If there is anything that should be of concern to the country at this period of quest for development, it is the avoidable incessant face-off between the Federal Government and the various staff unions in the nation’s higher institutions.
The frequency of strikes and industrial disharmony, no doubt, has constituted a cog to national growth.
Since March 2020, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on an indefinite nationwide strike, which despite the closure of the nation’s education institutions due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus has further paralysed academic and research activities in Nigerian public university system.
It is not surprising that this state of affairs in the academia, particularly the university sub-sector, have been allowed to fester beyond sound reasoning due to lack of a clear-cut direction by government on its commitment towards addressing the problems bedevilling the system.
Now, things have gone so lethargic that while ASUU’s job boycott remained unresolved, other staff unions in the system, including the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and their counterpart in the Colleges of Education, the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), have also served strike notices to the Federal Government.
As the unions threatened, they are prepared to embark on what they described as “mother of all strikes” immediately after the COVID-19 lockdown, which will further compound the crises in the sector.
Doubtless, the disquiet in the system, as it appears, is a dissatisfaction being expressed by the unions under the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of NAAT, SSANU, NASU and COEASU as well as ASUU over the shoddy implementation of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) as it concerns the payment of their salaries; non-implementation of a 2009 agreements and the alleged breach of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) reached between the Federal Government and the unions since 2018.
There is no contesting the fact that this development, if allowed to continue unchecked, like it was previously, will have a damaging effect in the educational psyche of the nation.
It is, however, non-gratifying that rather than addressing the contending issues frontally and restore sanity to the system, there has been muscle flexing on the part of the Federal Government negotiators led by the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, who, in his trademark, has threatened to sack the striking workers.
Mention must, however, be made of it that government’s attitude over the years towards education development has damagingly kept the institutions perpetually under the whims and caprices of its negotiators that have refused to weigh the consequences of strikes on national psyche and education development.
So far, there seems to be no solution in sight in the current impasse. It is regrettable that government has not for once helped the pitiable situation in the tertiary institutions. Government lacks the right attitude and political will to stand up to its responsibility on this worrying issue, or so it seems.
Sadly also, the speed at which academic and non-academic staff unions, at any slight provocation, resort to moves that throw the system into the dark side of reasoning, is another pointer to the shortcomings in our education system.
This arrant display of crude power unduly by government and the unions at the detriment of the system and national stability calls for a rethink.
Agreed that the state of the nation’s education sector, including infrastructure, at all levels, provokes pity, strike has never done any good to the nation’s education, except the confusion this inglorious decapitation usually brings to the strategic educational planning and socio-economic focus of the nation.
Copiously, as this newspaper has continued to agitate, peace, through negotiation at round table meetings between government and the unions, should be recompensed to bring about meaningful solutions and not for unnecessary flippancy that aimed at creating more division in the system. The spirit of collective bargaining should be the way to go.
Be that as it may, government, especially the ministers in charge of policies, should develop the right framework to deal with the contending issues with utmost sincerity. There will then be no need having to show their strength or flex muscle that has always further compounded matters.
Considering the fact that education remains the fulcrum of development, the mind to fund the sector rightly should, at this level of national quest for advancement, be accorded priority by every Nigerian in authority to collectively grow the sector, and not to instigate actions that further subjugate the system.
The unions on this premise have unalloyed responsibility in nurturing the institutions to greatness as knowledge powerhouse and should realise that this cannot be achieved under any form of egoistic tendency.
This is the time for Nigerians, irrespective of tribe, religion and social standing, to come together and chart a new direction, evolve a new developmental agenda to rescue the ailing education sector.
More importantly, government should start acting as a responsive and responsible entity with all ingredients of mobilisation and transformation to address all the needs of the education sector.