FOR the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU and other unions in the Nigerian tertiary education system, strikes have become almost annual rituals and culture since the end of the 1970s. Everybody who has gone through our public-funded university system suffered varying degrees of academic disruptions that negatively affected life during and after school.
Almost like a thief in the night, ASUU last Sunday, declared yet another round of strikes after its National Executive Council, NEC, meeting at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, FUTA, Ondo State.
This time, apart from the old issues of poor funding of the universities and the Federal Government’s failure to honour the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, it signed with the Union way back in 2009, ASUU is also kicking against the suspected plan to price education beyond the reach of the poor and establish an Education Bank, according to Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, its President.
ASUU decided to resume “a total and indefinite strike” which it suspended about a year ago in September 2017, “having waited patiently for action and meaningful negotiation with reasonable men using the principle of collective bargaining”.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government met the commencement of the strike with the wrong attitude and lame narrative of blaming the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s regime for failing to honour an agreement (of providing N1.3trillion funding to the universities it signed in 2009) when “Nigeria was experiencing an oil boom”.
This narrative is wrong on two grounds. In 2009, oil prices hovered between $53.48 and $60.91 compared to the present when oil prices were between $65 and $75 for most of 2018. Secondly, ASUU is unlikely to be impressed by a reference to the past as it does not address the government neglects of today, and the proposed hike of tuition fees and establishment of an education bank. The truth is that the Federal Government, down the ages, has never been a respecter of agreements. It has never taken the need to fund the educational system adequately as a serious proposition. This is why ASUU keeps going back to its strike option. This must change. ASUU’s struggle is patriotic and for the public good. It is a struggle to restore the glory of the Nigerian university system and ensure it remains an inclusive sector for all.
We, however, plead with ASUU to reduce the frequency of these strikes. The annual disruptions of the academic calendar add to the woes they are fighting against. It is the same common man they are fighting for that hurts the most. Politicians and top government officials can afford to send their children abroad or to expensive private universities here.
Both sides should be ready to budge when they negotiate.