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ASUU Strike: The Continuous Closure of Public Universities, A Recipe Of Disaster by Stephen Peter Okangla

It is no news that members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have been on strike for the past two months over unimplemented agreements severally reached with the Federal Government. Only recently, the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (SSANU), and Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions (NASU), joined other University based unions to cripple both academic and administrative activities in Public Universities. This implies that all arms of public Universities in Nigeria have down tools as a result of the chronic failure of government to implement agreement it reached with the union on a very comfortable atmosphere.

This wanton display of negligence and “I don’t care” attitude by the Federal Government towards issues bordering on education of the children of the poor is inexplicable, reprehensive and highly condemnable. Let me quickly draw your attention to the provisions of our extant laws, specifically the fons et origo (constitution). Section 14, subsection (1), paragraph (b) of the Constitution Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as altered), (hereinafter referred to as the constitution) provides: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Such welfare as observed by the writer includes the education of every Nigerians devoid of favouritism, nepotism, inequality, cronyism and prebendalism. Similarly section 18, subsections (1), (2), (3) and paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) provides accordingly: (1) “government shall directs its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels” (2) “government shall promote science and technology (3) “government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end government shall as when practicable provide- (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education, (b) free university education; and (c) free adult literacy programme.” It is important to state that the word shall as used and highlighted herein is interpreted to mean mandatory and not obligatory.

Also, section 1, subsection (1) of the Constitution provides: “this Constitution is supreme and its provision shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” It is therefore obnoxious and very worrisome that government choose to neglect public Institutions across the country despite the clear provision and direction of the Constitution. In this knowledge, it is either successive government are since the inception of democracy in Nigeria illegitimate or they choose to be wicked by disparaging the constitution and her people. This article aim to address several questions as it relates to the ongoing industrial action by ASUU and its palpable effect on students and the country.
Education As A Fundamental Right.
Ostensibly, the right to education is a fundamental right that should not be gambled with by any government. Despite the fact that the Nigerian Government cynically moved the provision for education to chapter II of the Constitution, it does not in any way negates the fact that such right is fundamental. Article 17, paragraph (1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right provides: “every individual shall have the right to education” This is one of the numerous international Treaties and Charters which provide for right to education of which Nigeria have ratified and domesticated. The Nigerian Court did not also relent in upholding right to education as fundamental in Nigeria. This is evidence in plethora of judicial decisions including but not limited to, ARCHBISHOP OKOGIE V A.G. LAGOS STATE (1981) 1NCLR 218, ADEWOLE & ORS V JAKANDE (1981) 1NCLR 262.

Just as Nelson Mandela once said “education is the most powerful weapon with which you can to Change the world.” It is embarrassing to come to the knowledge that such idea as held by Mandela is not clear to our government. Hence, while other nations are building their society through education and technology, our government destroys ours through the pillars of strike and blocks of negligence. Little wonder, year in, year out the government keep renegading on the gentleman agreement reached with the academic union.
Although, our laws speak volumes on equality and social justice, but the reality leave much to be desired. Sadly, our government is the chief perpetrator of injustice and inequality, while we wallow and languish in emergencies, they bask and surf in our common wealth. How many Commissioners, Senators, Representatives, Governors, Ministers, Political aides and which Vice President, President did you see his son or daughter attended or attending public school in Nigeria? I believe you know they all fly abroad and study under the most conducive environment without any form of disruption and still return to take from us the scare job and resources we all jostle for. Whose money do you think are used to sponsor these few ones? Private or public fund? I believe you know the answer.

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The reality in this part of the world is sore, the education of the common man is least concern for the government, and to them it is no right nor a necessity. Their wards’ welfare and education is most important and primary to them, it supersedes every other thing in Nigeria.
Is ASUU Strike Genuine?
This is one question stakeholders in Nigeria continue to evade and such silence at this stage is no golden! Strike action in Nigerian public Universities has become a norm, it has been with us for decades, right from the military era. This further elucidate how careless the government have been on educating the child of the poor man who cannot afford private education for his children. Now let me drive you into my question. Is ASUU Strike justifiable? Is it a pursuit of selfish interest or burn out of ill-motive for the Nigerian child?
Of course there are several issues bedeviling the public University system in Nigeria. One of such issues raised by ASUU is funding of public Universities, improved welfare package for lecturers, payment of backlog of academic allowances, accepting the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as preferred payment platform over the white man’s Integrated Payroll and Personnel System (IPPIS) among others. I will take these issues briefly and blow by blow.

