The continued silence of the Federal Government on the on-going nationwide strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that has paralysed academic activities in government-owned universities across the nation in the last two weeks is worrisome. Government’s indifference towards ending the crisis, once and for all, raises questions about the nation’s readiness to return the system to the path of reckoning.

In fact, the unfortunate happening at a time when nations in other climes are busy going into space and universities are making great exploits in terms of turning in cutting-edge research and innovations is sad commentaries of the level of rot in our education system. But, if not addressed, the grim reality of the incessant strikes will dip the country further into the web of paralysis of a system meant to be the fulcrum of national development.

ASUU had, on Sunday, November 4, 2018, resumed its suspended strike to denounce moves by Chairman of Government Renegotiating Team with ASUU, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), to increase tuition fees in public universities and establish education banks. However, the union is also incensed that the Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) reached in 2009, 2013 and 2017 with the Federal Government had not been honoured, as well as payment of fractions and non-payment of salaries, earned academic allowances, non-release of operational license of NUPEMCO, non-implementation of the provisions of the 2014 Pension Reform Act with respect to retired professors and their salaries, among others.

It is unbelievable that Nigeria’s public university system had, in the last 19 years (1999 to 2018), been shut down for more than four years as a result of strikes by ASUU, causing colossal damage to the sector.

Apart from jeopardizing the future of students and other attendant problems associated with strikes, critical stakeholders in the system, such as government and workers’ unions, have not found it necessary to tame the menace, other than to flex muscles.

The decision of ASUU to again disrupt academic activities in government-owned universities following its disapproval of the Babalakin-led Federal Government Renegotiating Team with the union is a fresh dimension to the unresolved crisis in the university sub-sector.

Going by its threat, ASUU, through its National Working Committee (NWC), mobilised its members across the federation to embark on strike, insisting that the Federal Government should effect the payment of N1.1 trillion earmarked as public universities’ funding in the last six years without further delay. The Federal Government, based on the agreement, is expected to provide funds for the revitalisation of the university system between 2013 and 2018, under which the universities were to get N200 billion in 2013; N220 billion in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively, but which it has reneged. Meanwhile, the N20 billion released by the government to the universities last month, to assuage the needs of the institution had since been condemned by ASUU, claiming it fell short of the expected N1.1 trillion earlier agreed on.

But, in as much as we commend the Federal Government for releasing N20 billion to the universities, we condemn the government for keeping mum over the crisis in the university system. Again, we are also calling on the government to toe the line of dignity by attending to all outstanding issues in the FG/ASUU Agreement, so as to put the system on the right track.

While we laud ASUU for its fight for the development of universities and the entire education sector, the lecturers should realise that unionism should not be all about war, but rather to jaw-jaw in order to renegotiate the success of the system.

It is on this premise that we are saying that enough of the crises in the system. ASUU should not see any negotiation as too long. In this matter, the union should play a leading role as a partner in progress in the nation’s education project by being more constructive and not to further heat up the system. On this note, government, proprietors of these universities, have to be sincere with the union in implementing the agreements, if the present recalcitrant posture of government would not be seen as a disservice to the education sector.

To continually renege on agreements reached with the unions to move the system forward on the altar of politics, is an aberration in its own sense.

What is expected of ASUU and other unions in the system is to join hands with government to move the sector forward, while the funds so far released should be judiciously used by the universities for the purpose they were meant.

What is needed now, more than before, is deliberate efforts on the part of all stakeholders at addressing the challenges in the education sector by mustering the courage to convoke an all-encompassing education summit that will ensure proper funding and upgrading of the universities other than the present piecemeal release of funds to the universities.

Without playing the ostrich, the Federal Government should redirect its mind to the needs and problems of the universities by releasing all the funds required by the system once, given the magnitude of wastage pervading governance in the country, at the expense of other critical sectors.

Source: New Telegraph

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