Saturday, May 28, 2022

Decades of ASUU/FG feud endangers Nigerian university education 

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Mohammed Dahiru

For decades, disruption in the Nigerian University system has remained perennial with no headway in sight.

While the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, maintained that its struggle is in the interest of salvaging the country’s education system, the Federal Government insists that ASUU’s demands remain unfeasible.

Before embarking on strike action about two weeks ago, ASUU had said the government failed to implement the agreements in the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU and Memorandum of Action, MoA, signed with it in 2009.

But the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, disclosed on a Channels’ Television program, “Politics Today,” monitored by DAILY NIGERIAN, that the government does not have the funds to meet its obligations in the agreement signed with the ASUU.

“We will find a way by which we can fund the universities and revitalise infrastructure. I am hoping that ASUU should do the right thing and contact their members on the renegotiations that we have had in the last two weeks,” Mr Ngige said.

In spite of the government’s position, ASUU insists that all outstanding issues in the ASUU-FGN MoUs and December, 2020 MoA must be fully implemented to a logical conclusion, otherwise, it will not go back to the classrooms. This means that about 2.1million Nigerian students will remain academically deprived.

“From the look of things, this strike might be unprecedented and may go beyond 2023. The FG claimed they do not have money to tend to ASUU’s demand but I am sure they have money to fund their next election circle,” Bukar Maigana, a graduate of the University of Maiduguri told DAILY NIGERIAN in lament.

ASUU Strike: A Perennial Imbroglio

The ASUU grew out of the Nigerian Association of University Teachers, NAUT.

NAUT was formed in 1965, covering academic staff in the University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Ife and University of Lagos.

“NAUTs orientation was mainly for improvement in the condition of service, the socio-economic and political well-being of the country,” according to Attahiru Jega, a former ASUU President and immediate-past chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

However, when ASUU was officially formed in 1978, its orientation evolved along with its name, it went from being liberal to being radical in ideology and approach. This was triggered by the then military government’s alleged failure to use oil wealth from the oil boom period in generating production and instituting a social welfare system.

Two years later in 1980-1981, ASUU locked horns in a trade dispute with the Shagari Government. Its concerns at the time were funding, salaries, autonomy, and academic freedom, the brain drain, and the survival of the university system.

While ASUU wrangled with Nigerian civilian and military governments in between the years of its transformation, it declared a strike action in 1988, 1992, 1993, and 1996 to press for salient demands bordering national development and integrity of the Nigerian university system.

Since the turn of the Fourth Republic, the organized union has embarked on strike actions no less than 15 times in the last 21 years, a cumulative length of time just enough to complete an uninterrupted degree program.

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In 1999 a few months after the Obasanjo-Atiku administration was sworn-in, ASUU embarked on a nationwide strike which lasted for five months, then in 2001 ASUU declared another strike over the reinstatement of 49 lecturers sacked at the University of Ilorin.

The industrial action was aggravated when the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, described Nigerian university lecturers as “a bunch of lazy and ungrateful people” The strike was called off after three months.

Other occasions are in 2002 after the Obasanjo administration failed to implement the agreement reached during the previous strike. The strike lasted for only two weeks.

In 2003 Nigerian university undergraduates had to stay at home again for six months as ASUU embarked on another industrial action due to the non-implementation of previous agreements, which covers poor university funding and disparity in salary and retirement age.

In 2005, Nigerian university students again experienced another disruption in their academic calendars as university lecturers went on another industrial action which lasted for just two weeks.

In April 2006, academic activities were paralysed in all public universities across the country when ASUU declared a 3-day warning strike. It eventually lasted for one week.

The 2006 industrial action was followed by another one on March 26, 2007. The strike lasted for three months.

In a bid to press home its demands, ASUU went on strike for one week in 2008. The demands included an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers who were dismissed at the University of Ilorin.

In 2009, lecturers in public universities across the country embarked on an industrial action that lasted for four months. The strike which started in June was called off in October. Before the strike was called off, the Federal Government and the union had an agreement. The 2009 ASUU/FG agreement would later become the reason for subsequent industrial action.

This came sooner in the year 2010 as ASUU embarked on another indefinite strike that lasted for over five months. The strike started on 22 July 2010 and was called off in January 2011.

Since the FG failed to honour its 2009 agreement to adequately fund universities in the country and implement the 70-year retirement age limit for ASUU members, the union again paralysed academic activities nationwide in December 2011. The strike lasted for 59 days and was called off in 2012.

Again, the government’s failure to review the retirement age for professors from 65 to 70; approve funding to revitalise the university system; increase the budgetary allocations to the education sector by 26% among other demands led to another industrial action in 2013 which lasted for five months, 15 days.

On August 17, 2017, ASUU again declared an indefinite strike over unresolved and contentious issues with the Federal Government. The strike was called off in September.

Again, due to the Federal Government’s failure to meet its demands, the ASUU declared an indefinite nationwide strike. The union announced the strike on Sunday, November 4, 2018, after their National Executive Council meeting held at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State. It accused FG of not implementing the agreement reached with the union in November 2016.

