ASUU Strike: To Escalate Or De-Escalate?

By Bolanle Bolawole

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As the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)meets today to determine the way forward in the face of an obvious, even if reckless, irresponsible and condemnable snub by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the decision will go one way or the other.

Will ASUU call off the strike which started on February 14 this year or will it decide to continue and go for broke, as they say? The prognosis tilts in favour of the latter. It is most likely – in fact, most certain – that ASUU will announce its resolve to continue with the strike until the government shows enough seriousness in addressing its grievances unless a miracle happens.It is one thing to be broke, like everyone knows the Buhari administration has run the country aground; it is another to demonstrate responsible behaviour and humility, which the administration’s top goons lack. In words, actions and body language, top government officials have left no one in doubt that they do not care if public universities shut down forever! This is understandable! Their children do not school here and Nigerians are too laid back such that those in government know there will be no dire consequence for any of their anti-people actions. Instead, with a few wads of Naira notes, they can buy the loyalty of the suffering and smiling abject masses at any point in time. The endurance level of our people beggars belief! Drive them to the wall; rather than turn on you, they will break through the wall to hide under their bed!What decision will ASUU come up with today? It will be a miracle if it decides to call off its strike: Except something out of the ordinary happens between Friday (as I write this piece) and today (Sunday) which ASUU has scheduled to meet to review updates on its strike action. That the government has not been serious in its so-called negotiations with ASUU will most likely not be lost on the university teachers. The cockiness and arrogance of government officials and the offensive utterances oozing out of their mouth will also help ASUU officials to form an opinion on government’s seriousness or otherwise to have the strike called off.

If feelers from ASUU branches all over the country are anything to go by, ASUU will most likely vote to continue with its strike. In the event that the government still ignores that, what next?

For how long can ASUU hold out? If the strategy of the Buhari administration is to break the back of ASUU by withholding their salaries and wearing them out, for how long will the rank and file of ASUU members hold out? I have it on good authority that a good number of university lecturers are already succumbing to sicknesses and death as a result of paucity of funds to buy necessary drugs or visit the hospital.

Is the government aware of this? If this is not wickedness on the part of the government, then, I do not know what is! This is not to talk of other deprivations that a man deprived of his salaries for six months, and still counting, will necessarily suffer. And if this situation does not call for sober reflection on the part of ASUU leaders themselves, necessitating the need to be imaginative, creative, and to think out of the box, then, we have arrived at the dangerous juncture that my people counsel against: of two desperate adversaries each determined to fight to the death.

May we not be saddled with two combatants each of whom is determined to fight-to-finish! It is not evidence of strength but of cowardice, according to the wisdom of my people which says “m’oja mo’sa la n mo akikanju” The English interprets it as “he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”.

The brave applies tact and diplomacy but the foolish is what my people call “alagbara ma m’ero, baba ole” Strength minus wisdom and understanding translates into weakness!

My interventions on the ASUU strike have drawn the ire of some; this is to be expected. Some have engaged me in a responsible manner trying to buy me over to their side.

Interestingly, I am neither for nor against ASUU but I am decidedly against the Buhari administration’s handling of not just the current ASUU strike action but also of previous ones as well. Indeed, I am an implacable foe of this government and previous government’s incremental destruction of the educational system, dating back to the military era.

One Comrade said I personalised the issue with last week’s “Who is Prof. Victor Emmanuel Osodeke?”; that ASUU decisions are not taken by the ASUU president alone but by the NEC and that all the branches aggregate the views of their members before coming to NEC to ventilate such. I have no problem with that! It is part of the democratic norms which I expect the universities to subscribe to.

All the same, the buck stops on the ASUU president’s table! Shall we say because there is a Federal Executive Council, National Council of State, the National Assembly, and governors and local government chairmen in the states, the buck no longer stops on Buhari’s table? What is sauce for the goose should equally be sauce for the gander.

As far as ASUU is concerned, the buck stops on Osodeke’s table. History will record all that has happened to ASUU today under Osodeke’s tenure. There are no two ways about it.

Another friend went to great lengths to explain the grievances of ASUU, the rot in the education system and the Federal Government’s nonchalant attitude towards ASUU and its demands. We all know that! We know that ASUU is patriotic; that its demands are not about its comfort and self interests alone; and that if the Federal Government accedes to its request, our educational system as a whole will be better for it. We know all of that and we thank them – but in the event that they are up against a deaf and dumb administration intent on destroying our educational system, what should be the proper approach in the circumstance?

