By Aladesohun Sola

On the fourteenth of February 2022, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) again dared the Federal Government by declaring a four-week warning strike having waited to no avail for the latter to act. No sooner had the four weeks elapsed than it extended it for another eight weeks, apparently to enable both parties to have enough time to work on the dispute. It was a decision that sent delicious shivers down students’ spines and left them more flummoxed than frustrated. Monitoring the series of meetings that took place between ASUU and the Federal Government, this writer already saw the straw in the wind, and so braced up for the nasty shock.

​It beggars description how the Federal Government has maltreated ASUU and dragged its feet since 1998 over the full implementation of the agreements duly entered into with the union. It is sad, also, to realize that the word ‘strike’ has become a household name in Nigerian higher institutions ever since ASUU was established. ASUU has been browbeaten and blackmailed many times by the Federal Government. The union is battle-scarred. Banned and unbanned; bandied about to the point that one wonders if ASUU is a cartel, sole proprietorship or rudderless organization.

​We commiserate with ASUU, which has been turned to a football kicked around on the Federal Government pitch by supposedly university degree holders who should have proffered lasting solutions to the age-long plight of lecturers. The government’s chicanery,rhetoric, fudge and insincerity in the present negotiations with ASUU must stop if the Federal Government wants to win plaudits for itself. Government should, for the sake of national pride, show commitment to implementing many of ASUU’s major agreements. The good news, however, is that present-day ASUU has strengthened its union with formidable and uncompromising leaders like Professor Biodun Ogunyemi and the current president, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke.

​The Federal Government has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of commitment to handling the situation whereas the maturity displayed by ASUU is quite impressive. Before declaring the latest warning strike, ASUU shilly-shallied and explored every means within its capacity to avert the strike. ASUU is a union guided by conscience, reason and humanity.

 It respectsthe feelings of the teeming population of university students it nurtures. The futures of Nigerian students, the revitalization of Nigerian universities, amongst others are its major concern. It is on record that ASUU, in its bid to avoid the academic disruptions normally caused by strikes, ensured that scores of clerics under the aegis of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria interfaced with the Federal Government in order to avert the latest strike. It also met with parents, traditional rulers, Labour Union and many other relevant stakeholders who prevailed on the Federal Government to honour the agreements reached with it – all to no avail.

​ASUU-FG’s face-off is a battle of number—many(lecturers) versus few (Ministers and director generals)— and acting as a referee is the Commander-in-Chief, who demands fair play from both sides. In my encounter with students who say they are negatively affected by the strike, I am told that President Buhari is solely to blame for ASUU’s strike. Some say Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba i.e., the Minister of Education for State,should be blamed. For others, it is the Minister of Education and that of Labour and Employment whereas the vice-president is never mentioned. When I ask themwhy President Buhari, their response is unfriendly, but I try as much as possible to educate them.

​ASUU’s problems lie with special bodies set up by President Buhari. The Minister of Labour and Employment (Dr. Chris Ngige) and that of Education (Adamu Adamu) are to work closely with these bodies. The Minister of Labour and Employment doesn’t playany financial role other than act as a conciliator in the dispute between ASUU and the Federal Government. The Minister of Education, on his own part, is a facilitator believed to lack the goodwill of achieving a consensus on sensitive issues like those of ASUU.

​The following first three bodies, which are answerable to President Buhari, play crucial roles in matters relating to funds in Nigeria: Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), Budget Office of the Federation (BOF), the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and Planning (FMFB&P), the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) and the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). They are expected to implement ASUU’s demands. FME is concerned with regulating the quality of education in Nigeria by demanding that competent lecturers are integrated into the university system. It also handles issues like lack of laboratories, equipment, facilities, etc. and award of unmerited, numerous first-class honours in the universities. At the moment Nigeria does not need new universities when the existing ones are grossly underfunded and shabbily treated.

​Furthermore, FME collates data needed to plan the funds allocated to education. On its own part, BOF in the Ministry of Budget and Planning oversees budget implementation, prepares Executive budget and monitors budget whilst NITDA, under the leadership of Kashifu Adbullahi Inuwa, is crucial in enhancing thesustainability of ASUU’s University Transparency Accountability System (UTAS), a payment platformsuggested by the union to replace the Federal Government’s IPPIS. NITDA shouldn’t see this acronym called UTAS as an ‘anachronism’ that hasfailed integrity tests. It is these Ministries headed by university graduates that are stumbling blocks ASUU, making Nigerian university lecturers victims of thestudents they once taught.

​No sane president of a nation will allow the education sector of his nation to collapse under his watch. President Buhari’s official duty is not to handle industrial dispute; he only acts on the information supplied him by the ministries he puts in place to deal with matters relating to education. If the DirectorGenerals of the ministries seek the president’s consenton the implementation of ASUU’s demands, it is assumed that the country has the funds and resources. Before giving his approval, the president may want to know if the ministries mean well or not for the economy, are thinking outside the box or not, making sense or mistakes. Consequently, he summons his advisers, chief of staff, the Minister of Finance and other relevant individuals for a closed door meeting.

​In conclusion, ‘The road to hell’, they say, ‘is paved with good intentions’. The Federal Government shouldfully implement major agreements reached with ASUU. To protect the futures of Nigerian students, government needs to strike strike off ASUU’s dictionary. Moreover,NANS and other aggrieved individuals should erase their sentiments, stay away from propaganda and picketing and laud ASUU for its patriotism and appreciate government for engaging in peaceful negotiations with ASUU. In a case where governments are short of funds, some blue-sky thinking is required. But then, to avoid questioning eyebrows from the Federal Government and general public, I would rather ASUU prioritized morality and financial rectitude. 

 Aladesohun Sola writes from Port Harcourt

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.