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Published On: Mon, Sep 16th, 2013

ASUU Strike and Government Relentless War against Education

By Eneruvie Enakoko
It is now about three months that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on Strike, yet the government has refused to listen to the Union. Rather than engage in good faith negotiations, the government has resorted to scare and diversionary tactics, calling the Union bluff, and asking the striking lecturers to return to the classrooms. We believe that such diversionary methods smack of nothing but cheap blackmail.
It is instructive that while the government has refused to fully honour the 2009 commitments it made with ASUU (It has only agreed in principle to pay N30billion out of the N92billion arrears in allowances, and N100billion out of the N400billion accumulation in Universities funding for research and development), the government under the same given period had increased by almost 950% the emoluments of the at least 17,000 elected and appointed public officials at both the States and Federal levels; these few individuals in a nation of 162.5million people, earns over N1.4trillion, which is more than a third of the national budget. Information from the Budget Office equally reveals that members of the House and Senate alone gulp 26% of the nation’s recurrent expenditure. Meanwhile, the children and wards of this potent minority are schooled at great cost to the nation’s economy, and to the detriment of the poor, in Private Institutions and Ivy League’s, in Neighboring African countries and the western world. This is unjust; it is monumental fraud and blind looting of the commonwealth of the Nigerian people. In short, the Nigerian government is the most subsidised government in the world, fully subsidised by the Nigerian people who bear the brunt of its harsh policies.
By the same token, ASUU has not been quite focused and strategic in waging this struggle. The Union hasn’t been able to put the issues where they are hence the misconception that the struggle is all about the N92billion arrears in allowances owed members of the Union. But the struggle is much more than that; aside the N92billion, the real issue is government consistent refusal year in, year out, to follow through on the release of funds for research and development of the Universities; virtually, all of the public Universities are in dire need of facilities, which includes buildings, technology tools, laboratories, science and engineering equipments, lecture theatres, libraries (especially digital libraries), constant electricity supply, et cetera. The government since the 2009 agreement signed with ASUU owes the public Universities N400billion arrears in funding for research and development. And there is also the question of how ASUU arrived at the N92billion arrears in allowances the government supposedly owed, for it is the Management of the Universities that can truly determine what the government owed and not ASUU, because ASUU is not part of the Management. Truthfully, all data, numbers and appointments are determined by the Management; it is the Management that knows the number of Staff and gives forms to the lecturers to fill, so if the figures are manipulated after submission, how would the lecturers know? Those in Management cannot be seen to be participating in Unionism although they may encourage it. It therefore follows that ASUU could only have gotten the figures from the Management, but did the Union do the math to see if it adds up? What mechanism did it used in verifying the figures? Moreover, our investigations revealed that not all Academic Staff are entitled to the money in question; trusted sources within ASUU tells us that the money is meant only for some category of Staff that does work outside teaching, such as Head of Departments, Supervisors of Masters and PHD Students, Course Advisers and Exam Officers; and some of these Staff don’t even know how much they are entitled to overall, but as we understand it, it is between N100,000 and N500,000 or so per session, depending on the grade or level of the Staff. Furthermore, ASUU is demanding Autonomy for the Universities, but Autonomy in this case, we are afraid is hazy and unclear because to ask for Autonomy in the literal sense of the word, is to say that you want to be free and independent in all ramifications. So, if the Universities are granted autonomy, it means they will run on their own, and generate their funds independently of government funding and interference. But perhaps, it is more autonomy in areas like appointments of Vice Chancellors, et cetera, that the Union is demanding because the Universities already have some form of autonomy because aside funds from government recognised Degree Programmes where they make remittances to the government, all other funds from Programmes such as Diplomas and Part-time Programmes are fully retained by the Universities without interference from government. And the Universities have different sharing formulas for the revenues from these Programmes with only about 10% to 30% to the lecturers. So maybe, ASUU need to re-appraise and critically analyse these issues, undergo a process of self-purification and take another course of direct action to wage this struggle.
Similarly, government must do more than lip service to education, because it will take nothing less to compete and survive in an increasingly globalised world. Besides, education is a fundamental human right, if not the most human of all human rights, because it is reading and writing that separates us from mere animals.
It is a sad truth that our government is yet to realise the importance of education in national development. A country that wishes to develop cannot do so without recognising the place of education and if this government really wants to make a difference, then it must radically begin to revolutionise its values and re-order its priority in so far as education is concerned; the Administration must stop relegating education to the backburner of national issues and make education the first item on its agenda. We cannot help but feel sorry for the sacked Minister of Education, Ruqqayatu Rufai; and even her successor, Nyesom Wike; because they are simply proxies in government, and can only do the bidding of their Masters. But the President who had been a lecturer before may well decide to be the catalyst for change. Think about it! Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of Teachers and Lecturers more than one of their own? The President has a wonderful opportunity to do everything possible to put education in its proper place in this country.
In today’s cyber world, to compete effectively in the global market and integrate successfully into the global economy, education must be given the top priority it deserves; nations all over the world including neighbouring West African Countries are fast realising this, and Nigeria must be no different. How else does the government intend to achieve its lofty dream of transformation and development? How does the government intend to achieve this feat without the sound equipping of its people educationally to face the challenges of the 21st century? This government has the rare opportunity to show that the security and welfare of the Nigerian people is its primary concern.
The core fundamental objective and directive principle of State policy as enshrined in the constitution is that sovereignty belongs to the Nigerian people from whom the government derives its powers and authority, and that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. It is time to make the government do what it is supposed to do and cause it to follow through on its constitutional responsibilities.
We therefore call on the government to keep up its mandate with the Nigerian people, and as a minimum demonstration of good faith, we demand that the Jonathan Administration do the following immediately to end this recurring nightmare:
1. Return immediately to the negotiating table with ASUU and give clear timelines and timeframes on how and when the existing commitments will be honoured.
2. Invest massively in education of the citizenry at all levels, build and equip new schools, recruit an army of new teachers and lecturers, train and kit them up properly with better salaries, as it will take nothing less to compete effectively with other nations and meet the challenges of the 21st century.
3. Stop henceforth the politicisation and commercialisation of education.
In the same vein, we call on ASUU to refocus the trajectory of the struggle by looking beyond the strike option, because if the only tool you have in your toolkit is a hammer, you would keep treating every issue as a nail. ASUU must adopt other strategies if it genuinely intends to win this struggle, and the Union could begin to consider other options as Marches, Freedom-rides, Sit-ins and Camp-outs. Imagine what could have been achieved, for instance, if the Union has staged strategic Marches in six key cities of the nation, including the nation’s capital, Abuja; and then, capped it all, with a Sit-in, at the Education Ministry and at the National Assembly Complex for just two to three weeks! We can bet, it would have drawn global attention to the struggle and forced the government to meet all of its just and legitimate demands. It is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily unless confronted massively by direct action; freedom is not voluntarily given, it must be demanded by the oppressed, so the ASUU struggle in a real sense is the Nigerian peoples’ struggle, and we must all join hands to see it through.
Eneruvie Enakoko Editor in Chief & Chief Executive Of Conscience Reports, (+2348082588868, +2348094648891)

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