Following a meeting between a federal government delegation comprising the Ministers of Education, Labour and Employment, Finance, the Attorney General of the Federation and representatives of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a proposal was tabled to call off the current nationwide strike by the university lecturers. “The major issue is that we want the strike called off so that our children in school can write their degree and promotion exams. ASUU leaders said they will come back to us within the next one week,” said Labour Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige.
We hope ASUU will respond positively to the offer from the federal government so that the nation’s tertiary institutions are not grounded again as a result of another industrial action that could further damage whatever is left of the credibility of tertiary education in our country. Students in our universities have suffered enough in recent years while incessant strikes have contributed significantly to the decline in the quality of graduates of our public universities.
It is unfortunate that the federal government and ASUU had for several years been locked in running battles over the implementation of agreements on the funding of the country’s public universities. The consequences have been lengthy industrial strikes by the lecturers, with the attendant debilitating effects on educational development in Nigeria. The academic calendars, following the end of industrial actions, allow for very little attention to serious studies, or research. That is why our public universities have continued to go down the ladder of academic ranking, even among their peers in Africa.
While we hope this crisis is resolved quickly, we cannot shy away from the fact that under-funding the education sector, over the years, has had collateral damaging effects on the country, such that our universities have now become grotesque carcasses of their former selves. But dealing with the challenge requires more than seasonal strikes by the lecturers while the federal government also needs to understand the primacy of constant dialogue, especially given the current realities.
However, going forward requires other critical stakeholders in the education sector joining hands in the efforts to find a lasting solution to what has become a perplexing national challenge. In doing this, the federal government should take the initiative, so that we can collectively come up with ways to reposition tertiary education in our country. Broken promises and unfulfilled agreements by the federal government are unhelpful as there is no way we can develop our country until efforts are made to revitalise key sectors like education. But the challenges are enormous.
Commercialisation of academic grades and poorly written handouts, delayed dissertation, award of questionable degrees and all manner of unwholesome practices have combined to ruin university education in Nigeria. Yet, these are issues which seem to be of little or no concern to ASUU and that perhaps explain why the once-vibrant organisation that set the agenda for national discourse in its heyday has degenerated into a strike-obsessed trade union.
While we call on the lecturers to temper their expectations with realism, we also hope the federal government team will do everything within their powers not only to end the current strike that threatens to cripple tertiary education in our country but also to find a lasting solution to the problem.