This missive is to appeal to members of Academic Staffs Union of Universities (ASUU), individually and collectively to consider the plight of innocent students and their helpless parents and return to work.
Since July 2nd, 2013 when they declared a “total and indefinite strike” over issues they claim have remained unresolved pertaining to 2009 agreement, innocent students and their poor parents have been at the receiving end of the stalemate.
While some government officials are lousy and combatant in their approach to resolving the faceoff over the strike, it is difficult to fault their arguments and the statistics they reel out over the level of government’s intervention and implementation of the contentious 2009 agreement.
It is therefore a welcome development the recent disbursement of N100 billion by the government for the implementation of the first phase projects listed in the Needs Assessment Report of Universities and another N30 billion to support Federal university Councils in the payment of arrears of Earned Allowances to deserving staff.
As I wrote in an article on the problems of public and private universities in Nigeria in October 2011, the deregulation of education in Nigeria is a deliberate effort to break government’s monopoly on education and by allowing the establishment of private universities to check the incessant strikes by lecturers in public institutions.
I then pointed out that that most of the current leaders attended public universities that were well-funded. Our leaders, including some of the current activist-lecturers enjoyed scholarships and crisis-free academic sessions which unfortunately, the current students could not enjoy.
While we accuse political leaders of selfishness, there is no difference between them with some of the lecturers in their seeming connivance in the promotion of private universities and patronage of foreign institutions, to the expense of our public universities.
It is regrettable that while attempting to register their grievances against inadequate funding from the government, ASUU members take some actions that are inimical to the progress and development of their poor students. Yet, the flexibility of academic environment with job security and huge severance packages influence the decision of many lecturers to remain on the payroll of public universities. We are also aware that some of the lecturers provide part-time lecturing to the private universities in the name of private practice (PP), while others would rather lobby or take political appointments and consultancy jobs than attend to the needs of their students. Surprisingly too, some professors are yet to adapt to the new use of information technology. They still rely on old books and theories of past centuries when the internet provides the theory of reality and practicability.
We must also blame ASUU for indiscipline and lack of adequate inspection on the campuses which have caused cultism, drug addiction, gang rape and other criminalities on campuses. For instance, the incessant ASUU strikes influence idle students to engage in prostitution, robbery and kidnapping to earn a living and to occupy their times. It is therefore not surprising that some of the institutions are alleged to churn out certificated illiterates who can barely write their names and place of origin.
Not every parent can afford or willing to send their children to expensive private universities that widen the social gap between the rich and the poor. The private institutions, too have their weaknesses with some of them operating medieval laws that weaken independence and freedom of expression on the campuses. Like regimented garrisons where all forms of feudal measures are taken, the private institutions do not treat their students as adults but pupils in boarding schools who must observe strict wake-up time and bedtime light-out.
The option of missionary universities also have some challenges. Instead of making the fees affordable, some of them develop unwritten house-rules that ‘no student will ever fail to graduate because of spiritual interventions.’ Apart from discriminatory policies against those that do not believe or practice their faiths, some of them conduct virginity tests on students upon resumption. While worshippers, occasionally act as part time lecturers, whose allowances could be paid ‘only in heaven,’ some of the recruited scholars are actually lecturers from established public universities within their vicinities.
We know that we have crises in our hands and it seems the government with recent moves have demonstrated willingness to resolve the crisis. After a recent meeting of key government officials with Vice-Chancellors and Chairmen of Councils of Public Universities, it was disclosed that the government had implemented some of the agreements it entered with the academic staff. These include implementations of the Consolidated Salary Structure for Academics and non-teaching staff; National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) for staff of universities; Amendment of Pensionable Retirement Age of Academics in the Professorial cadre as Professors and Readers now retire at 70 years while others now retire at 65 instead of 60 years.
Government has also provided a counterpart funding of N250 million to help ASUU meet up with the mandatory deposit required for registration of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) while it continues to assist state universities through the Federal intervention agencies.
There should be a way to resolve demands pertaining to commercial ventures, especially the alleged request by ASUU for the transfer of government landed properties to universities, which government resists because ASUU has no structure to manage or maintain such property.
While we must call on our policy makers to ensure that our universities are adequately funded, our lawmakers should enact laws that would compel lecturers to be responsible to their duties and concentrate on the job for which they are discriminatorily remunerated. The law should also compel public officers to send their children to public institutions where they can relate and compete with other poor students.
Regulatory bodies such as NUC, JAMB, NECO and WAEC should be more proactive and responsive in monitoring responsibilities so as to ensure that Nigerian universities comply with international best practices.