Why ASUU Is always the Culprit

In a strongly-great, but recklessly debased, nation like Nigeria, the constant vilification and debasement of intellectual labour, especially University teachers, speaks of many things. It is, first, an admission, by the ruling class, that Nigeria is a nation devoid of a national ethos: patriotism, hard work, courage, honesty and dedication.
It is, second, an admission of the fact that Nigeria is a nation without a soul and a future; a country where vision and humanistic sympathy has taken leave of the ruling class and consequently the entire citizens daily face the future of a thousand mirages. But it is also an open admission of the fact that the ship of the Nigerian state is not only rudderless, it has also embarked on a directionless voyage that has all the potential of a tragedy. But let me pluck the fruit of my story namely:

ASUU strike and the total neglect of education in Nigeria. And I begin with these obvious, though not irrelevant, questions: who is responsible for the rot in the Public Universities and the current paralysis  in the University system?

Why is it that for so long Government and its agents have failed to correctly ascribe responsibility and rather tend to convey the impression that ASUU is an intransigent Union insensitive to the plight of Nigerian students? Perhaps, the analysis that follows will provide the answers and also help to clear some of the innumerable misconceptions about University teachers and the on-going ASUU strike. The antics of the Federal government have demonstrated abundantly that it has a predilection for the vilification of University teachers. In 2001, Chief Philip Asiodu, the leader of the Government negotiating team all but fueled the conflict instead of dousing it. In 2009, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode prolonged the ASUU strike by his inability to define clearly whether he had the mandate of his principal to discuss and sign the agreement. Then, Wale Babalakin, the present leader of the Government Negotiating team merely revealed his ignorance a few days ago when he exclaimed that he is not aware that ASUU had planned to embark on strike.

The same sentiments were echoed by Nigeria’s Minister of Labour and Employment who also accused ASUU of going contrary to the laid down process as stipulated in the Trade Dispute Act on the declaration of strike (2004). Such antics only have the capacity of worsening an already bad situation. And in all these instances, the policy of the Federal government and its agents is usually unfurled with fanfare and applauded by journalistic pundits and unsuspecting members of the public. The desire is to show that ASUU is the criminal. This stance is nothing but simple irresponsibility. But more worrisome is the fact that many Nigerian students who are also major stake holders in the University system seem to be completely unaware of the motives, aspirations and principles of ASUU. In the 2009 Agreement, for example, ASUU recommended that there shall be no introduction of tuition fees in Federal (not State) Universities.  The Government Negotiating Team endorsed this recommendation.

But today it is common knowledge that Vice Chancellors of Federal Universities have introduced tuition fees in the guise of acceptance fees and all manner of levies. Besides, the other major component of the 2009 Agreement is concerned with funding for the revitalisation of Public Universities. The Federal government had promised to release N200 billion in 2013 and a yearly release of N220 billion subsequently from 2014 to 2018. Again, government has reneged on its promise. If released, the money was meant for the provision of hostel accommodation for University students, books, classroom/lecture theaters and teaching aids.

Again, many branch chapters of ASUU have always thrown their full weight behind NANS, the umbrella body of Nigerian students, by resisting the introduction of tuition fees and other exorbitant charges and obnoxious policies on University campuses. Where then is the animosity between University students and teachers?

But ASUU is the culprit! Now, for the umpteenth time, the Government has refused to fulfil its own part of the agreement. Yet, the Government is very honourable and ASUU is the criminal. Other thorny issues in the 2009 Agreement are many and varied and have been the subject of discussion in the media very recently.

For the benefit of the doubt they include: Earned Academic Allowance ,EAA,  Registration of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company, University Staff School and the Fractionalisation or non- payment of salaries to University teachers in both State and Federal Universities. What is clear for now is that the problem of University education is deliberately perpetuated by the ruling class’ intent on destroying public Universities in order to draw attention to private Universities owned and run by their cronies and acolytes. It is also clear for now that the desire of the ruling class is to privatise education the same way it has done to other social utilities in Nigeria. In other words, the problem of University education is aggravated by the blatant refusal of the Government to live up to its primary responsibility of providing education for all citizens.

