In the words of a South African living Legend and an enigma of democracy, Sir Nelson Mandela, “the only powerful weapon which you can use to change the world is education”. To Mandela, education is the major weapon needed to wage war against all forms of ignorance, illiteracy, arrogance, economic oppression and mal-administration. With education, change, the most sacrosanct thing in the world, is achievable with a marvelous ease.
Compatriots to affirm that public education in Nigeria is at the moment in perpetual shamble, is an understatement. The rout bedeviling the educational system in Nigeria has reached a stage that no one could doubt if it is prophesied that Nigeria is jinxed. As I write, public education in Nigeria has gone awry. Sub-standard private schools have submerged the public owned ones while public secondary schools are in a state of disrepair as parents across all social strata have discarded them for privately owned ones.
The Colleges of Education are daily moulding quantity teachers at will. The Polytechnics have been relegated into dustbin while most of the public universities are blot on the landscape. Corruption and Embezzlement of public fund pervades the whims and caprices of the educational sector of Nigeria. The most heart-breaking part of unfortunate scenario is that no one is willing to accept blames. As proponents of the political class are accusing the professional class, the sub-structure, of being the architect of Nigeria’s catastrophes, same way the professionals are casting aspersions on the bourgeoisies otherwise known as the super-structure. Affirmatively, Nigeria is in a sorry state today because her educational system is in shamble.
In Nigeria today, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is known to everyone. ASUU is popular not because it’s the beautiful bride of Nigeria but because it is an association that government at all levels and universities students fear with pleasure. Categorically, ASUU is one of the stakeholders in the Nigerian project. As a union, just like other labour unions, ASUU possesses constitutional rights to go on industrial action, hence the one the union has started since the 2nd of July 2013. However, all efforts made by government to ensure that all the issues raised by ASUU were resolved seem not to be acceptable to the union. Many government representatives have met with ASUU without recording positive results. The Federal Ministry of Education has met with ASUU, Secretary of the federation, Senator Ayim Pius Ayim, Vice President, Namadi Sambo, Senate President of Nigeria, David Mark, Senate Committee on Education and the House of Representatives Committee on Education have all met with ASUU leaders but the union refused to suspend the ongoing strike. Expectedly, the President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, despite his tight schedule, on Monday 4th November, personally met with ASUU for 13 hours. At the meeting with President Jonathan, all the demands of ASUU were reportedly met.
After the meeting, ASUU leaders expressed satisfaction. ASUU expressed hope that the ongoing strike will soon be suspended. As the union was planning to hold its national executive meeting to formally table the issues discussed with the President before its members, one of its leaders, Professor Festus Iyayi died in a ghastly car accident. However, the union secretly met ten days after Iyayi’s death to take decisions that up till now, have not be made known to the general public, though already exposed by the media. On the cause of the strike, ASUU members want FG to be paying them what they called earned and responsibilities allowances. Apparently to gain public support, ASUU said FG should, in the next four years, invest a whooping sum of N1.6trn on university education in Nigeria. FG has agreed to invest N1.2trn and ASUU did not object to the offer.
I wrote this piece because it is obvious that most Nigerians are not aware of the real demands of ASUU. To many Nigerians, ASUU is at home because of the poor state of infrastructures in public universities across the country but to me, that is far from the truth. I am a realist hence, I dislike being deceived and cajoled. Lies are currently triumphing over truth, while Propaganda is presently wining over reality, and most pitifully, misinformation is at the moment, singing victory song in the media against accuracy and sacredness of facts. Let me assert that one of our major problems in Nigeria is the fact that we don’t take time to analyse issues for ourselves. Rather, we flow with the tide of public opinion which is most often defined by a few opinion shapers.
Let me state without any fear or favour that ASUU members are no longer on strike because of Nigerian Students and the reviving of the Nigerian Universities as they told the public. If truly ASUU went on strike because of Students, the ongoing strike ought to have been suspended since August while negotiation continues. The strike ought to have been suspended since government offered N100bn as special intervention fund for infrastructure development in public universities coupled with the sum of N40billion released for the payment of ASUU’s earned and responsibilities allowances. N87bilion was demanded by ASUU for this.
It is disheartening that after meeting ASUU’s demands, the union is demanding from FG, the salaries and allowances for the months they were out of work. ASUU wants FG to pay the salaries for the months of August, September, October and November that they didn’t work.
The Nigerian Labour Act 2004 is unambiguous. It states that Labour Unions can go on strike but no payment for the time outside work. Why is ASUU now demanding for salaries for the work not done? Who will pay for the house rents of Nigerian Students for the period ASUU members were out of work? Who will compensate our needy and poor parents for the impending double money they will be paying when ASUU finally resumes? Who will pay for the wasted time, delayed destinies and ruined future of students?
As it is now, those due for the Youth Service may miss February mobilization as ASUU seems not to be ready for resumption until January 2014. Our parents are presently wailing because of the debt arising from the ongoing strike. When the strike is eventually suspended, parents will have to pay more for their children’s pocket money, and house rents. The social effects of the ongoing strike are the most pitiable. Many female students are now into prostitution in order to earn a living. Many students have lost their lives on the deadly Nigerian roads while traveling and according to the information released last month by the National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA), the prevailing rate of HIV/AIDS amongst Students has increased by 3% due to the ongoing strike.
It is without being hypocritical that I assert that the statement issued on the 1st of November by the National Executive Councils of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities ( SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities ( NASU) in respect of the ongoing strike embarked on by ASUU was an outright vindication of my humble self in relation to my earlier position which says that ASUU is greedy and selfish. SSANU and NASU’ in a statement had stated that “The three Non-Teaching Staff Unions of NAAT, SSANU and NASU are opposed to any extraneous demands by either ASUU or any group in the university which are prejudicial to the welfare of our members. Our stand is that government should jettison the so called ASUU’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU being referred to by ASUU is for their selfish end and it is bound to generate more crises in the university sub-sector. The Non-Teaching Staff Unions in the universities will stoutly resist any attempt to ‘sell’ the universities to ASUU.”
Now, assuming without conceding that I and NANS had been bribed by FG as some ASUU Activists had been saying without any evidence, were SSANU and NASU also bribed?
Lastly, let me state unequivocally that the latest order issued to the striking ASUU members by FG to resume on, or before 4th November is in order. The order may look tyrannical but it is in order because he who hires can equally fire. ASUU should therefore heed to this directive and go back to the classrooms.