*Basis for the ASUU Struggle*
It is no longer news that ASUU is on a strike which has lasted up to 27 weeks and have generated diverse reactions from the general public. For some ASUU is fighting a good cause, but for a majority ASUU is evil and greedy. It is important we understand the actual reasons ASUU is on strike before casting aspersions. Many may think ASUU is not considerate to the plight of students, considering that they are usually directly affected by any disruption in any academic activity; however, this is never the case. In fact the reverse is the case. It is imperative that I state the obvious which is that ASUU means well for students as well as the country as a whole.
ASUU means well not just for those presently in public universities but also for the generation next. Ralph Waldo Emerson in one of his thesis centuries ago noted that “We have not inherited the earth from our Fathers; we have only borrowed it from our children”. In my humble opinion, the sustainability of public universities in Nigeria forms the basis of ASUU struggle which unfortunately many misunderstand. The fact is that education is a sure tool for ‘gainful development’, and Nations that understand this invest immensely in their education system.
Growing up in my locality, I was privileged to attend a Public Primary School in Rivers State and also started my secondary education at a State Government owned public secondary school. In my primary school we had limited number of seats, so most of us sat on the floor; we had no blackboards, so we had a section of the wall of the class painted black with charcoal and that served as our blackboard. There were no toilet facilities and many other requisite facilities that signified a learning environment. But I can tell you one thing we had; we had qualified and capable teachers who has left lasting legacies in our lives. The best of teachers anyone would love to have. Teachers who were trained specifically for the job they did. My observation from my first secondary school was not any different; I saw hostels which were the shadow of their old self, dilapidated and deteriorated buildings as classrooms but not also without quality teachers.
The impact this had on my education, and I’m sure on others who went through this condition of learning in such environments, are immeasurable. Many of us never saw physically most of the things we were taught until we came across them later in life. We never saw lab equipments such as Bunsen burners, microscopes, etc as we were taught in integrated sciences and other related subjects. What of Stethoscopes, thermometers, among many others? Those things were better imagined as the teacher draws them on the charcoal wall.
Were those the only outcomes? No. Many students who left such schools were seriously deficient in most subjects. Some couldn’t even read and write properly, which wasn’t the fault of the teachers but the inability to teach the young mind without the requisite teaching tools, and conducive environment.
*Proliferation of Private Schools (Packaging over Quality)*
The result of the poor state of infrastructures at public and primary schools consequentially led to the setting up of private primary and secondary school where the students were at least sure of good seats, boards and other learning facilities; however at very huge sums as tuition fees, in addition to teachers of lower quality compared to those obtainable at the public schools.
With the good infrastructure provided by these private schools, the children of the rich who can afford them were now able to get quality education, leaving behind those whose parents could not afford the huge school fees.
This further worsened the situation as the proliferation of private schools ‘watered down’ with the creation of ‘cheaper’ private schools using up rented room and parlours, worship centers, community halls, etc, as “mushroom” private school where at least seats, boards and few amenities were provided further attracting some average classed parents who want to feel among those whose wards are in private school and not minding the quality of teachers in these schools. This not only affected the quality of Education in Nigeria, it also worsened the plight of public schools as people preferred the packaging of private school to the quality learning obtainable in the public schools. Worst still, those who would have been in the position of restoring our public school (Government officials) delved into establishing their own private schools for the purposes of business.
Maybe you should pay a visit to the public primary/secondary school in your community and see for yourself if the narrative is any different. This will help you understand what ASUU is trying to avoid with our public Universities. Maybe if only the Union of Teachers at primary and secondary levels stood and placed demands on the Government as ASUU is currently, just maybe it would have been a different scenario.
*What really are ASUU’s demands?*
ASUU is not fighting for salary increment of its members as the salary of University lecturers are below what their counterparts in the polytechnic and Colleges of Education get. So to some academics, ASUU should rather be fighting for salary increment which will directly benefit the lecturers whose welfare should be ASUU’s priority and primary concern. But on the second thought, what will be the need for huge salaries without a good working environment, adequate infrastructures, standard laboratories and good quality of graduates? All these became more of a concern to ASUU thus making the former a secondary concern. ASUU’s primary concern is the survival and sustainability of public universities in Nigeria.
In clear terms, ASUU is asking the Federal Government to improve facilities on our campuses, improve students welfare, revitalize our universities as agreed with the Government years back and don’t force us into your IPPIS payment platform so that we can still have our voice and please pay us the backlog of our earned allowances which you have been owing us since 2013. These are the reasons ASUU have been on strike.
