Christopher Chukwutoo Ihueze
The value of the products of our higher institutions have been assessed by many researchers as reported in classical literature and this motivated efforts calling for revitalization of higher education in Nigeria. There is growing concern over the quality of graduates as public and private employers increasingly found them unemployable, considering them as lacking in key practical and critical thinking skills. A study of the labour market for graduates found that employers believe that tertiary institutions graduates are poorly trained and unproductive on the job, and shortcomings are particularly severe in oral and written communication, and in applied technical skills (Dabalen, et al., 2000). Ajake, Oba and Ekpo (2014), noted that higher education plays a vital role in any country’s socio-economic development, as it turns out skilled workforce and experts, who give instruction to unskilled and semi-skilled workers, thinks ahead of developmental activities and forecast solutions of activities. The role of higher education in Nigeria should be to equip the youths with the required norms, values, knowledge, skills and abilities which will prepare them for greater challenges in the future for positive impact in the country’s development.
Frequent closure of schools as a result of unresolved labour disputes between the government and staff unions like Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is a major challenge to quality assurance in institutions of higher learning. Apart from disruption of academic activities, the incessant closures lead to decline in productivity, reduction in quality and standards of academic activities, and also grossly affect the students’ progress. Asiyai (2006), identified “the variables inducing the frequent trade union disputes as poor conditions of service of staff, non-implementation of ASUU/FGN or SSANU/FGN agreements, lack of autonomy and academic freedom and poor funding. The frequent disputes and strike galore by university staff and students leave students with little or no time to complete both their theoretical and practical work.” ASUU as a stakeholder has been struggling since 2009 with FG on issues of revitalizing higher education in Nigeria.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) declared a total and indefinite strike over the failure of the Federal Government (FG) to keep the 2019 Memorandum of Action (MoA) and over the lingering crisis on the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS). On several instances ASUU has gone on strikes following repeated failures of the FG of Nigeria in providing the needed infrastructure and poor funding of the educational sector. This situation resulted to various FG-ASUU MoUs and MoAs of 2009 and 2019 respectively. Earlier writers have also reported noncompliance of FG of Nigeria to the agreements of the MOAs-MOUs reached. I am writing because ASUU is on strike for they are insisting on revitalizing the tertiary education in Nigeria. Also, the general public (parents and students) seem not to understand why ASUU is on strike and that we don’t understand the value of highly skilled professionals in our tertiary institutions. When you visit our primary and secondary schools, you find out that it is very difficult to provide basic education to our youths because of absence of basic infrastructures for teaching and learning. Basic education is a panacea for solving problems such as illiteracy, ignorance, religious violence, insecurity and political servitude. It is also the fuel to a better society. The poor funding of primary and secondary education by government resulted to the emergence of the private schools that the poor masses cannot afford because of the high fees being charged. The poor funding of public primary and secondary education by government has resulted to turning out of secondary school graduates or school leavers that lack basic educational foundation and cannot compete favourably with their counterparts from other schools.
ASUU is on strike because of poor funding of tertiary/higher education. Higher education is pursed in Nigeria at the universities, colleges of technology, colleges of education, polytechnics, etc. Advanced teaching and researches are carried out in these institutions to produce seasoned Teachers, Technologists, Engineers, Nurses, Pharmacists, and Doctors and to mention but a few. Recall that ASUU is on strike because they are demanding from their employer instruments and better conditions for sustainable teaching and research. ASUU is on strike, for appropriate budget to be made for the educational sector. Recall that at this current COVID-19 pandemic instead of the research laboratories in Nigeria to be seriously engaged for the solution to COVID-19 pandemic problems, the researchers are allowed to continue with indefinite strike. I am worried on our approaches, let me remind ourselves that we have to solve our problems by ourselves. Believe it or not, we have the resources and manpower (professionals) to solve our problems. If we think well, we will do better. If we forget ethnicity, we will progress and develop. Our problems are in our hands. Our professionals serving overseas are doing well and are highly rated and sought after.
Our professionals serving overseas, that are doing very well and highly rated and sought after, are not better intellectually, skillfully and otherwise than our professionals in Nigeria. The only difference is that they are working in the countries that understand the benefits of revitalizing the facilities in their tertiary institutions. Countries that understand the importance of equipping their research laboratories, workshops, hospitals and personnel. Countries that understand the importance of making adequate financial provision or annual budget to their tertiary institutions. The facilities in our tertiary institutions need to be revitalized in order to ensure that the following sectors are operating effectively and efficiently: Health, Production, Energy, Agriculture, Education, Construction, and Information and Communication Technology. Nigerian medical doctors, nurses and other medical personnel in USA, UK, Canada, etc. are doing extremely well, but here we are, importing medical personnel from China to do for us what we are supposed to do for ourselves. We cannot continue to wait for China or other nations to do for us what we can do for ourselves! A man who always depends on other persons for his daily bread often times goes to bed hungry or better still, accept any chaff that comes his way. Nobody can help you better than yourself!
Why is it that the public seem not to understand what ASUU is fighting for? Is it because we can send our wards to well-equipped schools in the country and outside the country? Or is it because we cannot have such equipped schools in this country? I don’t need war, but let me remind ourselves that the majority of the weapons used during the Nigerian Biafra war by Biafran soldiers were locally made. What this implies is that we have the requisite skills needed to advance our country. We are now in recession and our leaders can challenge our professionals on the ways we can tackle COVID-19 and come out of the recession. Let me remind us, that equipping the hospitals without equipping the laboratories in the higher institutions will not yield any result. It is in the higher institutions that personnel of the hospitals are trained. It is also good we get it right. Recall that many disciplines are involved in the training of medical personnel. Think of the facilities of some of the following disciplines: chemistry, physics, biology, zoology, parasitology, anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology, arts disciplines involved to mention but a few. What I am saying here is that we have to understand what ASUU is fighting for.
On the issues on IPPIS migration, many public writers have condemned the idea of paying university workers using IPPIS platform. Obvious peculiarities exist not only in the allowances of the academic staff of universities but also in the process of recruitment and hiring of academic staff. Work environment and assignments of academic staff, define/depict the allowances paid to university workers. These allowances and work environments that also determine the amount to be paid to lecturers are not the same for other public or civil servants. Again, to ensure quality in the institution, quality assurance requires some procedures that require peculiar allowances as depicted in figure 1. These work specifications are not found in IPPIS template.
Figure 1: Quality Control Measures: Therefore, IPPIS as of today cannot pay the university lecturers whose job description and allowances are different from the pay heads described in IPPIS template. The FG should understand this simple explanation and honestly pay the university lecturers their outstanding three months salary withheld because the university lecturers rejected payment through IPPIS template.
Our intellectuals, who are supposed to be in their laboratories working on how to conquer the global COVID-19 pandemic war, cannot be at home because they are demanding for revitalization of facilities in our higher institutions or can they be at home because they are demanding for payment of unpaid allowances. The scientists in Ghana, America, Italy, Spain, etc. are in their Laboratories working on vaccines for COVID-19. We are not supposed to be waiting for new technology to be purchased.
Prof. Ihueze writes from Dept. of Industrial and Production Engineering,
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka