Who takes the blame for the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU? That is the searing poser thrown up by emerging altercations between the presidency and ASUU.
President Buhari last week, warned ASUU that ‘enough is enough’ in the current strike that has shut down universities for about five months. He urged the union to reconsider the strike as it would have generational consequences on families, the educational system and the future development of the country.
But ASUU in reaction threw back the blame to the presidency. Its national president, Emmanuel Osodeke urged Nigerians to ask the government when it would attend to the demands of the union. He said “It will be a month on July 16, 2022 since they met with us. Nigerians should ask them when they will ask us to come and sign the report/agreement of the renegotiation meeting”.
Other chapters of the union have also reacted variously arguing that enough cannot be enough until the president moves to reposition the decaying university education system. In sum, ASUU holds the government responsible for the prolonged strike due to its inability to sign renegotiated agreements to end the strike.
The dispute centres largely on increasing government’s investment in the nation’s university infrastructure and payment of salaries through the recommended University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS, among several other demands.
At one time, the presidency argued that the agreement was signed in 2009; years before it came into office and at another, it pleaded insufficiency of funds. Now they want public intervention. The impression one gets is that the government is helpless in the matter and that ASUU is impervious to reason. But this claim is not supported by facts emerging from negotiations between the union and the government.
The union said it agreed on certain terms with the Briggs committee and is waiting for the government to consummate them. But in a statement, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige laboured to educate us on the difference between a proposal and an agreement as well as those on whose shoulders the duty to sign agreements should rest.
But after that lengthy academic presentation targeted largely at discrediting ASUU, Ngige ended up admitting that even the proposal from the Briggs committee is still undergoing some processes at the governmental level. What this meant in essence is that the government is yet to come up with an offer five months thereon. So on what basis do they now require ASUU to go back to lectures or the public to intervene?
When Buhari warned against the continued prolongation of the strike action, one began to wonder whether he was fully abreast of the current state of the matter. One had expected the president to have come clear on measures taken by his officials to ensure ASUU goes back to classes. There is no evidence of anything concrete. And nothing may come soon given the way Ngige spoke.
So ASUU was right when it said enough cannot be enough without the government taking very concrete measures to address very comprehensively all the issues to the strike action. The public needs to know the position of the government on all issues to the dispute before the appeals to get them back to the lecture rooms can make meaning.
Those who intend to persuade ASUU to resume work should have something concrete to offer them. But such persons will be seriously constrained as long as the government continues to prevaricate on the renegotiated agreement as clearly evidenced by the statement from the minister of labour.
It is inappropriate for the president to place the blame on the union or seek the intervention of other Nigerians in an issue his officials are yet to address in a manner that shows good faith. ASUU is not the only university union currently on strike. Both NASU and SSANU have been out of work for months running for sundry grievances. It will be interesting to know how the government responded to their demands.
The resolution of the dispute can neither be found in blame trading nor appeals to well-meaning citizens for intervention. Its solution lies in what the government intends to make of universities in the country; the premium it places on university education. If the universities must survive, then the government has no alternative than fund them adequately.
That is the key issue. With the humongous amounts of money spent in some other sectors with little result, it should earmark substantial sums of money to breathe life once more into the universities. Needless to say that a nation that toys with the future education needs of its children is doomed for failure.
But who really cares. After all, the very rich and those who squander our collective patrimony can always afford to send their children to foreign universities to get quality education. Is it not scandalous that we are regularly regaled with pictures and stories of children of governors, ministers and top government functionaries graduating with good honours degrees from foreign universities?
And we are busy talking about elections when our children are taking to sundry crimes and criminality due to continued shutdown of the universities. Is it not better to suspend the noise on elections and address festering challenges bound to encumber a new regime? Or are we expecting that all these debilitating national challenges including the inexplicable spate of insecurity will abate once elections are conducted?
I do not share in this blind optimism. Rather, these challenges will get worse with a new regime, precipitating outcomes capable of setting the country on edge. Legal luminary Afe Babalola thought along this line when he called for the suspension of elections to address the country’s debilitating challenges.
Buhari who said he is in a hurry to go, must substantially address extant challenges so as not to encumber the next regime. Anything to the contrary will amount to a great disservice to this country.