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Trust the social media to make fun of everything. A foreigner was said to have asked a young Nigerian in the diaspora what ASUU meant since he often heard young Nigerians mention it. The young man said without hesitation that ASUU was the acronym for an organization which forces Nigerian Universities to close down constantly.

I thought it was a sucker punch because it rings so true. ASUU shuts down the Universities so often that the news of another ASUU strike now gets tucked down in a corner of mainstream newspapers.

It doesn’t cause the tremor it once did. And unknown to the union, every strike, often over pay and allowances, becomes an irritant to right thinking people and lowers the esteem an average Nigerian holds the union. If ASUU was the union of coal mine workers – I mean no disrespect – or people who rely more on brawn than brain to do their job, then one could perhaps understand the constant recourse to strikes because its leaders might not have the mental capacity to think things through, or to develop a plan B. But it is not. It is after all,the union of University dons, egg heads who are supposed to approximate the most cerebral in the society.

Apart from its main job of impacting knowledge into heads and minds of mostly young, eager students, its other day job is pushing the frontiers of knowledge and civilization through research.

A little research, and perhaps a little introspection on its part would have revealed that the cost of these incessant strikes has not been worth the gain. It is not also sustainable as a solution to the ASUU/Government conflict.

I will quickly give four examples among several why it is not a sustainable solution in my opinion. One is that the strikes are happening so often and at such insensitive and opportunistic times that sympathy for their cause has long changed to apathy and is gradually changing to antipathy. In case the nation has not noticed, this current strike is in its sixth month.

Which means in effect that the academic year is virtually gone. The union might negotiate to get paid for work not done during that period but the year is gone as a waste in the lives of the students. Nothing can bring it back. This is coming on the heels of COVID19 which shut down the world, including universities for an extended period. It would be hard for any parent who is having to cope with the pressure of restive youths in these difficult times, to feel any sympathy for the prolonged strike of ASUU whatever the cause.

Two, if the products of our public Universities are seen to be half-baked and unemployable,it is largely down to the constant strikes. Three, Nigeria has changed significantly from say twenty-five years ago. Nigeria is a much poorer country today and it simply can’t afford to shoulder the University bills alone even with the best of intentions. Four, just look around. There are more options now in the form of private Universities than there has ever been.

 It is time for ASUU to change tactics.

In changing tactics, it doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel. It just has to follow global best practices. Most successful Universities the world over do not rely a hundred per cent on their governments. Statistics show that many do not get above a third of their revenue from government.

The remaining two thirds have to be externally sourced. This entails a lot of planning, a lot of marketing and yes, a lot of internal discipline. There are grants out there for disciplined and productive universities. But unfortunately, the corruption within the University system in Nigeria is as bad, if not worse than what is outside.

A premier University which should be attracting foreign students and grants on account of its pedigree told the National Assembly recently that it could not send its audit report to the Auditor-General for eight years because its auditor was blind. (One would not expect such an insulting lie to come from a University. Much like the lie of a snake swallowing money that once came from sources in JAMB).Yet that University – and its union – feel entitled to annual financial allocations.

The era of Universities – and State Governments – going cap in hand to the center for money will soon be gone. Perhaps forever. The earlier everybody, including the Federal Government itself realized this, the better for all of us.

Nigeria has to start treating its Institutions as Business Units. This means that whoever is going to head any of those Institutions must have a business head and marketing skills to sell their products to the outside world. Fortunately, many Senior Lecturers decry the seeming politicization of ASUU and the resultant incessant strikes. Many want a saner, calmer climate. A Senior Lecturer I discussed with said angrily ‘Nigeria is a foolish country.

Think of how we are training Medical Doctors virtually free of charge only for them to run out of the country. A Professor of medicine told me that over 80% of his students have left Nigeria. ASUU doesn’t want the Government to charge more fees but wants a higher pay. ASUU has become part of the problem.

What does one make of its insistence that State Governments must pay whatever Federal Government is paying? What about our Vice Chancellors? Many are so corrupt that even the little grant they get is misappropriated. I really don’t know anymore. Our University system may be more corrupt than the Federal Government’.

Nigeria, and this includes ASUU leaders, needs people with the political will to overhaul this unproductive system to a more accountable and productive one. This is but a part of the restructuring song many across the country are singing. ASUU must meanwhile, be savvy enough to realise that its present attitude is likely to hurt its future almost as much as it is hurting the people. ASUU, like Nigeria, needs a change of direction.

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