In March, this year, two catastrophes hit the Nigerian education sector. The global Coronavirus pandemic required a serious response from the government and Nigeria, like many other countries, was locked down as part of the measures of curbing the spread of the deadly virus.
At the same time, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) declared a total, comprehensive and indefinite strike to press home its demands for improving the seriously challenged university education sub-sector. Some people have questioned the rationale behind ASUU’s strike declaration at the wake of a global emergency.
However, in reality, it was only teaching that was affected as ASUU members continued to do their duty of research, within the limits of the resources available, and the various studies on COVID-19 pandemic by the Nigerian academics within the period of the lockdown and now bear eloquent testimony to that commitment.
What is clear is that ASUU used the opportunity of the lockdown to draw the attention of the government through strike to the lingering issues affecting the development of the university system based on the existing agreement.
However, government appeared to have other priorities, though education should be a topmost priority of government being the foundation on which developmental activities are built. In effect, it could be argued that Nigerians only started to feel the impact of the strike after the refusal of ASUU members to resume work when the government unlocked the lockdown and directed educational institutions to resume work on October 12.
So, while other sub-sectors such as the primary, secondary and other tertiary institutions resumed work, pressure was mounted by the stakeholders and negotiations that could have been held and concluded during the lockdown started to gain the attention of the government.
Government owes it a responsibility to end ASUU’s strike now because of its many open and hidden costs. While the monetary cost of ASUU’s strike over the years was estimated at N1.2 trillion by BusinessDay newspaper in October is countable, it is extremely difficult to count the hidden costs as many things that count cannot be counted.
For example, it is very unlikely that the #EndSARS protests would have attained the dangerous dimensions they took if students were to be in school. The deaths and carnage wrought on individuals, public and private property wouldn’t