Again, to restate the obvious: the best Universities in the world are public Universities. A few names like Havard, Oxford, Melbourne and Sydney readily come to mind. In the same Agreement, the Federal Government Negotiating Team recommended that in accordance with UNESCO guidelines, the Federal and State Governments shall allocate to the Education sector a minimum of 26% of their annual budget with effect from 2001 budget, subject to upward review from 2003.

The Negotiating Team and ASUU also agreed in that year that 50% of the 26% of the Annual Budget allocated to Education should be allocated to University education. Lamentably, the FGN has flagrantly refused to honour the agreement and each time ASUU draws attention to the need to burnish our Universities to international standards a thousand eyebrows are raised. And again ASUU is the criminal. Most developed countries of the world have continued to make education their priority. Britain, as old as it is, allocates 32% of its total budget to education. France allocates 28% ,while Nigeria, lamentably allocates only 7%. In his inaugural speech, Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, told Britain that “although Britain could no longer have the biggest empire or the largest sea force, it can become the centre of the world’s knowledge industry.”

Similarly, Bill Clinton, former U.S. president, during his second inaugural address, told Americans that he would not only educate the American child but he would also educate the parent. Cuba, the communist Latin American nation has been able to withstand various attempts by American Presidents to wipe it off the map because it has been able to do away with illiteracy. Besides, Cuban scientists have turned the chaff of sugar cane, the mainstay of their economy, into a basis for motor fuel. It has also produced a better healthcare system with better trained medical doctors than many other countries in the world.

The point is that the more educated countries have tended to be wealthier and more democratic and the more innovative in technological development.  Similarly, the most technologically advanced nations of the world have the highest literacy rate. Israel is one of the largest producers of rice today because University teachers in that country  went into research some twenty years ago and came up with what is known as drift irrigation which is capable of transforming a desert into fertile land. Lamentably, Nigeria with all its fertile land imports rice from Israel. Shameful indeed! Yet ASUU is the criminal for clamouring for better University education. But the crisis in our University education becomes more telling when we look backwards. It is more than fifty years since independence and Nigeria as a country is still travelling on reverse gear because the country has refused to look back.

Philosophers are right when they say that looking back also means looking forward. The period of the first regimes could be conveniently regarded today as the golden age of Nigeria. Leaders like Awolowo, Azikiwe,Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa were able to manage and govern the country with meager resources derived basically from taxes, cocoa, groundnuts and other agricultural products. Although oil was discovered at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta region as early as 1956, its exploration was yet to commence and agriculture remained the mainstay of the economy until the end of the Nigerian civil war. During this period, the Naira (or Nigerian Pound) was also more powerful than the Pound Sterling and Dollar.

The three biggest Universities in the country then namely: University of Ibadan, University of Ife and Ahmadu Bello University Zaria ranked among the best Universities in the world with expatriates vying for teaching appointments in all faculties. These nationalists were aware that only education could be used for the development and liberation of man. Equally important is the fact that the first leaders of

Nigeria had several things in common: patriotism and the refusal to use the resources of the state for their personal benefit. When hundreds of billions of Naira began to accrue from the oil sector, Nigeria began its descent into misery and poverty. A new ethos of cheat or risk being out-cheated had crystallized since Agriculture which sustained the nation was destroyed together with institutions and the nation’s sense of honour. Ethics, patriotism, self respect, responsibility and vision escaped as the new leaders stashed away billions of Naira in foreign bank accounts, investment and real estate.

What went wrong? Of course, not the educational system bequeathed to us. It is the greed of a few who have been trusted with the task of running our patrimony. Now, we have a government that buys exotic cars for law makers and guarantees the luxurious lifestyles of political office holders yet is unable to fund public education and honour agreement reached with University teachers. It is clear for now that should the on-going ASUU strike linger for more than one month, the Government and its agents will take the blame because of its refusal to promote industrial democracy, truth and honour.

Should the on-going strike continue longer than necessary , it is because the Government and its agents have decided to abrogate agreements validly negotiated. It is time Nigerians  realise that ASUU members are also citizens and not slaves. They are also honest men and women who believe in truth and honour. ASUU members are not criminals.