Thursday, October 31, 2013

ASUU Strike and National Ignorance in Nigeria

Akhaine et al: ASUU strike and national ignorance

Published: Wednesday, 30 October 2013 00:00
Written by By Sylvester Akhaine, Olanrewaju Ajiboye, Surajudeen Mudasiru, Femi Edun, Tunde Fatunde, Tobi Oshodi, Shola Adabonyan, Wale Aderemi and Dele Seteolu and Bonaventure Chizea
Nigerian Guardian

IN an environment where people are accustomed to regarding the limit of their knowledge as the end of knowledge, it is important we intervene once again in the ongoing discourse on the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU). The negligent government of the day has sought to feed the public with half-truths and obvious disinformation and the bankrolling of so-called student union leaders to rant against ASUU. Two things stand out in the responses of the Federal Government. One, a reduction of the strike to one of sheer moralism: ASUU should go back to campus whether the contending issues have been met or not for the sake of our students. Please, go back. Two, what is the business of ASUU with the affairs of state universities in a supposed federal arrangement? We provide our response in what follows. The primary points at issue in the ongoing stand-off are increased funding for tertiary institutions, improved conditions of service and university autonomy. Earned allowance is just an element of the condition of service (for details see the 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement). On these three principal areas, ASUU made clear recommendation on how to achieve them. For example in the area of funding, ASUU made quite useful recommendations. Apart from asking the government to allocate a minimum of 26 per cent of the annual budget (UNESCO benchmark) to education to be achieved cumulatively, ASUU went ahead to identify sources of funding. These include the Education Tax Fund to be amended to Higher Education Fund for effective rehabilitation, restoration and repositioning of tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria; Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) to be accessed and effectively utilized for research, training and development of academic staff; Patronage of University Services by the Federal and State agencies for quality consultancies on the basis of due process; attraction of Funds from Alumni Association through direct funding, endorsements, bequests, etc. and private sector contributions including voluntary agencies and philanthropic individuals. Indeed, government can goad the private sector through Tax Relief and other means, to make voluntary financial and material contributions to Nigerian universities. Also the private sector should be encouraged to engage in research collaboration with universities and commercialisation of research results. There are sundry cost-saving measures to boot.

Without ambiguity, the demands of ASUU are based on the long-term survival of the educational sector in Nigeria and to turn around a system that currently churns out half-baked graduates who cannot compete globally. Without infrastructure and fiscal commitment to the universities, the goal of producing globally competitive graduates will remain elusive. This is about realism and the future of our children and not sheer moralism. If anyone borders to reflect on the quality of human resources in the country he/she will arrive at the conclusion that the country has no quality human resources or put in other words, the country suffers deficient human resources despite the huge population. It speaks volume for the state of education in the country. This situation cannot be turned around through empty promises by public officials who have no fidelity to principles and the commitment to the people.

The rot in the education sector is real (See the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities). Only recently the NYSC Director affirmed what we know. He said 89 per cent of the mobilised corps members cannot communicate in English. This does not rankle any sensibility in government circles. President Obama, smarting from the shutdown of his government by the U.S. Congress, reinstated what the United States uses its money for. He listed education, infrastructure and research. In reality these translate into education and infrastructure. No country that wants to survive the 21st Century will take its education lightly. This is far beyond the thinking of the warped state elite running Nigeria aground and who rake off the coffers about 25 per cent of government expenditure.

On the federalism question, federalism does not mean mutual antagonisms, federalism allows for national cooperation on suprastate matters, such as national standard for education, collective bargaining for minimum working conditions for workers in whatever sector in the country and that becomes the point of departure for the federating states. In the context of the prevailing quasi federalism in the country today, there is the National Universities Commission (NUC) that regulates state, federal and private universities in the country; there is the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) for all graduates from Nigerian universities. Do these negate the federal principle or help the goal of nation building? In the 2009 agreement, we agreed that the Federal Government should, “as appropriate, provide general assistance both to the State Governments that are proprietors of universities and those that do not own universities but need assistance in the area of higher education, as allowed by the Nigerian Constitution (Section 164.1)”.

Our country is a rentier-state without indigenous capital where the local capitalists build their capital base through sheer looting of state resources. Being at the forefront of tertiary education provisioning, it is incumbent on ASUU to hold the state accountable to adequate educational funding especially in a polity awash with resources that are recklessly and routinely squandered e.g. to procure armoured vehicles for officials and celebrate colonial subjugation.

The eminent voices calling on ASUU to return to work, must ‘conscientiously’ ponder three truths: 1) It is the federal government that has the wherewithal to immediately resolve the ongoing impasse and can do so if it really cares for the ‘students’, their ‘parents’ and the ‘nation’ they have touted. The House of Representatives has already expressed its willingness to provide supplementary appropriation towards this. 2) This is a government that is notoriously perfidious; if it has not kept the 2009 agreements which it signed, there is no basis for suggesting it will honour future agreements even if it agrees to it. 3) A call for return to work is a clear endorsement that the educational system be left intact, until its imminent demise, when that happens, memories become short and Nigerians will lampoon ASUU.

A final food for thought for Nigerians, how much financial seepage to foreign countries do we incur due to educational rot? A particular British University has over 400 Nigerian students who pay between £10,000 to £16,500 tuition per session, home students pay on the average less than 67 per cent of this and are further subsidized. This sum is not inclusive of exorbitant accommodation and living costs. Nigerians must choose what they want.

• The subscribers to this article are academic staff in Lagos State University and Ambrose Alli University.

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