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ASUU strike and a varnishing tomorrow

ASUU strike and a varnishing tomorrow

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Its first strike was in 1980 to protest the sacking of six lecturers from the University of Lagos. Ever since, ASUU strike has been reading like per second billing.

Ken Ugbechie

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike since November 4. That’s over a month. ASUU strike is not news. It is not new. Almost a routine. But it is special. It is special because ASUU, a body of lecturers in Nigerian public universities, ought to be treated as a special body. It is like toying with the medical profession and allowing doctors go on strike. No responsible government should allow that.

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First, a little bit of history. ASUU was formed in 1978. It was a successor to the Nigerian Association of University Teachers (NAUT) formed in 1965.  By that time, there were few universities. From then, ASUU has evolved into a monumental movement, an intellectual watering hole and pressure group. Advocacy beyond education caught its fancy in the military days. It stood on the side of the people, demanding for a return to democracy and for good governance.

ASUU is not an assembly of armed men. It is an association of intellectuals, men and women who have over the years developed their brains, liberated their mind through scholarship and exorcised the spirit of ignorance among them. We ought to respect such body. But do we? Because they are not armed with Ak-47 and bayonets, they deploy the only tool at their disposal: strike.

Like a nagging, bitchy woman, ASUU downs tool at the drop of a hat. The record is incredible, hard to beat. Its first strike was in 1980 to protest the sacking of six lecturers from the University of Lagos. Ever since, ASUU strike has been reading like per second billing.

Consider this: In 21 years, between 1992 and 2013, ASUU has downed tools over 23 times for various reasons but largely for their welfare and the wellbeing of education in the country. This translates to one strike per year. Huge turnover? Very huge. And it gets worst when you consider the fact that each strike triggers negative ripple effect. Students are shortchanged; parents despair, associated businesses on campuses suffer. A student, for instance, rounds off a four-year programme in six years. This wrecks the human mind; kills ingenuity and frustrates innovativeness.

Last year, ASUU went on strike. As you read this, the body is on strike over the inability of the Federal Government to keep to an earlier agreement to fund education. But we must never crucify ASUU. To do so would be unjust. ASUU has never gone on strike on the ground of frivolity or vainglory. Each strike is driven by altruism, by a prompting for the larger good of the education sector. The latest strike is about funding for Nigerian universities. The Federal Government and ASUU had reached an understanding way back in 2013 for the government to shell out at least N200 billion every year to fund Nigerian universities. Such funding is not for Owambe, or any such indulgence.

Truth be told, Nigerian public universities are under-funded hence under-equipped. The ergonomics are scary both for teaching and learning. It is only in Nigerian public universities that a student will graduate with a top grade without owning a laptop; without access to information communication technology laboratories. Take a trip to some state-owned universities. Gosh! Your bile will run over. Infrastructure is non-existent. What passes for classrooms are no better than pigpens.

Video-conferencing rooms, ICT hubs, functional libraries and other infrastructure that enhance learning in the 21st century are lacking. What are we even talking about? The net monthly pay of a professor is about N500,000 ($1,355). That’s in a country where unschooled politicians steal in billions; where lawmakers earn emoluments that better those of their colleagues in more advanced democracies; where governors and presidents hide under the guise of security votes to milk the public till.

Really, we have not been fair to the teacher especially the university teacher. It’s been over one month since ASUU embarked on strike and we have been carrying on as though everything is fine. We are simply gambling with our tomorrow.  A nation that gambles with the welfare of its teachers and wellbeing of its education is on the path of underdevelopment. The more we treat teachers with disdain, we more we get only misfits into the system. We have made the teaching profession unattractive over the years. The sure evidence for this is that children of the rich do not aspire to become teachers; parents are hesitant to marry out their daughters to teachers. The society scoffs at the teacher. He is numbered among the flotsam and jetsam of society, among the dregs, among the horde of failed men. This is bad.
But what do I know? This is a country that has in full consciousness elected a secondary school leaver (Grade 2 Teacher’s Certificate holder) as president. In 2015, we upped the ante. We elected a man whose secondary school result is still in dispute till this day. Yet, this is Nigeria, a nation whose nationals are all over the world doing exploits in all fields of human endeavour from space science to law and medicine. This is the same country that scoffs at the intellectual and mocks intellectualism. It is a crude irony.

But we must be ready to pay the price. The military, always self-serving in its leadership style, snubbed education. The military goons were too busy plotting coups and planning how to perpetuate themselves in office. Nobody had the time to plot and pursue a medium and long-term education masterplan. The various democratic interjections fared no better. If today, we are still debating issues of funding and pensions for universities and university lecturers respectively then it is safe to conjecture that all projections of growing the economy to rank among top 20 in the world at any future date is a mirage. ASUU’s cause is germane. They want Nigerian universities to rank among their counterparts in South Africa, in Asia and elsewhere. The fight is for our future, the future of our children and the overall development of the nation. Those who sneer at ASUU for embarking on a strike too many should direct their anger at a government that demeans scholarship and learning. When we aspire to overtake Turkey, Indonesia, Singapore et al, we must first aspire to elevate our standard of education to at least match theirs. We must move our universities from textbook syndrome to technology platform.

In an age where all things and everything is done online we should be ashamed that for something as basic as registration for a course of study or subjects we still buy and carry specially designed ‘University Files’. It is a shame that government would be subsidizing with special forex rates pilgrimages to Mecca, Israel and anywhere but would not mind if teachers’ salaries are not paid or if students sit on bare earth under trees to receive lectures.

Nigerian governments, at all times, have continued to demean education yet mouth almost hysterically their intent to develop the nation. You cannot have development without sound education. The one begets the other.

Again, what do I know? The two major presidential contenders in the 2019 election in a century aptly dubbed the ‘knowledge century’ are barely educated. And we are fighting like cats and mice to foist one of them on the destiny of over 180 million people. What a feat!

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