FG vs ASUU: What Manner Of (Re)-Negotiation? By Raheem Oluwafuminiyi

What has consistently escaped most Nigerians in this entire travesty is the fact that mediocrity destroys the very fabric of a country…ushering in all sorts of banality, ineptitude, corruption and debauchery. That…is precisely where Nigeria finds itself today! —Chinua Achebe

Since the beginning of yet another strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU last month, which not surprisingly has entered its second month, one wonders when we as a nation would remove ourselves form this wanton mortification of making the education a laughing stock among comity of nations. The question all stakeholders enmeshed in this opprobrium should be asking is whether something fundamental is not wrong with our collective consciousness, else, how come that in every two to three years, the news of ASUU demanding that its overlords in Abuja implements an agreement both entered into and which in turn leads to a painful strike, reverberates the whole nation? Are we lacking in foresight as to understand that the Nigerian universities are dying out gradually and should explode with mediocrity (if it has not even been tainted with such). Do we not see that graduates who know next to nothing of what had been impacted in them have lost sight and only think of how to make money desperately? Have we looked around to ask ourselves why the nation, whose youth out-numbers the old and very young, cannot remove itself from the shackles of societal malfeasance and hold forth the appellation: “we are the future leaders of tomorrow” by taking their destinies into their hands? For as long as the Nigerian youth accepts redundancy, fails to think for himself, cannot see where the rain began to beat him or take the bull by the horn, like many of their counterparts in developed nations, then it will be succinct to claim that the education sector which is supposed to train, build, inculcate, mould and educate vibrant youths against the morrow have failed in its entirety to bequeath such for a people who will take up the reigns of leadership from the old guards, a fault which is not theirs anyway.
If ASUU once again and for the umpteenth time has called for a strike, it is not because they do not see the peck in their own eyes, as it is evidently known that their own house is also not in order, but because from the very first day government whose responsibility is to pay very good attention to the education sector keeps faltering and reneging on agreements she entered into. For many who are of the belief that ASUU has no reason or justification to embark on this strike which has become one too many in recent times, they must understand that though it may look more like Oliver Twist asking for more, in the situation our education sector finds itself, once and for all, drastic measures ought to be taken in ensuring we do not become a pointer to ridicule anywhere in the world anymore.
If we have to look well enough the reason ASUU had decided embark on this strike and we feel the shame our universities have been put up with, especially if we have to balance it with the education the likes of our parents had in the 60s, 70s and 80s and the pitiable ones our children have today, we then must understand ASUU’s pain and anger. Nobody likes to strike, nobody wishes to allow it take so long, in fact, it is not a good story to tell in our nascent democracy, yet when a country is bequeathed with leaders who have no foresight, lack understanding of the socio-political terrain, remain clueless in tackling simple political arithmetic, and is occupied with how to remain in power until 2090, then strike becomes an option and a weapon to bring such government to its knees.
Many Nigerians cannot understand how we practice democracy in the country. Democracy and good governance go hand in hand and therefore, policies embarked upon by one government or the other must necessary be a continuum and should not shift unless necessary. One finds it very difficult to grasp well the story peddled by this government that the agreement it voluntarily entered into in 2009 with ASUU should be re-negotiated. It is the worst of arguments this writer have heard in decades and one wonders if this government is truly committed to transforming the education sector, if the so called campaign promise in 2011 is anything to go by. This writer would have thought the government of the day should have put forward the same argument during negotiations with the Nigerian Labour Congress NLC in the last subsidy protest. Perhaps, the vast majority of Nigerians wouldn’t be where they are today looking weary, fatigued and hopeless in the midst of plenty. Even if government in its usual volte-face had thought the agreement needed to be re-negotiated, why didn’t it bring it to ASUU’s table long before the latter deemed it fit to embark on its ignoble strike? From this, there is no disputing the fact that there is so much insincerity among those in power and it is the reason the vast majority of Nigerians do not trust their leaders.
It is an irony that the education sector, more than ever, faces this type of humiliation, especially when the president of this country was once a university teacher and his Minister of Education, a professor in a vibrant field of academic study. No country in its right senses would have such individuals in power and watch as rot engulfs their education sector. With leaders like that who cannot engineer viable transformations within the sector they once held sway, we cannot but feel sorry for the entire country.
Our universities are no more role models for other countries to follow. Even the so called first generation universities have lost it, while mediocrity reigns supreme in the new ones. There is lack of competence, motivation and belittling cutting edge research and innovation done in an academic calendar year. Individuals who lack the capacity to teach or engage in ground breaking discoveries now fill our faculties and departments. Students who lack the intellectual vigour to learn now fill our departments with little or no capacity to communicate, write or engage their lecturers in intellectual debates. Most worrisome is the fact that one cannot find viable tools to hold experiments in our respective labs, reminding one of the total neglect in our secondary school labs. The structures which the Sardauna, Azikiwe and Awolowo had patriotically erected over 48 years ago still stand rickety today with nothing to show for a better one or even critical repair of the old. One could count the number of ICT driven universities in the country and if one is lucky to find any, the structure is not enough to train students who are supposed to have pre-requisite knowledge of the ICT world like their counterparts elsewhere.
Our classrooms have become a national embarrassment where students now sit on windows and outside to receive lectures. University libraries are littered with books the like of Isaac Newton had used during his time yet librarians are employed year in and out without any innovation coming from them to transform their departments into world class. It is most saddening that more than 80 Nigerian universities cannot boast of a state of the art library where students can get up to date books to embark on their research. It is no wonder that even reference materials used for PhD thesis today are as old as the country itself, when new materials have been churned out by the same author over 5 times. Most PhD thesis today appears unconstructive, lack coherence and almost adds nothing as useful lesson for nation building. A don once pathetically noted that there are a lot of questionable PhD’s today in Nigeria. The reason for this is not far-fetched as one cannot build a foundation on mediocrity—mediocrity is what will certainly bring it down.
Are we not conscious of the fact that not even one in the over 100 universities in Nigeria today is not ranked among the best 1000 in the world? Our universities are fraught with teachers who are interested in politics and not knowledge impact. In fact, if one needed to play politics beyond the ones we watch our politicians play in Aso Rock, our universities would be a better place. This of course, has placed round pegs in rectangle holes in the different sectors of our ivory tower. These sorry situations should be of concern to all.
A situation where even those who claim to be our leaders own universities both at home and abroad has made our public institutions a dumping ground for all kinds of policies which at the end are negotiated with ASUU today and re-negotiated tomorrow with no sight in end does not augur well for the future prospect of the country. We seem to forget that strikes in our ivory towers have lasting implications for the future direction of the country. A medical student who is supposed to spend at least seven uninterrupted years in medical school suddenly faces a three month strike in his quest to become a licensed medical doctor. At the end, he spends about eight to nine years for a seven year medical programme and in turn is given license to practice thereafter. If we do not know, we have bred a murderer and with his shaky training as a medical doctor in the murky world of medical school as a result of incessant ASUU strikes, we are bound to find our loved ones at their mercy. God help us if they survive with the way things keep going in this country!
We should not be surprised in the nearest future if a lawyer cannot even quote a relevant section in the constitution. Of course, most of the graduate engineers in the country today are known to be quacks, if the deplorable situation of our roads are anything to go by, and if we continue to pretend as if all is well, we will only find ourselves to blame if not now then tomorrow, as the future does not even hold anything to cheer about.

Raheem Oluwafuminiyi, a social commentator tweets @raheemfunminiyi

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