December 9, 2013

ASUU’s political game and Nigeria’s university education


FOR the average Nigerian, it is always easy for the opposition political class to mislead him, saying that government has done nothing to improve his living condition. It is the same story for the average Nigerian non- governmental organisation, NGO. They thrive on criticising government, no matter how noble government’s actions are.

When in July 2013, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, embarked on a nationwide strike, they naturally got the sympathy of the ordinary Nigerians, students and NGOs, inclusive. But most Nigerians failed to consider the fact that they started that strike without following due process. That is, giving the Federal Government adequate notice.

As the strike continued, some discerning Nigerians began to pick holes in the unwholesome practices of the ASUU National President, Dr Nasir Fagge and his leadership. All they did was to prolong the strike without listening to any word of reason. It was as if they were struggling to break the record on the longest lasting strike. Fagge bestrode negotiation rooms like a despot seeking who to damage. He was like a blind driver of a cement-laden truck heading for the centre of the market. Of course, his articulated truck appeared to have lost control, hence it could no longer be brought under any form of control.

In essence, ASUU grew beyond the Nigerian State and its representatives. It is needless to talk about the overwhelming support from the one-sided Nigerian mass media. They were led, like other members of the society, to believe that there was only one side to the story. Therefore, it looked as if the Federal Government was fully intimidated by ASUU negotiators and the media to accept everything that the lecturers brought to the table. ASUU brought no compromise to the table, but ASUU could do no wrong.

The scales fell off the eyes of the students first and they refused to be deceived by the posturing of ASUU. The President of National Association of Nigerian Students, Yinka Gbadebo shouted at the roof tops, alerting Nigerians of the inordinate game the ASUU national leadership was playing against Nigerian university education system. As expected, the opposition mobilised its media machine to shut him up.

Next was a media pressure group, Media Development Initiative, MDI, which raised alarm on the unconventional negative techniques adopted by ASUU to unduly prolong the strike. The Media Director of MDI, Mr Martins Onyilokwu  urged Nigerians to rise up and challenge ASUU to respond positively to the good faith shown by the Federal Government. Of course, opposition paid hirelings controlling media outlets drowned the group’s words of reason.

After five months of rigmarole, ASUU has shocked the entire nation. The national leadership of the union has resolved to dishonour the decision reached by a referendum organised on whether or not the union should call off the strike. From what we heard, members voted 80percent to 20percent to call off the strike. To the dismay of Nigerians, a few hand-picked ASUU officials loyal to Dr Fagge met at his parent university, Bayero University Kano, where they resolved to take a decision that was alien to the generality of ASUU members. That is, give conditions to the Nigerian government in order to further prolong the strike.

As the issues stand today, ASUU should understand, as Bob Marley sang: you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. The truth travels slowly, but over time it overtakes propaganda and false stories. Those who always propagated the fallacy that ASUU does no wrong have seen clearly the present situation.

In every conflict situation, those in conflict agree to make compromises even as they continue fighting. By January, Syria and her rebels will hit the negotiating table. It does not mean any of the parties has been defeated. Agreeing to make compromises is not a sign of weakness. It is only a sign of courage. While the Federal Government continued back down on all its positions, ASUU remained rigid.

ASUU spurned all entreaties from the all levels of the Federal Government. President Goodluck Jonathan got personally involved and an agreement was reached with ASUU. This agreement was presented to ASUU members who supported President Jonathan. Now our brother, Fagge and his associates have brought another trick into this game, to destroy a process that went on smoothly, with government making all the required concessions.
Nigerians must begin to question the rationale behind ASUU’s games. What has ASUU brought to the table since the negotiations started? What positive changes should Nigerian students and parents expect from ASUU members who have been part of the academic rot that has bedevilled our country? Why should ASUU after reaching an agreement with the President resolve to throw up fresh issues to destabilise a nation full of expectations? Is ASUU above the national authority voted freely by the people to move the nation forward?

For those who play the ostrich, they have conveniently forgotten that Jonathan has developed the nation’s university sector more than ever before. Nigeria has 12 new universities up and running without ASUU’s distractions. Nine of these universities are in the North. One of  them located in Jigawa State, is close to Kano where ASUU’s National President, Dr Fagge is plying his trade.

Even though ASUU continued to dance to opposition tunes, the Federal Government last week released over N90billion to universities, polytechnics and colleges of education for the development of infrastructure. This has nothing to do with the agreed N1.2trillion agreed by President Jonathan.

Now to the crux of the matter. The firm decision of the Jonathan administration to rescue the nation’s university system by re-opening the schools, especially the Federal Universities, is a welcome one. Remember, the state universities have no business being in this strike, but the usual ASUU technique of grounding the system by embarking on sympathy strikes.

*Mr. Mohammed, A social critic, wrote from Abuja.