ASUU strike and the only way forward, By Dan Agbo

ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is again making shocking news headlines. It has embarked on  a “total and comprehensive” strike over similar age-old issues of university funding by the federal government.  

According to ASUU, “During the strike, there shall be no teaching, no examination and no attendance of statutory meetings of any kind in any of our branches.”

Specifically, the union is going on strike over outstanding issues with the federal government which nclude payment of fractions/non-payment of salaries; non-payment of earned academic allowances, non-release of operational license of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Commission (NUPEMCO); non-implementation of the provisions of the 2014 pension reform act with respect to retired professors and their salaries; removal of universities’ staff schools from funding by government and lack of funds for the revitalisation of public universities.

This is not the first time ASUU is going on strike over this similar issue. It downed tools for six months between July and December 2013 and suspended it following government intervention when it finally signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the union.

“Of all the items contained in the MoU, only the N200b out of a total of N1.3tr of the Public Universities Revitalisation (Needs Assessment) fund was released,” according to ASUU.

ASUU went on a one-week warning strike in November 2016 to demand the implementation of the 2013 MoU. The government did not implement the understanding reached between the union and the federal government.

Since then, it “had written several letters, press releases and communiqués on the outstanding issues to no avail”.ASUU therefore blamed the recent industrial action on “government’s insensitivity”.

Nigeria’s education system is in tatters, to say the least. Nothing is working there. Lecturers are hungry and angry. They trade grades for sex and money. Infrastructure is deplorable or absent. Students stand up or sit on windows to receive lectures in the short period schools are in session. When they graduate, there are no jobs for them because they are unemployable. They lack the requisite skills to be gainfully employed. This is the song sang by the poor and the led.

The rich and the leaders sing a different song. Their kids study abroad in Ivy League universities in Europe and America. Others attend schools in Malaysia or even Ghana. Yet, other remnants are scattered across various private universities, in the country, shielded from politically-motivated strikes and with outrageous fee structure that drive away the poor.

Recently, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) Senator Binta Garba said Nigeria spends over $2 billion annually.
Mr. Ike Onyechere, Chairman of Exam Ethics International had earlier revealed that Nigeria spends over N1.5tr on students studying abroad. He said Ghana gets N160 billion of these funds annually.

According to a 2010 report, Nigeria fuels the UK education sector to the tune of N246b. This figure was about 60 percent higher than the federal government’s 2012 education budget.

Again, the report said Nigerians studying in British and American universities spent over N137b on tuition and living expenses in two academic sessions in the period under review. The figure was 34 percent of the federal government’s allocation to the education sector for the same period.

In 2017, N448.01b was allocated to education, representing about 6 percent of the N7.30tr budget. Of the budget earmarked for education, N398.01b was allocated to recurrent expenditure and the balance of N50b was for capital projects. This provision contrasts sharply with the 26 percent minimum allocation to education, a benchmark recommended by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

From all indications, I think the government is responsible for the sorry state of our education system. One funny thing about this problem is that the government is not ready to solve it, ostensibly because they benefit from it. It allows them to give the “best” of education to their children, even if it means sending them to Ghanaian schools. The implication of this is that the rot is never cleaned. The situation continues to deteriorate and the poor continue to suffer.

As far as funding remains an issue in Nigerian universities, ASUU strike can never stop but the solution is simple. Our so-called leaders should be forced to stop sending their kids to study abroad. If this measure is not taken, the government will never be committed to education funding because it will not appreciate the decay in the system.

ASUU should put this forward as one of its demands and sponsor it as a bill in the national assembly. I know the legislature will undermine the bill but they will bow to public pressure to pass it into law because ASUU will be backed by the people. If this is not done, government’s insensitivity to the problems in the education sector will forever remain a chorus.

In the meantime, the government should as a matter of urgency dialogue with ASUU with a view to resolving all the contentious issues that triggered the ongoing strike. It is hoped that a common ground would be reached while the strike is called off to avoid further damage to Nigeria’s notorious education system.

Follow me on Twitter @daneagbo.
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