Beyond the recent suspension of the over nine-month strike by the university lecturers’ union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), this is the right time to take retrospective evaluation of the crisis, given its implications on the overall growth of university education and national development.
Although this would not be the first time the system would be held hostage and strangulated by strikes, this particular industrial action left much to be desired in the quest for a virile university education.
Against the backdrop of the protracted face-off between the Federal Government and ASUU that kept the system in limbo for that long, this would not have been the best of times for disruption to academic and research activities in the institutions, which have failed to meet the global standard.
In reality, the series of unpardonable strikes in the nation’s higher institutions have to be interrogated with dispatch, as it provokes concern, especially at this period of underlining quest for national development.
For Nigerian university system to be shut down for nine months (March 23 to December 24) due to several failed negotiations traceable to egoistic tendencies of the Federal Government’s negotiation team led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, is an indication that the system is incontrovertibly under siege.
The Nigerian public university system might take several years to recover from the siege it had suffered in the last two decades as a result of incessant strike by the various staff unions and the recalcitrant posture of government towards addressing the funding challenges confronting the institutions.
Aside the recent strike, it is laughable that ASUU, since 1999, has embarked on a series of industrial actions, which, despite the time wasted, has not significantly brought the university system out of the woods, except the incalculable setback.
Taking a cursory look at the trend of strikes by ASUU: In 1999, the union embarked on a five months’ strike; in 2001, the universities were shut for three months; two weeks in 2002 and another six months in 2003. Also, in 2005, the union declared two weeks strike and, in 2006, ASUU embarked on another one week strike, while in 2007 and 2008, the union declared a week strike. Again, in 2009, academic activities in the universities were put on hold for four months due to ASUU’s strike.
Between 2010 and 2017, the system had been shut down for several months. With the damning trend of strikes in the university system in the last two decades, it is disappointing that the university affairs is being mismanaged to such an alarming degree that it has been difficult for the Federal Government to find a way out of this unhealthy development.
What reasons could have been adduced by government, in all intent and purpose, to keep the students out of the classroom and allow the entire university system to be shut down for almost 10 months without meaningful and deliberate political will to address the contending issues in order to save the system? The recurring spate of strikes in the public universities is an indication of how well successive governments in the country have taken university education in the scheme of national development, despite the pivotal role played by education in other climes.
The cynicism that characterised the handling of the recent ASUU strike at the level of the Federal Government as demonstrated by the minister of labour and employment and his other collaborators in resolving the crisis in time, gives further credence to the uninspiring attitude of government and its agents towards public education. President Muhammadu Buhari was expected to have intervened in resolving the crisis with dispatch and urgency it deserved without leaving the matter to the whims and caprices of Ngige, whose lack of in-depth knowledge for crisis resolution or management caused the nation such monumental loss and discomfiture.
It is high time government at all levels in Nigeria started acting dispassionately towards education concerns. There is no reason whatsoever for the strike to have lingered for that long, when government, with all the power at its disposal, should have availed itself the window offered by COVID-19 lockdown to tackle and resolve the problem. In fact, government should learn its lessons from the recent ASUU strike not to saddle characters with arrogance and ego to resolve industrial action.
Rather, only people with good knowledge of the university, nay education sector, who can effectively marshal government policies in line with the nation’s direction, should be given the responsibilities to act at that level.
As archaic as strike option could be, ASUU and other workers’ unions in the nation’s higher institutions, need to think out of the box, by finding a more innovative ways to press for their agitations without necessarily subjecting the system to palpable darkness. More importantly, now that the unions have outlined the needs for which the system could be better managed and function, government should act fast by addressing these exigencies so as to block all avenues that the unions might adduce as reasons for embarking on strikes