Leading a bull out of the china shop requires tact and diplomacy. Do strikes put enough pressure on the Buhari administration for it to see the need to bend to ASUU’s demands? The evidence appears to be the contrary. Then, continuing with that same method that is not producing the needed result is foolhardy and wasteful. It wastes the time of students. It wastes the resources of parents. Government itself loses nothing.

Many striking ASUU members also lose nothing as they engage in private practice and consultancy services; some teach in private universities; others go into farming and what-have-you! Until we find a more effective way to put pressure on the government, ASUU and its unending strikes will not achieve the desired results but will only be wasting people’s time and resources. That is my point.What, then, did I suggest? One: Mount pressure on the government from all fronts.

Engage governors, legislators, traditional rulers and other opinion moulders consistently and persistently, not on-off advocacies that do not leave lasting impression on anyone. I asked one ASUU official why they have not engaged the presidential candidates one-on-one and he said because the Federal Government accused ASUU leaders of playing politics or of politicising the matter! Who cares? If ASUU does not play politics, what is it expected to play: Basketball or lawn tennis? ASUU should turn the heat on the government. By now the government should be sweating instead of taunting ASUU leaders and snubbing them.

ASUU is not doing enough advocacy but is too fixated on strikes. ASUU is not creative enough. Its solution lacks imagination and original thinking. Yet, this is, without doubt, the greatest concentration of intellectuals in the country! That nitwits and nincompoops laugh at them speaks volumes about how ASUU has failed, woefully, to leverage on the awesome resources at its disposal to get what it wants.

Two: I wonder how many of today’s ASUU leaders and members are familiar with the origin and history of ASUU. Why did it choose not to be a professional association like the NMA, NBA, NSE, etc.?

Why did it choose, instead, to be affiliated to the NLC? Rather than be bourgeois and elitist, why did it choose to be the ideologues of the vanguard of the workers’ struggle? If I recollect well, that fight was tough but has today’s ASUU not abandoned the struggle in the proper sense of the word? Are they even aware of it?

How is ASUU providing the required ideological leadership for the Nigerian workers and intellectuals? How is it mobilising towards the destruction of the unjust system that is at the roots of all the problems confronting the “Wretched of the earth” of this country? Bread and butter issues have overtaken ASUU!

Return, backslidden children! Time for ASUU and its leaders to return to their first love is now! For as long as the present unjust system remains, there will be no end to unjust social, political and economic relations. Only a people-oriented government can adequately fund education and treat it as a right.Whatever decision taken by ASUU at its NEC meeting today may likely draw some response from the government. Some have advocated the banning or proscription of ASUU.

This proposition is laughable, although not unattainable. There are enough pliant judges all over the place vending funny judgments at the government’s snapping of its fingers. If not, how can IPOB be declared a terrorist organisation and be banned while Miyetti Allah struts the stage?

Those peddling the “ban ASUU” proposition should know that this is 2022 Nigeria, a democracy, however imperfect, and not Buhari’s 1984 Nigeria! Then, there are those suggesting the registration of CONUA (Congress of University Academics) to rival ASUU.

CONUA itself, trying to leverage on the situation, has also been putting pressure on the government to register it, promising it would not resort to strikes as vehemently as ASUU.

CONUA’s desperation and the compromise it offers put me off! Besides, splintering unions just to undermine a just struggle will not allow for strong institutions to emerge on these shores; and without strong institutions, our democracy will not develop strong and deep tap roots.

So, undermining ASUU is not the solution to the incessant strikes bedevilling the university system.More than any other thing, what is needed is the government’s sincerity which, unfortunately, is lacking at the moment. ASUU, too, also lacks creativity and imaginative thinking to draw this government out for the kill, as they say, and expose it on all flanks.

The argument by some nitwits that ASUU should abandon its advocacy for a better university system and focus only on its “salaries and fringe benefits” is puerile. A debased university system debases the lecturers themselves and reduces their worth and value nationally and internationally. So, a fight for a better university system is not just for students or parents but also for the lecturers and other university workers as well.

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