It is worthy of note that the fund ASUU is asking the Federal Government to inject into the University system is not going into ASUU account and will not be managed by ASUU leadership. ASUU’s only concern is to join in monitoring to ensure that the said projects are implemented furthermore ASUU wants the Government to set up visitation panels and see how the Universities are faring.
*Must ASUU always go on Strike?*
ASUU strike is the reason we can still look at our public universities and allow our ward to attend them. It is unfortunate that one major language our Government understands is strike. Truth is ASUU strike have been yielding good results one of which is the establishment of TETFUND but more needs to be done to keep to pace with global realities in the sector. This the Government agrees to the reason they entered agreements with ASUU. Recently, University of Ibadan was ranked among 401-500 best universities in the world to the Governments credit but that is not good enough. We should be looking at first 100 universities moreover up to at least 5 universities should make the best 500 in the world.
*Why is ASUU Rejecting IPPIS?*
The least point of the current struggle which is been amplified is the Federal Government’s insistence that Academic staff of Federal Universities enroll in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which according to them will promote transparency and accountability. With corruption one of our major undoing’s as a Nation, anything that will promote accountability and transparency is welcomed. However, more important is the workability of the IPPIS in tertiary Education system in Nigeria.
Many have accused ASUU of being corrupt, having members do more than one job and many others as the reason for the rejection of IPPIS. But it’s important we understand that the Universities have a different mode of operation compared to what is operational in civil service.
In ASUU’s opinion, IPPIS is not designed to accommodate such things as remunerations of lecturers on sabbatical, external examiners and assessors and earned Academic allowances. So forcing IPPIS will mean that the idea behind seasoned Academia going on sabbatical to other Federal Universities is jettisoned. The reason for external examination and assessment which is to uphold the integrity of the University system by attracting experts in certain fields either within or outside the country to assess our lecturers or examine our students with the introduction of IPPIS this also will be frustrated and will impact negatively on the ranking of Nigerian Universities. In addition IPPIS does not recognize the retirement age of Academics all of these make IPPIS a bad idea to the University system.
It is on this premise that ASUU suggested that if the issue is purely on transparency and accountability then something can be done to both achieve that and not frustrate the culture of Academics it is on this that ASUU tasked itself to develop the UTAS (University Transparency and Accountability Solution) to make up for the inadequacy of the IPPIS to the Academic sector. One will expect that as partners in progress, the Government should rather be looking at ways to adopt the UTAS for Academic staff since ASUU not only noted the challenge with IPPIS but have come up with a solution. Forcing ASUU at this point to join the IPPIS suggests that rather than just promoting accountability and transparency in the University system IPPIS may be out to achieve other agenda. ASUU’s voice must not the silenced for the good of Public Universities in Nigeria.
*ASUU Strike; Any Vanquished?*
The truth is that students experience unnecessary delays whenever ASUU proceed on strike. The lecturers themselves also pay the price which includes subjecting them, their families and dependents to various degrees of torture, pain and discomfort. For instance, Academic Staff of Federal Universities by reason of the ongoing strike usually have their salaries withheld for months. In this current event, most ASUU members have not been paid for more than three months now, while some others have not been paid for up to seven months. Maybe it is only the Government that may not be counting any loss but I know that the fact that the educational sector is experiencing this level of hitch should unsettle any responsible Government. Let me believe ours is a responsible Government and if that is then there is no Victor, but all parties are grossly vanquished!
The singular fact that the students and their lecturers are more on the receiving end is the more reason why students should join hands with their lecturers to prevail on our Government to improve the teaching and learning environment and facilities.
We owe ourselves the duty to pass on a sustained public university to the generation next. Taking a clue from the words of Emerson, we have not inherited the public university system from our fathers; we have borrowed them from our children. Let us join hands with ASUU to sustain our public universities. If ASUU fails, the Public universities will deteriorate and become less fancied just like our public primary and secondary schools, private universities will thrive and will remain affordable only to the rich, worst still we will witness an uncontrollable proliferation of ‘mushroom’ private universities which will result to the collapse of our tertiary educational sector. To avoid this the way out is to support ASUU to salvage our public universities for the poor and average members of the society.
*Chioma Obinuchi Wodu.*
University of Port Harcourt,