The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) through its National President, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, at the resumed negotiations with the Federal Government has insisted that it would not call off its strike unless government pays at least N50billion of the agreed yearly tranche of N220billion into the Revitalisation Fund for universities. Government had previously paid about N27billion to meet outstanding obligations on the allowances and wages of the university teachers.
The constant resort to strikes by the university teachers is disturbing. It does not add value to teaching and research. In fact, strike has inadvertently become overused as a tool for settling industrial disputes between the Federal Government and ASUU. Let the varsity teachers come up with new strategies for resolving industrial disputes other than strike. But successive governments may have played into the hands of ASUU by consistently reneging on agreements that it freely entered into with the union. It leaves the union with little choice than to invoke the big stick, after many warnings.
Now, the current strike has been for about two months, and the students are left to bear the consequences. There are over 103 public and 73 private universities in the country, but the indeterminate nature of our varsity academic calendar has largely been responsible for the losses the country has suffered on account of rising education tourism. Millions of dollars are paid annually as tuition fees by Nigerian parents for their children and wards who are studying in foreign universities in Europe and America. This is a waste of national resources.
The reason for the ongoing ASUU strike goes back to an agreement the union reached with the Federal Government in 2009. Failures by the previous government to meet the terms of the agreement resulted in the introduction of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to force the government to meet its obligation. With regards to the Revitilisation Fund for universities which was negotiated for N1.1trillion, it was agreed that in view of government’s depleted resources, it was better to pay it in five yearly tranches of N220billion respectively.
Even this has proved difficult for government, and resulted to the latest N50bilion concession by ASUU. While it may be hard to wish away ASUU’s position and many retreats on this matter, it is equally difficult to see how government can meet these obligations to ASUU without plunging the country into another financial stress.
However, the Federal Government’s lack of political will to adequately fund university education is legendary and it is perhaps time for all the critical stakeholders in the sector to look for more creative ways to meet the huge shortfalls in funding. Even if it is government’s responsibility to fund the universities, the resources required to achieve that may, at times, not be available. This is why stakeholders like the varsity alumni associations, private sector, corporate organisations, industries and wealthy Nigerians must assist the government to fund university education. This is one of the ways to find a lasting solution to the present annual ASUU/ government conundrum.
Meanwhile, we urge ASUU and the Federal Government to return to the negotiation table to work out agreeable figure for the Revitalisation Fund that government must meet. As experiences elsewhere on the continent and abroad have shown, providing quality and effective education is not cheap. The universities should seek collaborations with the private sector and corporate organisations in the areas of research and development.
These should be geared towards meeting national needs and eventual commercialisation of their research outcomes.
Both the Federal Government and ASUU must adopt reconciliatory approaches to resolve the ongoing industrial dispute once and for all. The nation’s university education must be saved from frequent strikes by ASUU and other university workers’ unions.
Our varsity academic calendar must be predictable. We enjoin ASUU to consider the students and quickly resolve the lingering strike that has done more harm to university education and the quality of their graduates.