Funding of Public Universities, what is the state of your University? Do you have constant power supply? How many are you in your allocated hostel room? How much do you spend on accommodation? How is your school transportation system? How well do your lecture halls accommodate you? When it rains how do you attend lectures? I can go on and on with the questions but I will stop here. In my University, (which name must not be printed) we live at the mercy of God, especially for us living on campus. In my room where I stay, the room is meant for four students, currently we are eleven students in the room, our toilets and bathrooms are sick heavens, our water is as bitter as vinegar. There are rooms in some hostels meant for ten students, sadly you will find average of 30-35 students. In my faculty and others, most of the seats in the classes have outlived their life spam, we don’t have rest room where you can comfortably go and ease up, and in fact you must tidy up properly from your hostel every time. Anytime you feel pressed, you either run to your hotel or make to endure till you are done with lectures.

Back to the hostel, the toilet and bathrooms in some especially female hostels are highly regrettable, in fact for fear of contracting infections, some ladies take safety in bathing outside. Either at their balcony or frontage. You see, this is just an aspect, another is poor electricity supply. What about flooding, anytime it rains in my school you either take a canoe or swim to lecturers. Funny right? That is how bad and despicable the system work in reality. Another area is inadequate lecture halls, what you find mostly out there is clash of venue and students sitting on bare floors and lecture podium or squeezing themselves in four on a seat of two just to hear the lecturer, this is mostly witnessed in General Studies (GST) classes where you have an average of 1000 students to a lecturer. This it is the reality everywhere, not just in my University. Also, in some Universities lecturers share offices, when you go inside, the environment alone confuses you about his or her status. The whole Nigerian University system is fraudulently set up to get back at the common man! The question that now beg for answer is who should put in place these needed infrastructures? The government or the student? I trust you know the answer!
Now let’s talk about lecturers welfare, how much is the basic salary of an average lecturer? How much is the basic salary of a Professor? Do your finding and compare it with the salaries of Ministers, Commissioners and Legislative members, you will join ASUU in seeking for their improved welfare. More so, members of ASUU and other University Union are owed allowances, of course we know the situation in Nigeria, members of the Armed forces, Para military, Civil servants, Judiciary etc. are all suffering the same fate in the face of the rising inflation, but how many Senators, Ministers, Representatives and other government functionaries are being owed? Only recently there was speculation that some members of the police force planned on embarking on strike. You see why you cannot criticize ASUU for demanding payment of their outstanding allowances and demanding improved welfare? In this part of the world, it is the common man that bears the lack of the rich man, the rich doesn’t bear that of the poor man.
Now let’s talk about UTAS and IPPIS, government brought a payment platform called IPPIS and imposed it on civil servants, public servants and exempted some workers e.g. workers under NNPC and Central Bank of Nigeria. ASUU raised objection and says IPPIS does not fit into the peculiarities of the University system including irregularities in payment of salary. Upon the rejection, it locally built UTAS as their preferred payment platform. After series of test was conducted and several passed as communicated by the government, after some time, the government surreptitiously in a commando style but in a very questionable manner rejected UTAS stating that it failed their so called “integrity” test. Instead of commending ASUU for developing such a software locally, some persons kicked against it for selfish reasons and vendetta. Is everything not fishy to you at this point? You see, I can go on and on but let me borrow the words of my learned father, Chief Mike Ozekhome, I need not “spill bucket of ink” before you understand that the education of the child of the poor man is very expensive and a “problem” to the Nigerian government. We have seen our legislature approve trillions of naira for fuel subsidy, defense, and railways without raising objection yet we pay through our nose to buy fuel, we can’t afford price of transportation, we die daily in the hands of bandits, terrorist and the dreaded unknown gun men! Only recently, the railway too have become the shortest cut to hell.
Elections are fast approaching, billions have been appropriated to INEC, sooner than later money will fly all over the country. But the child of the poor man must not go to school, he should remain at home. ASUU is wicked for embarking on strike, in fact government is broke. These and many more are the responses of the Nigerian government to what affects the public. You see it is Crystal clear, that ASUU struggles for over 2 million children of the poor man in public Universities, there struggle is just. We are the ones wearing the shoe and know exactly where it pinches us, but if you hitherto do not know, now you know!

