Opinion

The suspended ASUU strike

By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

The last ASUU strike which commenced February 14th was suspended October 14th following an Industrial Court order. Almost all affected universities have suspended the strike. Lectures and exam timetables have been released by the different universities. Lecturers have grudgingly gone back to the classroom. I taught a postgraduate class last Thursday. Morale was low both on the side of students and on my part. The students are back, yes. Some are yet to shake off the lethargy of eight idle months. Indeed, some are yet to return.

Generally, the campuses are busy. Food vendors are back. Resumption of academic activities has a multiplier effect on the economy of a university environment. It’s a chain. Government fails to recognize this or simply ignores the fact. Students bring, breathe life into the campus. A true teacher would let you know that he misses his students. We miss teaching. We miss the interactions. Also, most teachers would tell you that they do not miss grading badly written exam scripts. It’s a mix, isn’t it as with everything in life? Conversely, students would say that ‘school is sweet, but exam the spoil am!

Resorting to the dubiety of judicial pronouncements to save its face and cover the federal government’s dirty backside was in bad taste. And bad faith too! For, as we all now know, the federal government has used the judiciary to arm-twist ASUU to return to the classroom. When an Appeal Court the federal government to set Nnamdi Kanu free, the latter did not comply with the ruling before going on appeal. But Nigeria is a place of double standards even in official and state matters. And the people are watching. The youths are watching. The people are on the side of ASUU.

The objectives of the strike have not been achieved. House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila’s late intervention seemed to have saved the day. He was the only one to keep a clear mind during the negotiations. It would seem that the President assured Mr. Speaker of a gentleman’s agreement. Two weeks after the suspension, there has been no concrete word from the federal government. Salary arrears have not been paid. Lecturers, the highest collection of brain power in the country have not been paid for eight months. No definite statement on UTAS. No definite statement on salary review. While this was on, a proposal was sent to Wages Commission that the sum of N63bn would be spent on disengagement services of outgoing members of the executive branch. The government set out to battle ASUU. In the process, the University is worse for it. The effects will show gradually. A tooth does not decay and fall off in a day.

There is a spirit of disappointment among academics.  It shows in their faces. It shows in discussions. There is nothing that kills the spirit as much as public humiliation. Or attempt at public humiliation. Certainly, Ngige, Adamu Adamu and their gang in the government will sing the halleluiah chorus that ASUU has been defeated. The loquacious and obsequious Ms. Onochie has already boasted that the Buhari government has defeated ASUU, a feat which no other government had achieved. Well, ASUU has not been defeated. The Buhari administration has simply pulverized the university system.

Anybody who believes that academics are really teaching students the way they ought to is in self-deception. It follows naturally. Though not declared there is a form of work-to-rule or there will be a form of work-to-rule. A lecturer who lives in Iyana-Ipaja in Lagos State cannot travel to the office twice in a week to deliver lectures because the funds are not there to transport themselves. This will affect the quality of work.  A lecturer who cannot feed his family or feed himself will lack the spirit to teach. On paper the strike has been suspended; but in the heart, the strike is ongoing. This is the greatest danger to the system. It will ultimately destroy public tertiary education as it has done to public secondary schools.

It is shocking that a political party that is canvassing for votes in February 2023 could afford to treat a critical section of the population in such a shoddy manner. No conscientious academic will vote for the APC next year. Or no conscientious academic should vote for APC in the presidential election. No professor should serve as Returning Officer in the 2023 elections. ASUU being a democratic body will not legislate on this subject. Individuals will be left to their own consciences. No undergraduate should vote APC next year. If all persons in these categories cast protest votes against APC, a strong statement would be made.

A nation’s overall wellbeing depends on the strength and resilience of its institutions. The government has weakened the education sector. No public primary or secondary school is worth that name. The descent into anarchical neglect started decades ago. No government has tried to halt the decline either through policy implementation or budgetary allocation.

The Buhari people want to weaken ASUU. It will fail. The Union will come out stronger and better. I can bet ASUU leaders are working out alternative strategies to guide the Union in the struggle ahead. But how long academics will remain in the struggle to improve education we are not prophets to tell. A time may come when academics would concentrate on their welfare and leave the question of infrastructure and equipment to the government. Once that happens, the university system will not be the same again.

As an insider, I know most very senior academics are disillusioned with the government’s approach to the universities and especially with the suspended strike. If ASUU summons academics to another strike next month because of failure of government to act the lecturers will drop their chalk without much ado. Too many lecturers are now searching for options abroad. The junior ones have no scruples about leaving. The mass exodus has started. Most of the bright graduates of University of Lagos who were retained on account of their distinctive performance which the university administration had developed as a channel of training junior academics have moved to universities in Canada and America.  It is a sign of things to come. And it is not good for the Nigerian university system.

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