There is something abnormal heating up the polity about an impending election when most universities in the country are shut down. The joke is that strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has virtually become an annual festival.
It would seem that all administrations in the land have had to contend with the university eggheads embarking on strike to press home their demands.
That also seems to be the only languge the government understands. Young people are home, except those whose parents can afford to pay for universities abroad or private ones within our shores.
Since February 14, 2022, the union gave the nation the love gift of a strike, which just got extended by another month. Such strikes have become the hallmark of all executives of ASUU, given that government hardly responds to negotiations or warning or any such niceties.
This regime inherited the malaise that has befallen the university system. Back in the military days of General Ibrahim Babangida, Professor Attahiru Jega led ASUU to one of the longest strikes the union ever embarked upon, which led to the institution of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) that has prevented a total collapse of the system. Virtually every regime has struggled with making public universities better.
Incumbent ASUU leader, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, said, but for the strikes, Nigerian public universities would have become glorified secondary schools. It was President Goodluck Jonathan who tried to interface with the union in a manner that seemed to proffer a permanent solution to the problem with the renegotiated FGN-ASUU agreement in 2009.
But government has continued to renege on that agreement consistently, saying it could not meet the financial implications.
Today, the union says the government has failed to conclude the renegotiating the 2009 agreement, deploy the University Transparency and Accountability System (UTAS), pay outstanding arrears of Earned Academic Allowances (EEA), release agreed sum of money for revitalization of public universities, address proliferation and governance issues in state universities, settle promotion arrears, release withheld salaries of academics and pay outstanding third-party deductions. These led to the current strike.
Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari was said to have given a two-week marching order to the minister of education and others to settle the matter, although the Presidency later said no such order was issued.
The union said the Federal Government, having held their salary since February, was deploying hunger as a tool to force them back to work. The lectures have rather dug in than succumb to hunger. They seem ready to go the whole hog.
They would turn their cars to cabs, sell bread, potatoes as exemplified by their colleague in the University of Jos, and do whaever else to put food on the table to survive. They would up their ante on this strike to turn the heat on the government.
Their timing is right, given that another election knocks on the door. Politicians hardly resist the allure of getting the people to vote for them.
The video of a man standing in the middle of a tightrope between a lion and a bear on both sides with the only option of falling into a shark-infested river below best describes government on this matter.
Just one of the candidates said it would take a miracle for another to win the impending elections, the same miracle would do for a government who would face an electorate whose children are rusty of learning when politicians attend convocations of their silver-spoon children in Ivy League schools beyond our shores.
Perhaps a legislation, which would take the elephant passing though the eye of a needle to come, should pass through the National Assembly to mandate politicians and certain high-level civil servants to have their children go to higher institutions in public universities in Nigeria.
I poured encomiums of Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, when he sent his kid to a public primary school in the state capital.
He was leading from the front by that act. His other colleagues are brazen about the in-your-face display of disdain for universities in the land, when they show their children in their top-class universities abroad when their Nigerian counterparts are growing weed.
Universities would not have had rusty five-month unused keys in the last five months with ASUU and the government doing forth and back.
The end to this matter in a fairly permanent stretch can only follow a law that mandates politicians to have their children go to school in public universities within our shores.
Government has come clean with the obvious but stated fact: we are broke. Festus Keyamo, spokesman for the ruling party’s presidential campaign, says government would have to borrow (of course, it lives on borrowing) over N1 trillion to meet ASUU’s demand.
ASUU says Keyamo is misinforming the public. The truth hides between both parties in the face of empty classrooms. Government must resolve the matter willy-nilly. ASUU should also bring something other than strike to the table by way of solution.
In the days of Prof. Jega, ASUU told the government to initiate education tax or something to that effect, which Babangida endorsed.
In the face of glaring economic downturn, the union should go beyond strike to also think for the government as its own contribution to resolve the matter.
It has developed a payment platform to replace government’s proposition, which they contend. Strike is the only language they seem to understand, though.
Even as one we ask ASUU to go beyond withdrawal of services and offer solutions, the buck actually stops with government.