By Adekunle Adekoya
I am filled with trepidation at the omens which seem to indicate that the on-going strike by the Academic Staff of Nigerian Universities, ASUU, might outlive the Buhari administration. I am worried, and I am sure that fellow compatriots, especially those who have children in federal universities, are equally worried that their personal timelines in terms of committing resources to the education of their children and wards might also have been negatively compromised, due to faults that are not their making.
Earlier in the week, President Muhammadu Buhari verbally battled ASUU, accusing members of the union of aiding corruption in the universities. Our president used the occasion of an event, a summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Sector, jointly organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, and the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board, JAMB, to fire the salvo. Let me quote Mr. President:
“Incessant strikes, especially by unions in the tertiary education, often imply that government is grossly under-funding education, but I must say that corruption in the education system from basic level to the tertiary level has been undermining our investment in the sector and those who go on prolonged strikes on flimsy reasons are no less complicit.
“Government and stakeholders in the educational sector are concerned about the manifestation of various forms of corruption in the education sector. I am aware that students in our universities, for example, use different terminologies to describe different forms of corruption they experience on our campuses. There is sorting or cash for marks/grades, sex for marks, sex for grade alterations, examination malpractice, and so on.
“Sexual harassment has assumed an alarming proportion. Other forms of corruption include payroll padding or ghost workers, lecturers taking up full-time appointments in more than one academic institution, including private institutions, lecturers writing seminar papers, projects and dissertations for students for a fee, and admission racketeering, to mention only the most glaring corrupt practices.”
The above is the direct missile fired at ASUU by the president, and I must say that while some lecturers, ASUU members, have been found guilty of some of these misdemeanours, the onus is on ASUU as a body to prove that its members, indeed ALL of them, have been wrongly accused by the President.
The other issue which seemed ominous to me is the registration of two unions in the academic sector by the Federal Government, in what many people have seen as a bid to break ASUU’s ranks. The Congress of University Academics, CONUA, got its registration certificate from the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, and expectedly, leaders of the newly-registered union are upbeat about the development. In fact, the University of Benin, UNIBEN chapter of CONUA has asked its members to resume work as it has no dispute with their employers.
I personally see Mr President’s verbal attack on ASUU as an indication of a hard line adopted by him towards ASUU. He thinks the demands ASUU has made of government, which include commitment to productively fund the university sub-sector of our educational system, among others, are “flimsy excuses” to go on strike for.
I think not. The ASUU position, which does not need rehashing here, is solid, even though I think ASUU could have handled the situation better, such that whole academic calendars need not be destroyed.
That was why, in an earlier piece, I submitted that the physicists among ASUU’s ranks should apply the principles of quantum mechanics (which made people like Baruch Spinoza and Henry Margenau famous) to the components of the ASUU strike. Knock the particles together, repeatedly, note the results, and apply them as templates with which to engage the Federal Government.
Now ASUU has reacted by saying it will sue the Federal Government over registration of rival academic unions. By the way, the other registered union is NAMDA, the Nigeria Association of Medical and Dental Lecturers in Academics. When it carries out its threat, behind-the-scenes efforts to get ASUU call of the strike will be hamstrung by legalese.
Besides, the latest judicial pronouncement on the strike came from the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal, which urged the Federal Government and ASUU to settle issues out of court. With a president fronting a hardline mindset, how will this happen? There is still a window of hope. That is the engagement by the House of Representatives with ASUU leaders, after which a report was presented to Mr President.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila was upbeat that the ASUU strike would soon be called off as Mr President seemed amenable to their interventions. We are hanging on that. However, from the president’s attack on ASUU, and should he decide that Gbaja and co’s interventions are not good enough, we are in for a very long haul on the ASUU strike, and it’s long enough already. God help us!