#EndASUUStrike: Buhari should save university system, by Prof. M. K. Othman
Many people have articulately written on the ongoing ASUU strike severally but as a stakeholder whose livelihood majorly comes from the university system, I am compelled to add a few words. Some of the articulated pieces were adequately presented without the need for additional words. However, things are sometimes repeated for emphasis as well as appeal to the targeted people to reason and do the needful. I hope that these words I am adding will appeal to my President, our President, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari to squarely and permanently address the issues for amicable settlement.
The issues are clear and simple; the government has the wherewithal to end the strike in no time. It is the same issue since year 2009 when the federal government signed and sealed an agreement with the union. The 2009 agreement was reinforced by the Memorandum of Understanding and Memorandum of Action signed by both parties in 2013 and 2020, respectively. From 2020 to date, so much water has passed under the bridge, two different negotiation committees at different times were set, each led by a prominent Nigerian: Prof. Munzali’s committee and Prof. Brigg’s committee and they all submitted reports without an end to the strike.
Thereafter, a series of events took place; meetings and consultations among the important stakeholders including a courtesy visit of the Pro-Chancellors to Mr President on 9th September 2022. During that visit, the President assured his guests and indeed Nigerians that he will make further consultation to end the strike. Then, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige dragged ASUU to Industrial Court following the failure of negotiation between the federal government and ASUU. The Court ruled in favour of the federal government and directed ASUU to call off the industrial action. Can this be the solution to FG-ASUU imbroglio? Before answering this question, it is imperative to have a wider perspective of the ASUU struggle.
Truly, Nigeria is a complex nation; the pressure of governance at all levels is gargantuan and requires strong will and dedication to make the type of change ASUU is demanding for. It is a change from rots to prosperity, from decay to progress, the kind of progress the country needs to become a great nation, and a well-deserved position we all crave for. If we fail to meet ASUU’s demands of stopping the rots in the university system, the nation may be doomed sooner than later. May God prevent it.
As written in this column, some weeks ago, the university system constitutes the critical ingredient for national development. The nation’s economic and developmental vibrancy depends on the intellectual capacity of its citizens, particularly the leadership. This intellectual capacity is acquired as a product of a university system. The university system in Nigeria is decaying exponentially due to several years of gross negligence and reversing the decay requires the injection of necessary funds and care.
Thus, ASUU has identified all the problems responsible for the decay and proffer solutions including “how and means” of sourcing the funds with negligible financial pressure on the government. The government needs to give listening ears to ASUU with the genuine intention to address the problems. Yes, addressing the decay of the university system requires understanding the importance of the university system as a critical ingredient for national development. The nation must arrest and reverse the decay to secure a glorious future for the nation.
The legal tussle is not a solution to the amicable end of ASUU industrial action. It is akin to forcing the unwilling medical doctor to attend to your ailing patient. How do you force an unenthusiastic teacher to teach in a crowded classroom without necessary facilities and with an empty stomach?
As stated by Adeola Soetan in Sahara Reporter, “Teaching is physical, psychological, and emotional with interest and passion. When one or more of these traits is lacking, no proper teaching and knowledge impartation will take place”. So, lecturers need to be mentally and fervently stable in a conducive environment to impart knowledge for optimum assimilation. Certainly, decreeing peace in a university system without addressing issues raised by ASUU cannot be achieved. The court can direct the suspension of the strike but cannot direct the opening of the universities. By law, the university senate is the only organ with power to open and close the university, award degrees, certificates, approve the program, etc and more than 90% of university senate members are ASUU members. Although, the government owns the public universities but lacks the power to open or close them without recourse to the senate. Additionally, there is a clause called “ANC”, which is active non-cooperation, which implies that a worker may resume work from a forced suspension of industrial action but will practically do nothing. Is this the kind of situation we are looking for?
So far, the university system has lost too much in the last three years, nine months of strike in 2020 and seven months in 2022 and still counting, brain drain as some lecturers have left the system, and many lecturers have been subjected to abject poverty, many businesses in the universities environment have been grounded. Students have lost years and many intangible losses to the nation. I reported in this column that trillions of Naira worth of businesses have collapsed. So, this needs to be stopped. Mr President, Sir, this is an action within your purview.
Yes, first, the FGN team must come down from its high horse and listen to the ASUU voice of reasoning. Agreements and negotiations are subject to review following due process with mutual respect. When agreements are signed, one party finds it difficult to implement, the party can request for renegotiation and present transparently why such agreements cannot be implemented.
In conclusion, let me borrow, the words of the Pro-Chancellors, that Mr President, “is the father of the nation, the visitor to all the federal universities in Nigeria”, and has the magic wand of saving the university system. Granted that the President was fully briefed by the Ministers of Education and Labour, he should grant audience to the ASUU team, he would see things the way we are seeing them today. He would realise that he has a key to unlock a solution to end the ASUU strike permanently and bring peace and progress to the system.
I hope the ASUU team will be part of the stakeholders the President promised to consult during the Pro-Chancellors’ visit before his departure to the United Nations Assembly. Nigerians are truly tired of the decaying university system. May the Almighty give Mr President the wisdom to urgently do the needful.