Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Implications of ASUU, ASUP strikes

For the umpteenth time, our education sector has been thrown into another avoidable industrial action. The Academic Staff Union of Universities began what it termed a “comprehensive, total and indefinite strike” on July 1, 2013. Their polytechnic counterpart, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, had downed tools for eight weeks before being joined by ASUU. The grouse of the university teachers are as follows: The inability of the Federal Government to implement some of the issues contained in a 2009 agreement it had with ASUU as well as the violation of the Memorandum of Understanding it entered into with the union in December 2011.
According to the ASUU National President, Isa Fagge, “Before now, there has been this issue of the implementation of the key issues contained in the 2009 agreement we entered into with the Federal Government. We have had several meetings and deliberations to let government understand why these issues must be resolved but it is like the more we meet and deliberate, the messier the issue gets. One of the issues that needed to be addressed was basically that of the Academic Earned Allowance. This earned allowance, and other issues, had dragged on until government then agreed to write an MOU with the union. But as we speak, there has been nothing to show that government was committed to an MOU it also willingly wrote to better the university sector. It is in this regard that we are embarking on an indefinite strike.”
Just last month, primary and secondary school teachers in 11 states, namely, Cross River, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Ogun, Edo, Kogi, Niger, Borno, Benue, Zamfara and Sokoto, embarked on a strike action over the non-payment of the 27.5 per cent Teachers’ Enhanced Salary Scale and N18,000 minimum wage due to them.
It is obvious from the aforesaid that the federal and indeed state governments who own these institutions have not proved to be honourable in ensuring the faithful implementation of the agreements they entered into with the academics since 2009. This has engendered a lack of trust and confidence of the scholars in the government. This latest strike action has already disrupted the academic calendar of the affected public tertiary institutions.
The socio-economic costs of these strike actions are enormous. With this development, many final year students who should have graduated this year may not be able to do so. The ripple effect of this is that with delayed graduation, medical students who should go for their housemanship; law students who should go for their law school programme and the generality of other students who should be mobilised for their mandatory one year national service scheme would also have theirs postponed. In the long run, it is the students’ destinies that are generally being manipulated with these endless industrial actions.
Many of these students would now have time to fully engage in social vices such as prostitution, cultism, kidnapping, armed robbery, fraud and many others in order to while away time as well as make illicit money. It will be difficult for many of them to seek proper legitimate job as they are not certain when their lecturers will call off their strike; more so, they have no meaningful qualifications to seek full employment.
In the course of needless travels embarked upon by students when their lecturers down tools, some of the students have died prematurely. The disruption of studies of the students will also have negative psychological impact on them. By the time the strike is over, many of the students would most likely have forgotten what they were taught before the unwarranted break.
This frequent dislocation and disability of our public tertiary education is what is making many wealthy Nigerians to send their children and wards to tertiary institutions abroad in Ghana, the United Kingdom, the United States of America or some Asian countries. Millions of scarce foreign currencies are lost to this education tourism as payments have to be made in dollars, Euros or pound sterling. Those who could not send their children overseas have to pay through their nose educating them at the more stable private universities in the country.
In my university days, we used to have foreign students from countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, Niger, Mali, Benin Republic and Sierra Leone. Nigerian universities then made a lot of good money from these international students whose tuition was usually very high and who had to pay in hard currencies. Gone are those days! The reverse is now the case. Another consequence of these strikes is the brain drain of academics to more stable climes. Many university teachers have voted with their feet to seek appointment in the private sector and foreign institutions all because of the perennial instability in our ivory towers.
Is this how we want to continue to mould the future generations of this country? Is this how we intend to become one of the 20 fastest economies in 2020? Do we have to import foreigners to manage our education sector in Nigeria in order to restore stability, order and efficiency? It is most disheartening that government continues to act in bad faith in implementing signed agreements with the unions of tertiary institutions. Yet, President Goodluck Jonathan comes from that constituency while most, if not all, our governors are themselves graduates of tertiary institutions.
Nigeria’s education sector needs to be properly funded given the primacy role the sector plays in human capital development. The nine per cent earmarked for the sector in this year’s budget is a far cry from the UNESCO’s stipulated 26 per cent. It is impossible to make a brick without straw. Proper funding of our public academic institutions is non-negotiable if we hope to tame the rising number of schools’ drop-outs. I am aware that the government has been considering the idea of re-introducing or increasing tuition fees in our universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Much as this option looks appealing in order to close the funding gap of these institutions, the wider implication is that education will be priced out of the reach of students from poor families. This will further populate the ranks of social misfits who can easily be mobilised as agents of terrorism and insecurity.
I therefore appeal to members of the academic staff union of universities and polytechnics to give the government the benefit of the doubt by going back to work in the interest of their suffering students. Let’s save our tottering education sector from the imminent total collapse.
•(This article has been written before news filtered in that the strike by ASUP has been called off on Tuesday)