The current face-off between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government of Nigeria, which began on March 23, 2020, has, once again, brought our educational system to the limelight of weakness and exposed the sector as a perennial third choice when it comes to national priority. The arguable truth is that neither ASUU nor the Federal Government is consciously pursuing the welfare of the poor students who have remained the age-long victims of these sometimes-selfish titan wars. ASUU might be making a stance for the welfare of its members, the same way government is trying to protect its institution, but who is fighting for the students who would have counted losses in time and academics at the end of the day? Such is the messy system that has become an acceptable norm in Nigeria. But the truth is that the involvement of state government-owned and financed universities in the ASUU strike is rather starkly inconsiderate.
Precipitating events have always revealed that, even though unionism stands to salvage certain institutional anomalies, certain selfish interests usually begin to crop up, lending less meaning to and compromising the original objectives of the aspiration. The demand for the reopening of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU), Anambra State, by the management of the revered stated-owned university and progressive ASUU unionists of the university points to the right attitude of the institution’s management to take the right steps when necessary.
Historical struggles of ASUU in the university have been robust, fraternal and peculiar, given that the institution reserves a major interest in the collective struggle to liberate university education in Nigeria. However, recent tides as exerted by union leaders in the university have cast disbelief on the foundational goals of those struggles and, with the current unaltruistic drive embarked on by the leadership of ASUU in COOU, the institution’s management and progressive unionists have deemed it forthright to begin academic activities immediately, and disassociate itself from any leadership policy that discards the most interest of students, who would have lost one academic year if the industrial action is allowed to continue.
COOU, as a state university, has its own peculiarities, which the present ASUU leadership in the university, for certain strange reasons, has continued to downplay. Despite these peculiarities and challenges, which have weighed down many sister universities, COOU has continued to excel across many fronts, courtesy of the Anambra State government and highly knowledgeable and dedicated staff, disciplined student population, and the acumen of the impactful management team. It is, therefore, counterproductive for anybody or group to engage in actions capable of demotivating the positive energy that drives the university.
The backing of reopening of the institution is an essential call that overrides peripheral visions and ego that have become synonymous with the leadership of ASUU in the university, which neither prioritises the welfare of students nor protects the integrity of the foremost academic citadel.
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State and the management of COOU, under the leadership of Professor Greg Nwakoby, have prioritised staff welfare to a scale that is unprecedented in the annals of the university, while remaining committed to ensuring that staff voices are heard. In keeping with the ideals of ASUU, all positions of deans of faculty in the university have been democratised and occupied by duly elected deans, except for the the Faculty of Agriculture. Most notable is that, despite the burden of lean resources, COOU staff get promoted and paid with no glitches.
For 2020, in particular, academic staff of the university, despite being on strike, completed and submitted their appraisal forms, the union-friendly university management considered the application and effected deserving promotions. Among the the state universities in the South-East region of Nigeria, it is only in COOU that staff are still being paid salaries in defiance of the hard economic times.
On career progression, it is noteworthy that only Governor Obiano and an ASUU-friendly university administration as that of COOU would meet 35 professors in the university in 2018 and within two years enable and promote the other well-qualified, deserving but hitherto stagnanted academics to be so promoted to the hallowed professorial cadre. That is the legacy of Professor Nwakoby in COOU.
The challenge of infrastructure deficit is being given serious priority by the state government, while all ETFund projects abandoned by past administrations in the university are today being completed under the direct watch of Professor Nwakoby. These include lecture rooms, theatres, auditoriums, laboratories, hostels, library and general aesthetics of the university grounds. Worthy of mention is is the large scale of completion works being carried out on the buildings for the faculties of Management Sciences, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Education. The long-abandoned Faculty of Agriculture Complex is now fully completed. The two gigantic central laboratory complex in Uli and Igbariam campuses, abandoned since 2015, are speedily and aggressively receiving finishing touches.
Additionally, ASUU-COOU specifically benefitted from the rapid infrastructural development in the university by having its secretariat roofed by the university management, while, on assumption of office, the vice-chancellor, Professor Nwakoby, immediately reversed suspended allowances due the union and its members. It is on those strong clauses that the management of the university and members of ASUU in the institution feel disenchanted and particularly concerned by the attempts of the maligned leadership of ASUU-COOU to bring the institution to disrepute.
Worthy to note is the fact that, even though the university shares in the aspirations of the very responsible ASUU struggle, it is deeply disappointed that the leadership of ASUU in COOU as presently constitued is a decadent baggage that commands neither the loyalty nor the confidence of academic staff of the university, as members of the ASUU-COOU support the resumption of academic activities in COOU on Monday, October 5, 2020.
The members of the union will continue to work with the national executive of the union and the university management to secure the future of the university without compromise the welfare of its members.