At the press conference by the ASUU President, Dr. Nasir F. Isa delivered on Monday, July 1st, 2013, he offered a concise explanation on the inevitability of a nationwide strike action by our lecturers scheduled to commence officially on Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013. True to his word, academic activities in all public universities in the country especially our prestigious University of Lagos have come to a disappointing halt. In the midst of this impasse, it is important for us to reflect on the many issues that surround this strike action and other discussions it has thrown up.
To begin with, it is important to explicate on the contents of ASUU demands. As noted in their press release, ASUU posits that in 2009, it had an agreement with the federal government (whose team was led by Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, O.F.R.). This agreement was modified in January, 2012, following the intervention of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Anyim Pius Anyim in the bid to resolve the ASUU strike that lasted between December 4th, 2011 and 2nd February, 2012. The contents of the agreement which has remained the bone of contention hitherto include funding requirement for the revitalization of Nigerian universities (N100 billion annually for 4 years), federal government assistance to state universities, progressive increase of the annual budgetary allocation to education to 26% between 2009 to 2020, payment of earned academic allowances (allowances for project supervisions at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, allowances to HODs, Deans, e.t.c.), establishment of the Nigerian University Pension Fund Administrator (the Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company), transfer of landed properties to university, setting up of Research and Development Units by companies operating in Nigeria (to bridge the industry-academia lacuna) and the establishment of a budget monitoring committee in each university. It is also important to note that only 2 of the agreement in 2009 have been fulfilled namely the reinstatement of Governing Councils of various universities on or before February 12, 2012 and the amendment of the pension/retirement age of academics on the professional cadre from 65 to 70 years.
The sad story staring us in the face is that our government prides itself on a score of 2/10, having fulfilled only 2 of 10 of an agreement it wilfully entered into in the bid to develop a very strategic aspect of our national life, the educational system, dating back to 2009. The rhetorical question is that where on earth is 2/10 (20%) a pass mark. Without doubt, it is safe to conclude that this fake sense of fulfilment has beclouded the sense of the government of the day, and it has become manifest in every aspect of our national life. Hence, Benin-Ore expressway has perpetually remained an eyesore with the government still foot-dragging. Holistically, the lesson for us all is that the government is NOT DEVELOPMENT-ORIENTED. This is particularly important for us to know, as it has been constantly reiterated by scholars especially Mkandawire, T. that the existence of a developmental state (a state that is development oriented) is important in the bid to guarantee societal development. Hence, the Nigeria of our dreams remain nothing but utopian.
Of all the contents of the FG-ASUU agreement, a number of them are of resounding and emotive interest to me. ASUUs demand for a progressive increase in the allocation to education sector to the tune of 26% in line with international standards advanced by UNESCO is quite pertinent in this discourse. The importance of education in the development of any society cannot be overemphasized. Hence, it beclouds my imagination when the federal government finds it difficult to accede to this particular demand in the face of the fact that the head of the government is a member of the academia. Looking at the 2013 budget, the Ministry Of Education is allocated N360,822,928,272 (Total Recurrent) and N71,937,785,489 (Capital) making a total of N432,760,713,762. This figure represents a paltry 8.67% of the total budget put at N4,987,220,425,601. This is quite mediocre when juxtaposed with the budget of Ghana who has in the last twenty-five years or more consistently dedicated at least 30% of its annual budget to the very strategic sector called education. The permeating culture of prebendalism has ensured that education has been starved of the requisite nutrients, hence our universities are in a parlous state of nature. This is particularly evident in the realities in our classrooms, hostels, libraries, e.t.c. This is a clarion call to those who mean well for the future of this country. 26% at least of the annual budget is not too much to ask for and be given in line with the biblical tenet Ask and it shall be given unto you.
The earned academic allowance also falls under the above category. The place of motivation in ensuring effective and efficient employee productivity cannot be overemphasized. However, it is quite sardonic and preposterous to comprehend the sad fact that our government is claiming incapacitation in the bid to pay our lecturers in the face of massive corruption and personal aggrandizement among political officers in the country. Though the total earnings of our legislators for instance cannot be appropriately quantified, report has it that a senator carts home officially N2, 456, 647.7 monthly. This monthly pay of a Senator is roughly equivalent to the per annum pay of a Lecturer I on step 5 (steps 1 9). What a ludicrous situation!
The popular maxim is that the reward of teachers is in heaven. A pertinent question I have to ask is that, Is it a sin to reward these teachers here on earth, in order to ensure their survival in this derisively materialistic society of ours. The above fact brings me to my next question which is based on the reverence paid to members of the academia in this country. According to the Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure II (CONUASS II) which details the salary structure of the academic staff of universities, a Graduate Assistant on step 1, 3, 5 and 6 has a monthly salary of N106,181, N112,327, N118,474 and N121,547 respectively (exclusive of tax and other deductions). Furthermore, a Senior Lecturer on step 3, 5, 7, 10 and 12 earns annually N3,329,638, N3,556,972, N3,784,306, N4,125,306 and N4,352,640 respectively (exclusive of tax and other deductions). The preceding figures is no doubt an evidence of profoundly unsatisfactory esteem placed on education in our country. This is particularly evident when these figures are juxtaposed with contemporaries in the private sector and other aspects of the public sector. The lesson therefore for budding Nigerian citizens currently at the primary, secondary and tertiary level of education, is that the intelligentsia or the academia we dream of joining is in nothing but a melancholic state where material survival remains a herculean struggle/hustle.
Conclusively, though the protracted ASUU strike to a very reasonable extent has affected our academics, my opinion however, is that it is a worthy cause being fought by the Union. Disheartening however, is the fact that the government has appeared unconcerned and maintained an apathetical stance to this very critical issue of national, if not international importance. Hence, all sane Nigerian citizens must join forces with ASUU the Stallion of Unionism to correct this incessant anomaly and entrench positive development in our indispensable educational system.
NOW IS THE TIME FOR CHANGE!!!
Social Sciences Students Association (SOSSA),
University of Lagos.