By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
As Nigerian university students remain shut out of their classrooms as a result of protracted and frustrating strike embarked upon by lecturers, ActionAid Nigeria, AAN, Monday, moved to mobilize religious organsations, students’ unions, trade unions, Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, join the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to press government for better university system.
Speaking during a press conference organised by AAN with theme ‘The Incessant ASUU Strike in Nigeria’ held in Abuja, the Country Director, AAN, Ene Obi, made the call to various stakeholders to see the need to ensure government meet the needs of ASUU in the interest of nation building and giving Nigerian students a sense of belonging.
Obi also lamented that despite the enormous resources God has endowed Nigeria, the university system has been in shambles over the years as a result of corruption, and pointed that education is the greatest asset any government can give to the people and to stand tall in the comity of nations.
She also said a senior lecturer who is a professor receives N300, 000, and pointed that the impact of protracted strikes is not reduced to only the university system, but also affects the entire spectrum of society.
According to her, ASUU has embarked on numerous strikes since the late 1980s, the frequency of the strikes has increased in the last two decades. The previous strike action was in 2020, and it lasted for nine months, a period equivalent to a whole academic session.
She also recalled that from 1999 when Nigeria transitioned to democracy, to 2020, university teachers have gone on nationwide strikes 16 times, covering 51 months. This excludes strike actions declared by local branches of ASUU over local disputes, some of them lasting several months.
She said: “The current strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities began on the 14th of February 2022. Initially, the industrial action was a limited warning strike scheduled to last four weeks.
“The strike action was extended for two months following the federal government’s inaction. This was further extended on the 14th of May 2022 for another twelve weeks. Following this extension, the strike might last up to five months if no urgent action is taken to address the issues in contention.
“While other countries are focused on research and seeking advanced technologies to improve quality and access to education for not just their citizens but the world at large, it is disturbing that Nigeria is still left behind in the attainment of the SDG4 and has been tossing the ball on issues of salaries and infrastructure for decades; in a democratic society, this is unacceptable.
“It is against this backdrop that ActionAid Nigeria joins Nigerian youths, their parents, and communities to demand: The Federal Government to show genuine commitment to improving the quality of education in Nigeria by promptly implementing the 2020 FGN/ASUU Memorandum of Action (MoA).
“The Federal Government should declare a state of emergency on education to rebuild it and ensure that the children of the poor get quality education.
“The federal government should convene a National Conference on University Education in Nigeria. The conference should draw participants from all segments and interest groups in the country. The essence is to have a comprehensive conversation on our universities’ state and the way forward.
“We call on all patriotic Nigerians, including students’ unions, trade union bodies, civil society organisations, political parties, private sector and religious institutions, to join ASUU’s call for the revitalisation of the universities and demand that the Federal government takes urgent steps to end the strike.”
However, she (Obi) also made it known that, “We have not engaged ASUU, for us we work on social justice to end poverty, the vulnerable is quiet affected here; the children of the poor are at home. If anything happens in US, Europe and others Nigerians are there, and if they are affected it will definitely impact Nigerians including students, but if the university system is working well like those abroad nobody will send their children abroad.
“We need to interface with ASUU to also look at their issues and I take it as a way forward as well. We have been calling on ASUU but now we are calling on government to leave the stage better.”