Last week, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers (NUPENG) called their members out on strike, mainly against the government’s lukewarm approach to the predicament of their respective sectors. Less than 48 hours after, the government, as represented by the GMD of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), quickly called a truce. He negotiated with NUPENG
officials and the industrial action was called off.
On the other hand, the ASUU strike has lingered and by the last weekend, almost all Nigerian university campuses have been shut. The two ministers in charge of education, the NUC and ASUU are still trading accusations and counter-accusation on various knotty issues. Perhaps, this is not strange. It’s been the trend; though it is very easy to blame lack of compromise in the ASUU/government face-off on the lacklustre ministers of education, as against the proactive minister of petroleum and her counterpart in the NNPC
It is a measure of the seriousness we attach to education that junior workers of the oil sector would receive a quick response to their complaints while the eggheads of the ivory tower, the knowledge industry, would be ignored, the way government has always treated ASUU. The
government’s usual approach, is to pitch ASUU against the people; to make ASUU look bad and create credibility problem for it and all that it stands for. Parents hinge ASUU’s demand on money, money and more money. And, as we all know, the very moment money gets in the mix; the table will be turned against ASUU. Over the years, this strategy has worked. But do the powers-that-be care? Their children and wards are all in the best schools in the US, Europe and Middle East, and even neighbouring Ghana and South Africa.
Now, let’s look at the demands of ASUU and NUPENG. In 2009, the government signed an agreement with ASUU to increase, among other things, funding for universities, compel oil companies operating in Nigeria to invest in research and development in universities, render financial assistance to state universities and, of course,the issue of earned allowances by
university teachers. On the other hand, NUPENG’s demands bother on unfair labour practices like casualisation, protest over the refusal of NARTO to implement agreements entered into with NUPENG, bad state of roads and failure of multi-national companies to implement agreements entered into and brokered by the minister of Labour.
Apart from the common reference to multi-national companies, NUPENG’s demands are not in any way superior to ASUU’s, even though we cannot discountenance their immediate negative impact on the economy. In Nigeria, oil and everything/everybody around it take the centre state. All other things, especially education whose immediate benefit is not easily
decipherable, take the back seat. We do not place premium on research-engendered discoveries and innovations, all of which are the hallmark of good education, yet we pride ourselves as the giant of Africa and wish to be one of 20 economies of the world in the next few years.
Still on education, the polytechnic education is the most derided. Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, (ASUP), Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnic (SSANIP) and Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) – have been on strike in the last three months or so, thereby grounding that sector. That the ASUU strike got a mention by the lawmakers last week again is an indication of the emphasis on university education as against the polytechnic education. Yet, we pay lip service to technological advancement. The poly issue is a very serious one: Nobody is even talking about it; even the lawmakers couldn’t be bothered. A few of them still have their children in some of the universities. But polytechnics and colleges of education are for poor children, and there is nobody to speak for them.
Very unfortunate. The country is for all of us—rich or poor, highly placed or lowly placed, educated or not. Government should strive to uplift especially the children of the lower class. This underscores the need for justice and equity, as enshrined in our constitution. The absence of parity between classes, the collapse of the middle class and the gulf between the
haves and the have-nots are the causes of the social dislocation of the society; that in itself has wrought the various crises bedeviling the country today.
Sometimes I wonder whether the regulatory authorities truly interface between government and these agencies. In the case of polytechnics, the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) which regulates polytechnic education has been passive in the affairs of polytechnics. There has not been any statement on the ongoing strike there since it began. It is, therefore, not surprising that one of the demands of polytechnic workers is the call for a commission for polytechnics instead of the current arrangement, thereby passing a no-confidence vote on NBTE. The NUC on its part would rather create crises than solve them. It’s always staggering from one blunder to the other. I understand the non-implementation of the 2009 agreements on which ASUU hinged its strike is missing. It means that since 2011 when ASUU suspended its strike action, NUC has not deemed it fit to work on the agreements with government. Therefore, when last week the NUC Executive Secretary, Professor Julius Okojie, said ASUU betrayed him by reneging on the promise to get back to him after the government’s offer to it, many were neither convinced nor amused.
As a matter of fact, the former ASUU president, Dr Sule Kano, so strongly objected to it, that he personally called a friend of this newspaper to seek an audience to set the record straight. He finally got to speak on it; which set the tone for our lead story on Monday titled ‘NUC caused ASUU strike’. Notwithstanding the convictions in Dr Kano’s bombshell, details of
which will be published tomorrow in our Education section, public opinion is skewed against ASUU. When parents think of their children’s redundancy and possible vices, they blame it on ASUU. When they fail exams, they blame it on ASUU, and when they over stay in the universities, they hold ASUU responsible. It, therefore, behooves on ASUU to engage parents and students in interrogating the decay in our education sector and not just the government.