By Godwin Jeff IN a potentially-great, but recklessly debased, nation like Nigeria, the constant vilification and debasement of intellectual labour, especially University teachers, speaks of many things. It is, first, an admission, by the ruling class, that Nigeria is a nation devoid of a national ethos: patriotism, hard work, courage, honesty and dedication. It is, second, an admission of the fact that Nigeria is a nation without a soul and a future; a country where vision and humanistic sympathy has taken leave of the ruling class and consequently the entire citizens daily face the future of a thousand mirages. But it is also an open admission of the fact that the ship of the Nigerian state is not only rudderless, it has also embarked on a directionless voyage that has all the potential of a tragedy.
But let me pluck the fruit of my story namely: ASUU strike and the total neglect of education in Nigeria. And I begin with these obvious, though not irrelevant, questions: who is responsible for the rot in the Public Universities and the current paralysis in the University system? Why is it that for so long Government and its agents have failed to correctly ascribe responsibility and rather tend to convey the impression that ASUU is an intransigent Union insensitive to the plight of Nigerian students? Perhaps, the analysis that follows will provide the answers and also help to clear some of the innumerable misconceptions about University teachers and the on-going ASUU strike.
The antics of the Federal government have demonstrated abundantly that it has a predilection for the vilification of University teachers. In 2001, Chief Philip Asiodu, the leader of the Government negotiating team all but fueled the conflict instead of dousing it. In 2009, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode prolonged the ASUU strike by his inability to define clearly whether he had the mandate of his principal to discuss and sign the agreement. Then, Wale Babalakin, the present leader of the Government Negotiating team merely revealed his ignorance a few days ago when he exclaimed that he is not aware that ASUU had planned to embark on strike. The same sentiments were echoed by Nigeria’s Minister of Labour and Employment who also accused ASUU of going contrary to the laid down process as stipulated in the Trade Dispute Act on the declaration of strike (2004).
Such antics only have the capacity of worsening an already bad situation. And in all these instances, the policy of the Federal government and its agents is usually unfurled with fanfare and applauded by journalistic pundits and unsuspecting members of the public. The desire is to show that ASUU is the criminal. This stance is nothing but simple irresponsibility.
But more worrisome is the fact that many Nigerian students who are also major stake holders in the University system seem to be completely unaware of the motives, aspirations and principles of ASUU. In the 2009 Agreement, for example, ASUU recommended that there shall be no introduction of tuition fees in Federal (not State) Universities. The Government Negotiating Team endorsed this recommendation.
But today it is common knowledge that Vice Chancellors of Federal Universities have introduced tuition fees in the guise of acceptance fees and all manner of levies. Besides, the other major component of the 2009 Agreement is concerned with funding for the revitalisation of Public Universities.
The Federal government had promised to release N200 billion in 2013 and a yearly release of N220 billion subsequently from 2014 to 2018. Again, government has reneged on its promise. If released, the money was meant for the provision of hostel accommodation for University students, books, classroom/lecture theaters and teaching aids. Again, many branch chapters of ASUU have always thrown their full weight behind NANS, the umbrella body of Nigerian students, by resisting the introduction of tuition fees and other exorbitant charges and obnoxious policies on University campuses. Where then is the animosity between University students and teachers? But ASUU is the culprit! Now, for the umpteenth time, the Government has refused to fulfil its own part of the agreement. Yet, the Government is very honourable and ASUU is the criminal. Other thorny issues in the 2009 Agreement are many and varied and have been the subject of discussion in the media very recently. For the benefit of the doubt they include: Earned Academic Allowance ,EAA, Registration of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company, University Staff School and the Fractionalisation or non- payment of salaries to University teachers in both State and Federal Universities.