By Yemi Adebowale
The statement issued by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on August 28, declaring a total and indefinite strike, clearly indicates that the union is as deceitful as the Buhari government it is fighting. After inflicting so much pain on students in Nigeria’s public universities and their parents, the union turns around to say it is pained by its decision to declare an indefinite strike.
A part of that provocative statement reads: “NEC noted with pains, its concerns for Nigerian students, who are also our wards and foster children, and condemned government’s seeming indifference to their plights. Were it within our control, our universities would never have been shut for one day.”
I am not sorry to say that the disjointed President of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke is misleading the teachers. This man is a negative force. Whatever the university lecturers are fighting for (no matter how good) amounts to nonsense, if the interest of students is not paramount.
This is what these public university teachers have failed to recognize. Lecturers are permanently on strike, leaving the students they are engaged to teach in tatters and quandary. They should be worried about the quality of their products. A four-year course is turned into six years by unending strikes. Some students will never return after the strike. So, persisting with this current strike is unjustifiable.
ASUU wants the federal government to fulfill its 2009 agreements with the union. They are also demanding revitalization funds for public universities, promotion arrears, improved salaries, and earned academic allowances. But the struggle can always continue without endless strikes. ASUU members are earning salaries to teach students. So, they must teach while clamoring for their desires. They were not being owed salaries when they embarked on this current strike.
ASUU evidently cares less about the disruption of the future of Nigerian youths through unending interruption of their academic life because most of them don’t have their children in these public universities. They care less about the bad impact of unending strikes on the education system and the nation at large.
The Public Relations Officer, National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria, Dr. Ademola Ekundayo, was apt when he declared that the university teachers have persisted with the strike because most of them work elsewhere. He adds: “We have found ourselves in an unfortunate situation and, under normal circumstances, parents should not offer such incentives and help that they rejected, but we discovered that we are at the receiving end and bearing the effect of the problem between FG and ASUU.
“And at the end of the day, ASUU will still collect salaries for the work they didn’t even do. Likewise, the federal government has nothing to lose. Children of most of those running the government are in private universities and abroad. Many of the ASUU professors are part-time lecturers at private universities; they are behaving like this because they don’t have anything to lose. They will push parents and students to a level they won’t be able to tolerate.”
The main reason ASUU declared an indefinite strike is because the federal government avowed that it would not pay its members for the period they were on strike. This is the truth that must be told. The no-work no-pay labour law is very clear as contained in Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act. These university teachers are experienced enough to know that strikes come with implications.
So, the strikes have mainly been about their pockets. That was why Osodeke said ASUU rejected the federal government’s pay increase offer because “it is miserable”.
Osodeke’s further comments after the government’s decision to enforce the no-work no-pay labour law were depressing. He naively gave himself up. His eruption clearly shows that the strikes by the teachers were chiefly about money for them. He said, “The minister is joking. If they fail to pay, we will not teach those students; we won’t make up for that period. We will start a new session. We won’t conduct examinations; we will start a fresh session totally.
“Lecturers are not doctors. With doctors, once life is gone, it can’t be brought back. For lecturers, we can still resume where we stopped and still teach them and make up for lost time. Examinations and the period lost won’t be taught. If they want to do ‘no work no pay,’ we will also do ‘no pay no work.’ If they won’t pay the backlog, we won’t teach the backlog. We are not like other workers. He (minister) doesn’t know what he is saying.”
That was Osodeke ranting about “no work no pay.” This man has lost touch with modernity when it comes to running and funding universities. He belongs to the stone age. You will find Osodeke making so much noise about how much university teachers earn in other climes but often quiet about deliveries, particularly teaching and research excellence.
This is the substratum of universities in those developed climes often mentioned by Osodeke where remunerations are tied to achievement of distinction in teaching and research; where universities are independent and governments pay very little role in funding.
ASUU is also demanding the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution by the government for payment of university lecturers. They must look for another tool for this selfish part of their agitations. These teachers want to dictate to their employers how to pay them. I don’t know where that is done anywhere in the world. They are telling the government to throw away its platform and pay them with a platform they designed. Their colleagues in the private universities must be shocked by this hogwash.
University autonomy must happen for this endless drivel called “ASUU strike” to end. This is what Osodeke and other teachers must campaign for. Public universities must exercise independent control over their day-to-day operations. Administratively, they should constitute their governing councils. Federal and state governments must hands-off these public universities so that they can be managed as non-profit businesses.
They should no longer be funded from budgets. This is the meaning of autonomy. With this, the governing councils will be able to act clearly as defined i.e. the ultimate power. The employers of the academic and non-academic staff will be the governing councils and universities will remunerate according to their abilities.
With autonomy, the universities can charge fees enough to conveniently cover their expenses and a little bit more for further development. This will end their funding crisis. Government can then provide scholarships and student loans. Autonomy also means public universities will be able to attract reasonable endowments.
Donors are more comfortable with schools enjoying autonomy. There will be no bureaucratic bottlenecks. Endowments provide important financial stability for universities in sound climes. Nigerian public universities must not remain in darkness.
Autonomy implies operative freedom. It implies academic and managerial freedom which should result in higher quality of education and academic excellence. The federal and state governments must be compelled to do the needful in this regard. This is the only way forward for our public universities and all other public higher institutions of learning.
On the flip side, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) now appears aware that Osodeke and his comrades in crime are largely battling for selfish interest. I want the ASUU President to spend quality time reading the missiles from NANS released last Wednesday.
NANS declared: “Some of them (lecturers) are not in any way affected by their attempt to collapse the sector for their selfish and inconsiderate gains. ASUU had succeeded initially to masquerade their strike action as being in the interest of Nigeria and in the interest of the teeming Nigerian students.
“Events of recent weeks have therefore made it abundantly clear that ASUU has an ulterior motive, which is to collapse university education system in Nigeria and systematically promote private universities where many of them have their children.”
This bullet from NANS is food for thought today for Osodeke and his infamous ASUU leadership.