By Ovie Azigbo
IN his media chat with a team of journalists in September this year, President Goodluck Jonathan declared his government’s commitment to end the logjam with the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, by effecting the changes demanded by the lecturers. This followed an earlier directive to the Federal Government’s negotiating committees, the Universities Needs Implementation Committee and the Earned Allowances Committee, to take immediate action to end the ASUU strike.
Chairman of the needs committee, Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State, told journalists after a meeting held by the President with the committees, “The President has instructed us as to what to do, and has shown commitment to flagging off projects worth about N100 billion in all the Universities in the country! About 61 of them. He gave assurance that the lecturers would call off the strike in no distant time.
Several months after those assurances were given, the funds are yet to be released. Investigations at several universities indicated that no one has received a dime. A vice chancellor spoken to said, “The Federal Government has only sent us a memo through the Ministry of Education that we are getting N650 million of the fund. When we get alert into the University’s account we will know how sincere the government is. But presently, we are yet to receive the money.”
So far no university has confirmed the receipt of its share of the N100 billion. This translates to insincerity on the part of the Federal Government. The ongoing ASUU strike is not based on fresh demands by the lecturers. They are, on the contrary, demanding the implementation of an agreement it signed with the union in 2009 on the proper funding of the country’s public universities. In that agreement government negotiators agreed with ASUU on the needs assessment of the universities and agreed to release money for its implementation.
The situation was aggravated when the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala, declared in a key-note address at this year’s National Council on Finance and Economic Development, in Minna, Niger State, that the nation’s economy cannot for now, accommodate the demands of the striking lecturers. She said, “At present, ASUU wants government to pay N92 billion in extra allowances over and above their salaries. Though we are in discussion with them, the problem is that the resources to take care of the demands are simply not there.”
It should, however, be noted that the intellectual quality of the Nigeria graduate is a direct reflection of the academic standard of the universities. Only recently, it was alleged that many National Youth Service Corps members cannot write application letters. A state government official lamented in her office recently that corps members posted to her department, who were graduates of statistics, could not interpret figures.
Examples abound everywhere. The bottom line is that academic standards in the nation’s universities have fallen to an all time low. Facilities are over-stretched and grossly inadequate. Libraries and laboratories are ill equipped. The lecturers are not provided with the funds for researches. In the face of all these challenges, the falling standards in the universities, as reflected in the poor quality of the graduates, are often blamed on the lecturers. That is, perhaps, why they are insistent that Nigerian universities must be made to compete with those in other parts of the world.
It is not enough for government to claim that the strike is politically motivated. This is no time to play the ostrich. If government says it has released N100 billion for the upgrade of facilities in public universities, then the money should be made valuable to them. Since President Jonathan has assured that his government is committed to effecting the desired changes in the universities, then he must be seen to do just that. The people need to have confidence in their president. Telling ASUU that they should not expect him to close down other sectors solve their probe overnight, could be seen as fueling an already inflammable situation. All that is needed now is sincerity on the part of government.