments, frequent indefinite strikes areÂ ultimately incapable of promoting qualitative teaching and learning in the universities, because of their disruptive effects on the university system.
The usual trite argument in support of strikes is that all the benefits which accrued to the universities in the last two decades or so were derived from strikes. This view, apart from being strictly incorrect, is disingenuous and unhelpful.
Yes, various administrations have given some concessions, through agreements, to ASUU with respect to salary increases and funding for selected projects.
But the price paid for these concessions, in terms of the unnecessary prolongation of academic programmes, low morale and the fire-brigade methods adopted by universities to complete academic sessions, is really very serious.
This is why I have been calling for a well-planned research by the union to ascertain comprehensively the consequences of prolonged recurrent stoppages of teaching on all the stakeholders in university education – students, lecturers, parents, guardians, employers of labour and others. More specifically, the research should painstakingly document the effects of strikes on the quality of academic work in the universities.
I do not understand why ASUU has not considered it wise to implement such a research programme. As I argued sometime ago, research is fundamental in the job of lecturers, because it is the only means whereby new knowledge can be generated on a sustainable systematic basis.
Therefore, the present state of ignorance and confusion about the effects of strikes should be replaced with wellâ€“founded knowledge on the issue to guide future decisions on strike or other measures to adopt in dealing with the problems of funding, autonomy and remuneration.