It is in the nation’s interest that the latest agreement is honoured
Following the signing of a Memorandum of Action (MoA) with the federal government, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on Thursday suspended the strike that has kept the campuses of public universities closed since 4th November last year. While the truce is commendable, the damage done by the long-drawn strike, like many before it, is irredeemable. How, for instance, would ASUU make up for lost time? And what will members of the academic community do differently now that they have resolved to go back to the classrooms?
There may be no statistical measure of the cumulative damage done to the system in the course of the ASUU strike, but it is evident that this strike has further undermined education, the bedrock of any society. Incessant industrial actions have indeed combined with inadequate attention to damage, almost beyond repairs, our institutions of higher learning. The hurried academic calendars which usually follow these all-too-frequent ASUU strikes allow for very little attention to serious studies while under-funding the education sector has had collateral damaging effects, such that our universities have now become grotesque carcasses of their former glorious selves.
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 and keeping to agreements. As we also argued recently, strikes are sometimes justified by the fact that government officials, both at state and federal levels, have acquired a notorious reputation for responding to issues only when they have assumed crisis proportions. A more practical solution to this recurring problem is for both sides, particularly the federal government, to pay much attention to mutually entered agreements.
It is unfortunate that the federal government and ASUU had for several years been locked in running battles. The consequences have been lengthy industrial strikes by the lecturers, with the attendant debilitating effects on educational development in particular and academic pursuits in general. Therefore, going forward requires other critical stakeholders in the education sector joining in the efforts to find a lasting solution to what has become a perplexing national challenge. But in doing this, the federal government must take the initiative so that we can collectively come up with ways to reposition tertiary education in our country.
While announcing the suspension of the strike, ASUU President, Dr Abiodun Ogunyemi, said the union “will not hesitate to review its position should government renege on the signed Memorandum of Action”. Against the background of so much talk about the implications of ASUU strike on the coming general election, we hope the agreement was not reached to buy time. Election cannot be more important than the future of our children as it should be clear to the authorities that there is no way we can develop our country until we revitalise key sectors like education.
Meanwhile, ASUU must also embark on soul-searching. A situation where Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, is joining others to boycott their strike should compel a rethink on their strategy. To the extent that commercialisation of academic grades and poorly written handouts, delayed dissertation and all manner of unwholesome practices have combined to dent university education in Nigeria, ASUU must also accept that it is complicit in the problem. Unfortunately, these are issues which seem to be of little or no concern to ASUU and that perhaps explain why the once-vibrant union that set the agenda for national discourse is now strike-obsessed and largely irrelevant.
Since what these strikes have done is to damage whatever remains of the credibility of tertiary education in
Nigeria, it is important for the federal government and ASUU to find common grounds on the way forward.