The extension of the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) by another four weeks has shown that the Federal Government under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the striking varsity teachers are yet not ready to resolve the labour crisis in the nation’s public universities any time soon. The more the strike continues, the more the rot in the universities exacerbates. The federal and state governments have not demonstrated enough goodwill to resolve the impasse in the universities. With the growing culture of education tourism, our political leaders are not worried over the strike because their children don’t study in Nigerian universities. They are contented with the idea and notion that their children graduated from universities in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) and Canada.
The Ukraine/Russia war has temporarily stopped our education tourism in that part of the world. This APC-led ‘change’ government has not done enough to change the dwindling fortunes of the nation’s public varsities. The government has behaved as if it is not aware of all the subsisting agreements with ASUU over funding of the universities and other welfare issues. The government also appears uncaring to the plight of Nigerian students who have stayed at home for over five months because our political leaders don’t care about their education and the future of the nation’s university system. They care less over the poor rating of the nation’s human capital development index. Our global ranking on human capital development index released recently by the World Bank is one of the poorest. The government can be blamed for the woes of our universities. While the federal government is even trying in funding the federal varsities, the same cannot be said of the state universities.
The state governors don’t pretend over poor funding of state universities, which many critics regard as glorified secondary schools. The teachers in the state universities are poorly remunerated. That is why some of them resort to the inelegant ‘sorting’ of extortion of students as a way of augmenting their poor wages. Some state universities in the South East are notorious for sorting, a euphemism for bribery and corruption. In the state varsities, the governors act as the alternate vice chancellors and chief accounting officers. They run the universities as their private schools in terms of students’ admission and staff recruitment to the extent that some people who shouldn’t be teaching in the universities are imposed on the system.
The crisis in staff recruitment is not limited to state universities, it is even rife in some federal universities, where ethnicity and religious considerations are given preferences in staff recruitment and even appointment of vice chancellors, a highly politicized issue in the nation’s public universities. In the private universities, anyone can be appointed the vice chancellors it depends solely on the whims and caprices of the proprietor.
It is even worse in some faith-based universities where the emphasis is more on profit than the quality of instruction. The Nigerian government has failed in its responsibility to provide quality university education to Nigerians because their children school abroad and they are not ashamed to regale all of us with pictures of such graduation ceremonies held in universities owned by our erstwhile colonizers, thereby extending the recolonization process, aided eminently by the almighty globalization ideology. Our political leaders still bow down to our colonizers and would always feel safe in their domains, schools and health facilities, hence the growing medical tourism. That is why they poorly fund the education and health sectors, which have not attracted up to 15 per cent of our national budget in the past ten years or more. No nation can develop with the paltry allocation of five or six per cent allocated to education and health annually. Most advanced countries where our leaders send their children and wards to study spend up to 26 per cent of their national budget on education. They also do so to health funding. The proliferation of universities has worsened the crisis in the university system. The pace of opening of more universities is not the same as the pace of producing PhD holders that will teach in the new universities. It is the same lecturers who teach in public universities that teach as adjuncts in the private universities, especially varsities located in Lagos and Abuja. Some of these adjuncts teach in more than two or three universities and yet they will complain of poor salaries.
The worst is that after the strike the varsity teachers will be paid their salaries in full for the months they refused to work. Some of them will claim that they carried out research during the strike period. But their work definition relates to teaching and research combined. It is only in Nigeria that a worker will be paid wages for work not done. This is one dilemma ASUU members must interrogate effectively. Having blamed the government for exacerbating the crisis in the universities, ASUU and other trade unions in the system such as SSANU, NASU and others have compounded the problem by their selfishness and indifference to the falling standard in the universities. We have a university system where the parallel varsity workers’ unions have vowed not to allow industrial peace to prevail in these ivory towers.
Each time ASUU gets some wage raise from the government, the other unions will antagonize the system and make it ungovernable until their demands, whether right or wrong, are met. It is only in Nigeria that all varsity teachers would insist on same pay whether the university belongs to the first rate, second or third and irrespective of their qualifications and experience as well as delivery. It does not obtain in any other profession such as law, journalism and engineering. Universities abroad pay different wages according to their capacity and quality of the lecturer. The unpredictability of the academic calendar in the universities has contributed to the erosion of quality of their graduates. The poor funding of our universities has justified the need for varsity autonomy and alternative funding for the varsities. Government has proved its incapacity to adequately fund the universities, colleges of technology and colleges of education. This is the time to completely democratize the varsity system where the private sector will play a major role in revitalizing our collapsing and decaying university system. The government can privatize the universities so that the standard of instruction can be enhanced. The continuous closure of the universities on account of strike will end if they are privatized, if they are autonomous and self-funding as most universities in the UK and the US and even Canada. It is a paradox that parents who pay millions of naira for their wards in some private secondary schools are unwilling to pay even N100,000 tuition fees in some public universities. The universities must be ready to generate funds through alumni associations, endowments and appropriate tuition instead of relying so much on government’s funding. The politics in TETFUND has not really helped the poor funding of universities. The opaqueness in the disbursement of TETFUNDS must be interrogated as well as the UBEC funds.
These funds are not doing what they supposed to do to revamp the education sector. Every year, UBEC will report of billions of naira that were not accessed because the state governments have failed to provide their counterpart funding. Since the government is still the proprietor of these universities, it must show seriousness in resolving the ASUU strike and ensure that the universities are opened for academic activities soon.
We cannot develop when our universities are perpetually shutdown because government and ASUU are unwilling to reach a compromise. The government and ASUU should be held responsible if the university system collapsed. Disruption of the academic calendar has contributed so much to the rot in the varsity system as well as the corruption in the ivory towers over management of funds. While ASUU strike is on, government bought vehicles worth off N1.14 billion for Niger Republic to ensure security during elections.
This government has extended railway to Maradi in Niger while neglecting the Maiduguri/Port Harcourt railway. All these are misplaced priorities when the federal government universities are crying of poor funding. Let government and ASUU show commitment to resolving the seeming interminable strike.