The Federal government should quickly-go into negotiation and discussions with the labour/ASUU officials and do as much as they possibly-can to solve the problems which are easy ones for solution as far as one is concerned. Do not wait until they go on strike or the Industrial Court for settlement of disputes. Whenever there is a strike in Nigerian universities, many stakeholders suffer irredeemably. As a physical scientist, one believes that no problem is insolvable if due consideration, sincerity, mind and spirit are there.
Prof Boniface C E Egboka
A threatening blizzard of strikes by ASUU is menacingly-looming in the horizon. That is the way it usually starts; small-small complaints and quarrels between ASUU and the Federal Government authorities; then an exchange that hots up in press conferences and newspaper articles; then it smoulders like a gentle firework into wildfire of belligerencies and warning strikes; and finally blows up into full-scale and full-fledged strikes in which all Federal and State Universities may be involved. These may last for weeks and months with their attendant destructive consequences on the Socioeconomy. The enduring and annual problems and consequent blizzard of hazards of trade disputes and consequent strikes that are allowed to regularly-arise between the Federal Government authorities and the Nigeria Academic Union of Universities (ASUU) beats one’s humble imagination. Everyone would see them ominously-coming and would hardly-raise a finger to do something positive to stop it. Eventually, something fairly-palliative may be done after much socioeconomic-cum-academic damages might have been done by both parties, as Federal government and ASUU. The Governing Councils, the National Universities Commission, the Federal Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour and Productivity, the Senate Committee and House of Representatives Committees on Higher Education, the Federal Executive Council and the President etc. tend to wait, watch and see on the negative outcomes before anyone wobbles into action whereby any efforts are actively-made to solve problems usually-posed by the trade unions of ASUU, SANU, NASU etc. If we really care for the proper development and positive growth in education of our children at all levels of life, we must show special interest to quickly-tackling any problems that may arise in the pursuit of our educational policies and programmes. Instead, we tend to show an extreme laissez-faire attitude almost at all times thereby crashing hopes for progressive growth in all our educational opportunities. As an academic, one has closely-followed the reactionary-tango-dance like that of deaf-and-dumb in our education industry between the Federal Government and ASUU as well as the other trade unions over the years. What I see is that the trade unionists and the government authorities repeat sordid events of negative History of failure in negotiations, strikes, closure of Universities, sending away of students, rustication of University staff involved, court interventions, possible quasi-settlements of trade disputes, bad fate in non-implementation of agreements. This continues in cycles from year to year while students and the society become the principal victims.
“ASUU protests scrapping of Post-UTME” was a PUNCH newspaper screaming headline of an article on Monday, July 18, 2016. According to the writer, Friday Olokor, he wrote among other things that “The Academic Staff Union of Universities on Monday protested against the decision of the Federal Government to scrap the Post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, warning that the scrapping ‘portends serious danger for the quality of education in Nigeria’…The union said the decision undermines the autonomy and powers of university Senate as the highest policy making body on academic matters, particularly admission of students and award of university degrees…The National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, who tabled the protest at a press briefing in Abuja, said the union was not consulted on the matter…He said, ‘The cancellation of Post -UTME, to us, portends serious danger for the quality of education in this country’…The argument of federal government on the policy is unacceptable and potentially harmful to the future of Nigerian’s education system. We call on government to rescind its decision and convene a genuine stakeholders’ meeting on the issue before making any policy statement.”
The postUTME should not be scrapped as now done; it can be improved upon. It was an important decision that was taken after hard and widespread consultations with different stakeholders in the tertiary education system that included University Managements countrywide, ASUU, JAMB officials, Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Universities (Federal and State-owned), the NUC, the then Ministry of Education, Senate Committee on Education etc. before agreements were reached that Universities were allowed to carry out the postUTME and use the result combined with that of JAMB to admit students. It was not acceptable that admission exercise was to be carried out only with JAMB results because of obvious problems that were identified from JAMB results and many JAMB-only-admitted students’ performance. Some of such students failed the postUTME woefully. Many of them could not express themselves well or clearly in good and logical writing. Some of them lacked the required technical or basic scientific knowledge for their fields of studies. Some who scored over 280 marks in JAMB failed woefully to earn comparable scores in the University examinations. Some even presented fake JAMB results. It is known that JAMB had been faced with some logistic and technical problems in organization of its exams over the years such as shortages in space and ICT facilities from different parts of the country. Above all, the Senate of Universities are empowered by the Laws to admit, teach and graduate candidates in Nigerian Universities. JAMB’s examinations are general purpose in nature while University examinations are academic-specific. Meanwhile, every University worldwide is allowed by Laws to admit her own students without external influence or interference by anybody or government. It is known that some Universities started charging students excessively and government did intervene and directed that cost for such examinations should not exceed two thousand Naira (N2000.00). Even though this amount was not enough to organize such examinations, it can be increased to three thousand Naira (N3000.00) as the effort is worth it. There were reports of leakages of examination papers in some Universities. Any of such misdemeanors or charging of excessive fees could be checked by government officials through monitoring and supervision.