Continuous Closure of Public Universities A Recipe for Disaster

The 56 days the Federal Government wasted before inviting ASUU to the negotiation table leave nothing to be expected and raised dust on government’s sincerity on resolving the industrial action. Strike action no doubt is inimical to the growth of any sector whenever deployed, sadly it remain the most productive means in holding government accountable by unions in Nigeria. Indeed there are several issues plaguing the Nigerian society today, these include but not limited to economic recession, inflation, poverty, hunger and insecurity. It is most unwise to keep students at home in the face of all these daring and enduring challenges which government has almost lost control over and expect changes.
No doubt the current administration is almost overwhelmed and nearly lost out of the radar of control with the rising spate of insecurity in the country. With the return of over 2 million undergraduates from public Universities across the country, there is palpable fear of tension, unrest, and astronomical growth of insecurity and social vices in the country. The youth of which most population of it cut across students are the most valuable asset a nation can boost of, it is however tragic that such asset is neither valued nor catered for in Nigeria. The Nigerian students is the most valuable asset the nation can pride in. But today the reality is very condemnable as same supposed assets have been sent home to roam the street, and compelled to join illicit and outlawed but “profitable” ventures as they could neither find job nor be empowered by the government.
Of course the government by shutting our varsities have invariably pushed our students into yahoo-yahoo, banditry, terrorism, kidnapping and to join the league of unknown gun men and other vices. Keeping students at home in a country where poverty and hunger pride around is a clear recipe for disaster. No doubt it is tantamount to destruction of their future. Tension must rise, some must grow restive. It is very clear and sad that while we waste away our time lazing around as a result of the strike, their wards enjoy the best education abroad hence they are unperturbed.

At this stage it is no golden, that our churches, mosques, stakeholders, celebrities, clergymen, atheists, activists, political parties, civil society organizations, Faith based organizations, NGOs, Think-tank organizations, elder statesmen and political aspirants choose to be silent in what grows delicate on daily basis. I must commend two men, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III who in the face of threats, intimidation and harassment stood firmly and continue to speak truth to power. It is no good that our students should continue to languish at home while the President and his aides, the Vice President, Ministers, Senators, and Representatives sponsor their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren abroad with public funds in pursuit of quality education at the expense of public Universities and students.

I have in volumes represented how bad strike negatively impact Nigerian students. It is a thing of shame on our government that student spend five to six years in school studying a course of four years, while some spend seven to eight years in school studying a course of five and six years. Not only that, just as Gbemisola Adeoti severally refrained and represented in his poem, “Ambush” the land is indeed a giant whale that swallows both our hook, sinker, line, bait, boat and aborting our dreams of good catch! No doubt, many students will be disqualify from participating in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which is the only empowerment guaranteed and available from the government as a result of the persistent strike action as by the time they will be due, age would have successfully mounted a road block against them.
But in the spirit of moving forward, we must understood clearly that the Academic Union of Universities (ASUU) is fighting a just fight for the benefit of the children of the poor man, little slumber then our universities will be worse than secondary schools. Government must understand that what stands a society out is the solid nature of her education and technology, hence they must as a matter of necessity invest funds that will forever and positively change the fortune and future of the Nigerian child and position our universities to stand out.
Stakeholders from all walks of life and parents must all join hands with ASUU in this struggle to salvage our society and educational system of the rot. In a nutshell, this should serve as point to reflect on and make amends by all players in the life of the Nigerian child, just as Sir Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory once said “the children of the poor man whom you refuse to train today, will not allow your children sleep tomorrow.”

Stephen Peter Okangla writes from Nasarawa, Nasarawa State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: stephenokangla@gamail.com, Phone/WhatsApp: 08132040369

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