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In February in 2019, ASUU called of it’s three months old strike which started in 2018 after a Memorandum of Action was signed between FG and the Union.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, had earlier said the government had resolved the eight contentious issues that led to the strike. He said some of the items have been implemented.

But in 2020, ASUU again locked down Nigeria’s citadel of learning, accusing the Federal Government of not showing commitment in carrying out the 2019 Memorandum of Action. This lasted for nine months.

Two weeks ago, ASUU announced the commencement of a four-week strike, an action it now says will rollover following the government’s continued failure to meet its demands.

Jeopardizing the future

Plagued with grievous under-funding from the federal budget with an analysis of education budgetary allocation trend from 1999 revealing that the highest received in the sector was in 2014, as only 9.94 percent of the entire budget was allocated.

Nigerian universities grapple with numerous other challenges ranging from decayed infrastructure to lack of adequate security and poor staff welfare all of which leads to the incessant strikes that keep students out of school.

Although the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO’s recommended that developing nations should give up to 26 percent of their annual budget to public education, Nigeria’s allocation to the sector is still less than 10 percent.

In 2016, of the N6.06 trillion total budget, N369.6 billion or 6.7 percent was allocated to public education in the country. In 2017, N550 billion or 7.38 percent was allocated to education out of the N7.29 trillion budget, while in 2018; N605.8 billion or 7.04 percent was given to education out of the N9.2 trillion budget.

In 2019, N620 billion or 7.05 per cent was allocated to education out of N8.92 trillion, while in 2020, N671.07billion, or 6.7 per cent was given to education out of N10.33 trillion.

This year, N742.5billion or 5.6 percent was allocated to education out of a budget proposal of N13.6 trillion.

“Most parents and students have lost interest in the educational system in Nigeria. Many who can afford education outside the country opt to take their wards abroad for studies. Even soon to be parents are not left out of these plans.

“In the alternatives, private universities always serve as go-to option for many parents who can’t afford the study abroad option,” says Ashir Hamza, a school teacher who worries about the future of his children’s education.

Nigeria’s ruling class has been severally accused of not bothering to intervene in the university system since most of their wards do not study in the country.

In June 2016, shortly after losing the presidential elections, former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, announced that his daughter, Hafsat, had finished her studies abroad.

In 2019, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo came under fire after he travelled to the UK to celebrate his son for graduating in a UK University, just few years after President Muhammadu Buhari faced the same backlash after three of his children graduated from UK universities in unfolding public glare.

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Two weeks after the VP, Ike Ekweremadu, former deputy senate president, took to the social media platform as well to announce the graduation ceremony of his daughter who finished from a foreign university.

Bukola Saraki, former senate president, also announced the graduation of his son from the London School of Economics in 2017, while in the same year, the son of Aminu Tambuwal, governor of Sokoto state, graduated from the University of Buckingham in London.

Rochas Okorocha, former governor of Imo state, could not hide his joy when his son completed his master’s degree from the Imperial College, London in 2018, having finished from the University of Manchester two years earlier.

It was the same feeling for Rotimi Amaechi, current minister of transportation and former governor of Rivers state, whose son graduated from a Canadian university.

“The life of the political class does not depict poverty or lack of enough money to standardize our institutions. That means they have the money but spending it on universities is not their priority. Simple!” Mr Maigana quipped.

A foreign student from the University of Applied Management Studies Germany who is on a seven-day vacation in Nigeria, Bukar Ibrahim, said that with such an impasse lingering for decades, the Nigerian student does not have a future.

“Nigerian students are not getting what they deserve as citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I am afraid this is a strong basis breeding incapacitated, unproductive and sorry graduates,” he lamented bitterly.

Looking ahead…

Incessant strikes have had a terrible impact on tertiary education in Nigeria because nobody benefits from breakage in the learning process.

“Learning has to be continuous for it to be meaningful.  It does not do students any good to stay out of school due to no fault of theirs,” says Professor Sulyman Abdulkareem, Vice-Chancellor,  the University of Ilorin in a 2018 article published in Punch Newspaper.

Pundits believe that while the government must show commitment, ASUU should be made to realise the limitations of government in terms of current limitations with regards to meeting its obligations.

“I believe FG and ASUU should come together and work out modalities for saving university education in the country. They should both partner to organize a state of the nation conference, bring all stakeholders together to draw up actionable and workable frameworks once and for all,” Musa Sufi, a development expert states.

On his part, the coordinator of Africa Health Budget Network, AHBN, Aminu Magashi, states that the solution to tertiary education crisis requires deep analysis and thinking both in terms of adequate and sustainable funding all stakeholders as it is not a one man’s job.

“This includes funding by the government, private sector financing, investment in internally generated revenue by schools, support from philanthropists and endowments to mention but few as well as massive state of the art infrastructural development and quality teaching. We hope Nigeria will get it right soon,” Mr Magashi posits.

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