By Bola Bolawole
Writing here last week on the report that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) chapter was mooting the idea of another strike action over its disagreement with the OAU Management on the sharing formula adopted in respect of the earned academic allowance released by the Federal Government, I expressed my worry and disappointment this way: Another strike at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)? No matter how justified, this is one strike too many”. I had then promised to say more on the matter today. Again, writing in my “On the Lord’s Day” column in the Sunday Tribune of 6th February, 2022, I literally exploded over what I considered as the infantile radicalism of ASUU OAU chapter in its tango with its rival Congress of University Academics (CONUA) and the threat to peace and uninterrupted academic pursuit on the OAU campus that the fight of the two elephants threatened to unleash. Not sparing even the OAU Management, I had said: The ongoing or brewing strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife should be nipped in the bud and not be allowed to throw the academic calendar into another tailspin. ASUU, CONUA, and the university administration should be ashamed of themselves –all of them! Are you the only university in Nigeria? Strike, strike, strike all the time! Mba! Haba! Kilode! We can understand – even if we do not condone – when students behave like the children that they are but when adults behave irresponsibly, like toddlers, they deserve not just tongue-lashing but real spanking in the real sense of the word. “Awon agbalagba to n se lagba-lagba! And these are supposed to be highly educated fellows! But they cannot responsibly conduct themselves! If gold rusts, what will silver do? And what kind of training are these ones actually impacting on our children, seriously speaking? By their conduct, are they themselves properly trained? How many years do they want our children to spend for a degree? Let them subject themselves to arbitration if they cannot responsibly conduct their own affairs! From a video clip that I watched, the argument of the OAU ASUU leader on the earned teaching allowance, I am sorry to say, sounded puerile and unreasonable. Nevertheless, Nigeria has a chartered institute of arbitrators; let the OAU gladiators haul themselves before it and submit themselves to its authority. Or do they want to trigger another crisis like the one that ended the tenure of the immediate past OAU administration in ignominy? Is it rocket science for these people to know that the way they are misbehaving, they are de-marketing the university, imperilling the vision of its founding fathers, and embarrassing the alumni of “Great Ife”? Away with rascality! And let commonsense prevail! Understood?” Some people said I was unsparing; maybe! When a problem is desperate, address it desperately! It is time for anyone disturbing the peace of our universities to hear “dende oro” from us like Dele Abiodun once crooned. They must begin to see the red of our eyes. Keeping children in the university for five, six years instead of four, with all its financial implications in these austere times, is not a joke.
As if that was not bad enough, ASUU at the national level came out over the weekend to announce it was warming up for yet another nation-wide strike over the Federal Government’s failure to implement agreements reached by both parties. A news medium reported the matter thus: The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has said it will go on nationwide strike if the government fails to meet its demands between now and February 13. A communique made available to newsmen…revealed that the academic union’s National Executive Council will meet at the University of Lagos on February 12 and 13. ASUU is demanding that the Federal Government implement the Memorandum of Action it signed with the union last year (alleging that) the federal government is shying away from its responsibility by asking ministers to oversee the implementation of the MoA (adding that) the assigned ministers were not part of the agreement. Only the ministers of Finance and Education were part of the agreement. ASUU had earlier declared Monday, February 7, 2022 as a lecture-free day…to sensitize members of the public on its disagreement with the government”.
Let me state categorically and without mincing words that I disagree with ASUU (National) on its stance to embark on another strike so soon after its 2020 nationwide strike which started in March and lasted till December 23, 2020! Almost a whole year! As a result of the COVID-19 scourge, the Federal Government had ordered the closure of schools on March 19, 2020; ASUU latched on that a few days after to declare its nationwide strike. When the government asked schools to resume on October 2nd, ASUU would not let them, dragging the school closure for another three months – enough time for a full semester’s work to have been done! ASUU combined with COVId-19 to throw the university academic calendar into a tailspin, from which the institutions are yet to recover. Another strike now cannot but worsen an already bad situation. Besides, it does not appear as if strikes work here anymore. If they do, there would be no need for another strike so soon after the one of 2020. It is time for ASUU to think out of the box and adopt other effective strategies rather than continue to flog a dead horse. Again, one of the adverse effects of strike actions, especially lengthy ones that have become the fashion here, is, says Google, that it “has a negative effect on employment, reduces business confidence and increases the risk of economic stagflation… a major setback on the growth of the economy and investment opportunities” With the parlous state of our economy: Industrial capacity utilization was 40.10% in the second quarter of 2020) ; job unemployment was a record high 33% in 2022; inflation rate was 16% in 2021; N570 exchange for the US dollar; 43% Nigerians (89 million) live below the poverty level; and about 60% of candidates applying for admission into tertiary institutions are unable to secure a space: Another strike by ASUU will make a bad situation even worse. For instance, because of COVID-19 and ASUU strike, many institutions of higher learning either cancelled an entire academic session or merged two into one, thereby denying thousands of qualified candidates admission in the current academic session, which ASUU is threatening to disrupt! Is ASUU not aware of this unsavoury state of affairs or they just cannot be bothered? Do they care less? The number of candidates chasing admission has swelled as a result of the cancellation of one academic session or the merger of two. Another strike by ASUU will further worsen the situation. The grass that suffers each time ASUU and the FG tango are students and their parents.
Importantly, strike as a weapon has failed miserably. It has become a cutlass whose edge is blunt and cannot cut effectively and efficiently. It is time ASUU began to think out of the box. One thing that is certain is that the Muhammadu Buhari administration is surreptitiously de-marketing tertiary education in the country. And the reasons for this are not far to fetch: From their utterances, policies, body language, and some elements in their government, this is an administration that shares the same mentality and ideology with Boko Haram (i. e. that Western education is haram or poison). Therefore, Western education does not rate high in their priorities. Imagine the billions they have spent on so-called rehabilitation of the same Boko Haram “repentant” elements; the billions purportedly spent on an opaque school feeding programme (even during COVID-19 lockdown!); the billions they said they shared to desperately poor households; not to talk of the billions siphoned in the guise of COVID-19 palliatives; and the trillions spirited away in the name of fuel subsidy! Yet, to find a few billions to settle ASUU, rescue our tertiary institutions from its decadence, rot, and threatened collapse has become to them like rocket science! Who, then, does not know that the authorities are simply not interested in rescuing our universities from the open sepulchre they have all become? Scripture says where your heart is, there your treasure will be also (Matthew 6: 21); the heart of these fellows is not in our schools. Their children school abroad; so, what is their stake here? A president whose school certificate is mired in controversy; a chief justice with F9 in English and Mathematics; a Minister who publicly acknowledged being a member of, and or sympathetic to Boko Haram and its hideous ideology: What do we expect?
Again, I advise ASUU to think out of the box! Firstly, discourage your members from helping INEC and this administration to deodorise rigged elections by serving as Returning Officers. Secondly, find out the institutions where the children of these leaders school abroad and go picket the place. Conscientious Nigerians abroad will swell your ranks and help you do the needful. Name and shame them! Thirdly, let the universities drop their feeding bottle mentality and find ways to increase their Internally Generated Revenue (through endowments, inventions, business consults, etc) and cut down on their dependence on dole outs from the FG. University autonomy is meaningless without financial independence.
Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers and Chairman of its Editorial Board, Bolawole writes the “On the Lord’s Day” column in the Sunday Tribune newspaper and the “TREASURES” column in the New Telegraph newspaper. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.