By VICTOR ECOMA
The very distinguished British jurist, Lord Denning gave a legal definition of strike as a phenomenon of employment relationship with set objectives of improving wages of workers or conditions of employment, terms of employment or conditions of work.
He further maintained that it is failure of collective bargaining that justifies workers resort to industrial action. I am not writing to champion the position of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, already well established by its President, Professor Osodeke.
I write as an Anthropologist and a Fellow of its world body, RAI, London with professional obligation to advise government on actions with severe national consequences such as “No work, no pay”, known as suspension theory.
The no work, no pay maxim drawn from Trade Dispute Act Vol.15 CAP T8 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 was aimed at discouraging industrial actions by workers. The law did not take cognizance of workers who on resumption must go back to deal with the work load left undone for the period of a strike.
This is the case with the operation of the university system. Yes, time is lost in relative terms but the backlog of work still remains and has to be done if post-strike progress must be made. Nevertheless, all laws have their sociological dimensions of which the enforcer considers the characteristics of its context in terms of what the society stands to lose or gain on its implementation.
Even if all the universities resume and the Federal Government goes ahead to hold down all lecturers salaries the Nigerian society will be worse for it. The quality of teaching and learning will continuously decline on the part of lecturers and students, the economy will falter and national problems will aggravate.
The Federal Government’s rating on standards of living by the United Nations and the World Bank will further worsen as economic indicators will slide downwards. The ASUU strike is neither about Mr. President nor his Ministers, all of whom would vacate their offices someday. It is also not about the present academics who would retire at 65 or 70 years.
It is essentially about building a solid university education system for the country as a catalyst for national development. ASUU will always strive to raise the bar for quality university education, Federal Government’s resources will always be scarce and limited to meet the needs of all sectors, and ASUU members as intellectuals are not unmindful of this. So, the meeting point is continuous engagement, with sincerity of purpose and the application of critical thinking on what is of prime national importance not posturing.
The historiography of ministerial appointments shows that from 1960 to present 51 ministers have been appointed in 62 years, therefore the average stay in office of each minister is one year and a few months. It is quite chequered for sustained planning. In all, only 12 professors, as critical stakeholders and knowledge base of university education, were appointed and only two of them had full tenure of four years. It is only in this dispensation that there is tenure stability in the education sector which is quite commendable.
The major difference between advanced countries and developing countries is the quality of adult workforce which is the result of educational standards responsible for higher income earnings and the income per capita. It will be completely out of scheme for a developing country like Nigeria with a Third World economic indicator of low GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to contemplate seizing workers salaries.
Low GDP simply means that there is always the possibility of recession which implies that workers in the formal and informal sectors stand the risk of being laid off at any time. There is high rate of unemployment, declining businesses, revenues, consumer spending and salaries of workers. GDP measurement is determined by what everyone earned and added up to what they spent in a year.
What workers earn and spend is a crucial part of GDP determinant. If a government chooses to seize the salaries of all university lecturers in the country there will be a big drop in consumer spending ending in economic shock with severe consequences for standards of living and possible recession.
One of the major ways President Muhammadu Buhari tackled the country’s recession in 2015 was the bail out funds granted to states to enable them pay salaries of workers. The university lecturers who had part payments prior to his coming got their salaries fully paid. There is a very strong relationship between what workers earn and spend to a nation’s standards of living.
Nigeria’s Human Development Index, HDI, of 0.539 as ranked by the United Nations is low; so also its Gross National Income, GNI. The two indicators are useful in determining the levels of individual human development in a country and are dependent on average annual income and educational expectations for its ranking and comparisons.
HDI was designed to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country not economic growth alone. GNI per capita is a way to look at a country’s income divided by its population that is the amount of money earned per persons in a country. The World Bank index on this is not favourable to Nigeria at all.
Nigeria’s huge population of over 200 million and one of the largest youth populations in the world certainly will be a problem for any developing country’s government to handle in terms of adequate provisions for jobs, health and education. Rapid population growth is the product of high birth rate arising from lack of education, especially for girls and women.
As a result rapid population growth outpaces government provisions, human capital investments causing poverty and insecurity to take over. Lee Kuan Yew in his book, From Third World to First observed that their 1960’s policy on “Stop at Two” which was criticized at that time was instrumental to bringing population growth down without which they would not have solved unemployment and schooling problems.
He further stated that the better-educated would have fewer children and the less-educated would have four or more. There may be a lesson from this.
It is not known if Federal Ministry of Education has valuable data on university students in terms of who they are, a sort of data bank from questionnaires such as (a) average age of entry and graduation from universities (b) financial sources for training (c) socio-economic class of their parents (d) do they have financial support such as scholarships, study loans, bursaries, meal subsidies etc. Such data from questionnaires will be useful in planning the development of the Nigerian university education and life after studies for students.
If the university education is prioritized and well developed it will attract quality talents from across the world which is a critical asset for national development. Top rate scholars may want to take up employment, sabbatical and research programmes. Foreign students will be attracted to study in Nigeria the same way Nigerians go overseas to study.
If Nigeria wants to be globally competitive in the 21st century knowledge industries inbound foreign talents are crucial to the education sector in driving developments just the same way we attract foreign engineers and managers for our technological projects and industries. If we don’t get our educational development right we would be ready prey to foreign universities regardless of their quality, permanently dependent on foreign expertise, importation of machineries and the spare parts.
I state unequivocally there is nothing wrong about any Nigerian student going overseas to study in a recognized university. What is important is for the government to create the enabling environment to attract a lot more of them to come back after their studies to contribute to national development.
If a country continuously looses its better-educated population to emigration such a country will never develop, that is the ugly side of brain drain. I must commend the efforts of Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa on getting the Nigerian Diaspora to look inwards. Lee Kuan Yew stated that his decisions were guided by national data and statistics. I hope this researched article guides the federal government on the national consequences of withholding university lecturers’ salaries.