According to LEADERSHIP Metro byline, “Nigeria: Tension as ASUU Threatens Nationwide Strike”, “The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has threatened to embark on a nationwide strike if the Federal Government fails to begin total implementation of the 2009 ASUU-FG agreement, especially the NEEDS assessment agreement…The body also urged Education Minister, Adamu, to reverse the ban on PostUTMEs, Leadership reports”. This agreed funding by the Federal government was a result of serious discussion where ASUU, Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, the Senate and House of Representative members and Federal government officials were engaged in tortuous and difficult negotiations through the NEEDs Assessment whereby the Federal government is to pay billions of Naira to the Universities in Phases over the years. This funding shall help the Universities to improve and upgrade their facilities for teaching, learning and research and augment the earlier poor funding. While some of the money has been paid, a great deal of money still stands out unpaid and ASUU is now threatening strike action where the money is not paid. According to Biodun Ogunyemi “The cancellation of PostUTME, to us, portends serious danger for the quality of education in the country. The argument of the Federal government on the policy is unacceptable and potentially harmful to the future of Nigeria’s education system…We call on government to rescind its decision and convene a genuine stakeholders meeting on the issue before making any policy…He urged all well-meaning Nigerians to intervene to avert a looming crisis in the university system”.
It has been the general idiosyncrasy that while these possible stalemates by ASUU and Federal government officials go on, people seem to stand and stare and show no concern. As usual, there are now threats of strikes and clanging of cymbals of downing of tools in Nigerian Universities. We must change from our usual wait and see attitude, avoid the act of the mad Emperor Nero attitude while Rome got burnt. The Federal government should quickly-go into negotiation and discussions with the labour/ASUU officials and do as much as they possibly-can to solve the problems which are easy ones for solution as far as one is concerned. Do not wait until they go on strike or the Industrial Court for settlement of disputes. Whenever there is a strike in Nigerian universities, many stakeholders suffer irredeemably. As a physical scientist, one believes that no problem is insolvable if due consideration, sincerity, mind and spirit are there. Whenever there is strike the students suffer most. They are sent home packing. Some of them may be involved in accidents and may be injured or die; they sit at home doing nothing and wasting time; they get involved in delinquency of any kind. Some of such students may even abandon schooling entirely and join the madding crowd of hardened criminals in our society. The parents equally suffer as they are not getting value for investments on their children and the nation. The Universities become inoperative as there can be no University without students. Teaching and research cease while the staff are usually-saddened and helpless. And when “the no work no pay” hammer falls on dissenting staff, they suffer inexorably from deprivation, hunger and poverty. Research material, plants and animals in laboratories and farm houses suffer damages and gruesome losses. Many lecturers who cannot do anything else except teaching and research suffer psychological depression as they stay at home doing nothing. Our educational system suffer greatly: development is hazarded; academic calendar and freedom are marred and cannibalized; national and international image of Nigerian Universities become severely-blurred etc. The Federal Government even becomes the greatest loser: the funds already spent in Universities are degraded and rendered unsustainable; the citizens suffer and continue to blame the government thereby affecting its image; her programme on tertiary education is masturbated and dehumanized; most of the time, the government pays the striking workers even for the period or months when they were on strike despite the threat of “no work no pay” etc. The Federal authorities must be very conscious of the democratic principles of governance that are chiefly-based on dialogue in negotiating trade disputes. They should go ahead to sort out matters with ASUU as quickly as possible so that we are not involved anymore on scandalous strikes that used to be of habitual occurrence in Nigerian Universities. Let us have a change!
- Prof Boniface C E Egboka PhD, UNIZIK, Awka, Anambra State; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org