The slipshod approach of the Nigerian government to address the lingering ASUU strike is, to say the least, nauseating. There is no better explanation to this shoddy attitude towards Nigerian universities than government’s sheer sophistry, insensitivity and utmost disregard for quality education – a key to social and economic development of any serious nation.
University education is universally cherished and regarded as the engine room for unparalleled growth and development of a society. It is one of the key drivers of growth performance, prosperity, and competitiveness in national and global economies; hence it is considered as the foundation of human development across countries. In view of the weight of university education to the integral development of nations, serious and highly developed societies have not only given it utmost priority but have also channeled huge resources to boost the sector.
Moreover, university education is an important form of investment in human capital whose Rate On Investment (ROI) can be measured in terms of its contributions to economic growth of a society. Despite these numerous lofty advantages of university education, it is however, one of the least prioritized items in particularly countries with defective leadership styles such as Nigeria. As a matter of concern, while acknowledging the import of other critical sectors of the economy, the country’s educational sector barely gets a paltry one-digit percentage as its yearly budgetary allocation. Hence, the recurrent ASUU strikes are just a consequence of this shoddy behavior of successive governments who show little or no concern for the improvement of public universities. This may not be unconnected to the fact that most, if not all, of Nigerian politicians hardly enroll their wards into these public institutions. It is, for instance, instructive to sadly note that, despite the unwavering public support and goodwill enjoyed by the current President which enabled him clinch power in 2015, all but two of his children had their university education in foreign land. If this points to anything, it only underscores the lack of faith and commitment towards improving the standards of Nigerian public universities.
Consequent upon the brazen neglect of these public institutions, ASUU has made it a point of call to consistently persuade the government until it rises to its constitutional responsibilities. The responsibilities are encapsulated in ASUU’s six basic and legitimate demands that have over the years become the bone of contention between the Union and the federal government (FG). These legitimate demands include the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement; revitalization of the universities; adoption of University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS); payment of earned academic allowances (EAA); curtailment of the proliferation of universities without adequate funding and release of white paper on the visitation panel. These were the same reasons ASUU embarked on the previous10-months old strike in 2020 but was prevailed on to call it off based on the promises that the FG would address the issues. However, 12 months later, nothing was done thereby compelling the Union to re-embark on another strike on February 14, 2022. It is now over six months into the strike and the government has not shown any serious commitment to resolve the crisis.
More so, instead of facing these issues squarely, the government opted to irreverently engage in campaign of calumny against the university teachers by portraying them as greedy and unpatriotic members of the society. The height of it all is the latest denigrating and provocative comments by the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, advising public university students to sue their lecturers. To say the least, this is moral bankruptcy that must be vehemently condemned. The walking out of the Minister on a delegation of the association of Nigerian students at the onset of the strike is still fresh in our memories. The sum of these and other unfortunate episodes have only exposed a discourteous, tactless and above all, an intolerant personality in the Minister.
Regardless of these distractions, ASUU has altruistically remained resolute in its determination to liberate university education by defending the social rights of the common man to access quality and relatively affordable university education. Expectedly, the struggle has always had its costs, ranging from outright rejection to back lashings and blackmails from all quarters including the students and by extension their parents who, ironically, have often been the eventual beneficiaries of the FG-ASUU face-off. For instance, one of the outcomes of ASUU’s struggle is the establishment of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) which has unarguably remained the only most visible educational project in not just the universities but across all tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Meanwhile, as ASUU is grappling with these backlashes from these angry university victims on one hand, the government and other anti-public university political opportunists, on the other hand, have been relentless in their futile efforts to scuttle the collective resolve of the Union by starving its members through salary stoppage and constant propaganda. However, as a Union of visionary patriots, members of ASUU have become poised in withstanding the egoistic tendencies of these unparalleled arrogant government kleptomaniacs the country has ever had.
Ribadu is in the Department of Sociology, ABU Zaria.