Nigeria has the highest number of universities in Africa. The West African country has a total of 262 universities, followed by South Africa. In the same vein, the country has the highest turnover of strike action by lecturers in its public universities.
Available statistics indicates that between 1999, when democratic rule was enthroned and now, the country’s public tertiary institutions have gone on strike 15 times. In the course of the 15 strike actions public universities in the country have cumulatively lost about 50 months of their academic calendar to these strike actions.
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Stretching the figures further, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has spent one in every four days on strike, in the last six years, a situation which has compelled parents to send their children to private universities while those who can afford it, send their children abroad for tertiary education.
Right now the university lecturers are at it again. The strike action is protesting the government’s refusal to fulfil an agreement that was reached in 2009, which includes better welfare package for university teachers and improved facilities for universities across Nigeria. It also wants the government to adopt the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) for payment of its members’ salaries. The The current strike action, declared since Monday, February 14, is still on-going with no resolution in sight.
In addition to disrupting the academic calendar, the normal duration of academic programmes, is elongated, causing students in regular four-year academic programmes to spend as much as five years and sometimes even more. The elongation of programmes translates to extra money just as the lecturers’ research activities, sabbatical and promotion prospects are also affected.
With no progress being achieved in the negotiation between the federal government team, led by Labour and Productivity Minister, Dr Chris Ngige and the lecturers, President Muhammadu Buhari at a point detailed his Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari to wade into the negotiation. ASUU said Gambari was not bringing anything new to the table and expectedly, it ended in a deadlock.
As parents and other stakeholders are calling on the federal government to find a way around the problem, the government says it does not have the financial muscle to meet the demands of the university teachers but ASUU is not buying that. The Union claims government is not showing enough commitment to resolving the problem. Labour minister, Ngige says the lecturers have no reason to embark on the strike action because government was working on their demands. Government at another time has appealed to ASUU members to return to the classroom but the lecturers are not prepared to budge.
Speaking on the issue of the lingering ASUU strike action, while receiving the All Progressives Congress (APC) governors, who visited him at his home town, Daura, Katsina State, President Muhammadu Buhari said “enough is enough”. The president also said he was eager to go, meaning he could not wait to leave office. These statements are defeatist as they smack of hopelessness and helplessness.
In a swift reaction to Buhari’s comment, ASUU said “with our universities as glorified secondary schools, enough cannot be enough”. In a statement by the Lagos ASUU Zonal Coordinator, Dr Adelaja Odukoya, ASUU said Buhari’s statement was not only comical but a clear sign of leadership Failure and advised the president to quit the “hopeless lamentation and sermonizing” and do the needful, pointing out that until the issues which warranted the strike action are resolved, enough cannot be enough.
Buhari’s statement cannot be any farther from the truth. However, the call should not be directed to ASUU alone but also to the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government. The federal government must be told that agreements are sacrosanct and must be respected.
Both parties, ASUU and the federal government, must be prepared to shift grounds a little and meet each other half way because the strike action has gone on for too long and needs to be resolved so that university students can return to school. Anything short of that is unacceptable.