In a recent statement, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed the fear that the perennial strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would have negative consequences on families, the education system and the development of the country. According to him, the strike has taken a toll on the psychology of parents, students and other stakeholders. “We hope that ASUU will sympathise with the people on the prolonged strike. Truly, enough is enough for keeping students at home. Don’t hurt the next generation for goodness sake,” Buhari lamented.
ASUU had swiftly replied the President in kind. According to the union, enough can’t be enough until Buhari does the needful by salvaging the university education in Nigeria. According to the coordinator of the Lagos zone of the union, Adelaja Odukoya, in a state on behalf of ASUU, “for the records Mr. President, enough will not be enough in the struggle to reposition the public university education in Nigeria under this present administration and beyond as long as the Nigerian public universities are reduced to glorified secondary schools for the production of poor quality and globally uncompetitive, rejected and unemployable graduates…”
It is indeed a national embarrassment that the nation’s university system has been shut for over five months. It is even more embarrassing that President Buhari appears to have just realised the negative effects of the prolonged strike. That Nigerian students have been at home for over five months when they should be in school is worrisome. The factors surrounding the strike are well known. They largely revolve around failure of the government to meet the renegotiated 2009 agreement it reached with ASUU. By and large, government is supposed to increase the funding of the universities and renegotiate the conditions of service of academic staff.
ASUU also demanded payment of arrears of allowances and replacement of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) with University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS). The Federal Government had agreed to inject N1.3 trillion for the revitalisation of public universities. This was to come in six tranches starting from 2013. It released the first tranche of N200 billion in 2013 but failed to release N220 billion each year for the five subsequent years as agreed. Paucity of funds is always the excuse. So far, Buhari’s government has paid N92 billion to cover earned allowances and revitalisation funds to federal universities. This is grossly inadequate and not up to what government agreed to pay.
ASUU’s demand that the government respects the agreement has not yielded much dividend. In 2020, the union embarked on a nine-month strike that affected an academic session. When it called off the prolonged strike, many Nigerians never envisaged that it would soon embark on another industrial action that would cripple the universities for this long.
Students are the worst hit in this show of shame in our tertiary institutions. Within this period, some students have died. Many of them are frustrated that courses that would ordinarily take four years to finish will now take five years or more. Some of them, out of frustration, joined criminal gangs, which will ultimately ruin their future.
It appears that government has failed to remember the saying that the youth is the future of the country. Nigeria is the greatest loser in all this. In the good old days, foreign students, especially from African countries, thronged our universities because the institutions were highly rated. Today, the reverse is the case. Rather, affluent Nigerians, especially politicians, send their children to universities abroad because ours have become glorified secondary schools. Those remaining in our tertiary institutions are children of parents who cannot afford the exorbitant cost of schooling abroad.
The state of our universities is really shameful. In the world universities ranking, none of Nigeria’s universities is within the first 500. Education is the bedrock of development for any serious country. That is why the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommended that every country should devote between 15 and 20 per cent of its national budget to education. Nigeria hardly meets this target. Our average budget for education has always been less than 10 per cent.
It is not good enough to say “enough is enough.” The President must begin now to think of the legacies he will leave behind after his tenure in office. He should do something so that history will remember him kindly. Time is fast running out.
Since President Buhari has realised the dangers in the strike, he should start implementing agreements with ASUU. He should end the strike because we believe government has the capacity to end it. He should remember his recent pledge that his government was committed to fulfilling the promises made to ASUU. Without meeting the demands of ASUU, there is no way our universities can compete effectively with others in the world.
ASUU, on its part, must also consider shifting grounds in its demands, where necessary. Solution to problems is about compromise. There must be sincerity of purpose between the government and ASUU leadership. The two parties must return to the drawing board and address all outstanding issues. The government must begin now to pay serious attention to education if we are desirous of joining the league of advanced nations. Enough is really enough!