The Academic Staff Union of Universities (also widely known as ASUU) has become a perpetual nuisance to the education wellbeing of the Nigerian student. A union otherwise created as a platform to elevate education, has since the dark days of the military era- when it was a beacon of resistance to military dictatorship, transformed itself into a powerful lobby dedicated to undermining the wellbeing of Nigeria’s future. With its persistent strikes, disrupting the academic calendar and spurning out more cultists, prostitutes and unwanted pregnancies than learned students, ASUU is now the enemy.
It is like ASUU doesn’t care. Six months into its latest strike, ASUU and its leadership behave like entitled spoiled brat that they’re and are unfortunately abetted by an unimaginative and thoroughly bankrupt leadership in Aso Rock. It is hard to argue with ASUU’s deliberate anarchy when our Abuja overlords are busy embarking on state funded trips to Jerusalem that adds no value to the country, or buy bullet proof vehicles and get nothing but government protection for such wanton looting.
ASUU can thumb its dirty nose at Nigerians, drawing our attention to the ridiculous allowances four hundred and sixty nine (469) lawmakers award themselves, even though it is doing a far greater relative harm by destroying the future rather than the present: that these lawmakers have chosen to squander. Fact is since 1999, ASUU has embarked on twelve major strike actions lasting a total of 117 weeks an equivalent of Two Years and 3 months! This is just in a space of fourteen years, and it will be very hard to find a more strike happy union in the world.
The cumulative effects of these strikes have been the alarming falling standards of education in Nigeria, which most employers will confess, is churning out half-baked graduates in their hundreds from public tertiary institutions. The situation has gone from bad to worse, as many eligible students (our best and brightest) flee to universities in Benin Republic and Ghana, just to avoid the ASUU sham. While private universities prosper, and I speak as an employer of labor from these newer schools, the public universities that once stood up shoulder high with the rest of the world is now a shadow of themselves.
Fact is ASUU Strikes more than government under funding has done more for destroying our education system combined than what the military despotic leaders did to undermine the institution of education. Indeed, the dirty little secret of Nigeria universities is that the very same lecturers that are producing the okay products in the likes of Bells, Covenant, Igbinnedion and Madonna private Universities are also the same ASUU members who dare not strike in the private sector. Given this fact, it is time for the government to get bold and solve this debacle once and for all. There is a solution to this ASUU madness, and it is staring us all in the face.
First, ASUU gives a plethora of reasons for going on strike but most of them don’t make sense, because they’re contradictory. A reading of the Gamaliel Onosode negotiated settlement of the last major strike action will lead any sensible observer confused, and wondering why the government delegation could not pick holes in such badly conceived settlement. On one hand, ASUU claims it wants independence for the universities (“autonomy” as it calls them), on the other hand it wants to keep feeding on the government breasts. It is either you get autonomy or you’re dependent. If anything, the striking experiences of the last few years should give impetus to the government to move rapidly to grant full funding independence to Nigeria’s Higher Institutions as well as real academic autonomy.
To this end, government must rapidly transition from a system of direct funding to grant making to wean the universities off the national allocation bottle. This system will specify in an agreement, how much each Federal University (emphasis on Federal) will obtain in the next ten years, and escalated for inflation during the same period. The goal will be to make every Federal University entirely independent and self-sustaining at the end of such period, with certain assets (including properties, land and shares in public companies including NNPC and Power Cos) allocated to each university system administration to slowly reduce their dependence. The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 by United States has done this for more than two hundred years successfully, why can’t we just copy and paste?
In the same token, universities should be allowed to charge any fee they so desire to bridge the gap, while a system of bursary and scholarships should be provided for indigent students, and bank loans through the Bank of Industry specifically targeted at students encouraged to take on post-education entrepreneurship. This emerging education super-structure will be a win-win-win as government will be making tangible investment in education instead of burdening the system with costs. Loan programs tied to entrepreneurship will also create a foundation for future job creators; creating records of credit for young people and history of loan use prior to becoming job creators themselves.
Furthermore, a reorganization of how our universities are administered should be considered. The current structure of single member universities is not workable and sustainable – as it leads to duplicity of back office operations that contribute virtually nothing to learning. In more advanced climes, the leveraging of shared system resources where groups of learning campuses are organized under a singular administration is the norm. In the United Kingdom for example, the University of London system is well established with various autonomous universities therein that share administration, as will the Texas A & M university system or the New York City Universities in the USA. This reorganization will enable cost effectiveness and enhance research as well as learning.
With new found independence, each system will be free to administer its finances as it chooses to; if it so prefers it can even squander all the money on posh professor salaries and self-aggrandizement of ASUU members who didn’t mind “doing-in” their Non-Academic Staff counterparts, when they negotiated with Mr. Onosode! Indeed, under a system where fair market value are charged for tuition in our universities, professors will then be required to deliver services as at when due as it is being financed by parents, scholarships/bursaries, guardians or by loans- for which the student is termed. This will permanently restore sanity to our citadels of learning that has been lacking any, for the past few years. Enough is enough.
We must conclude with a note of warning to our do-nothing president, whose characteristic approach to crisis is to kick the problem down the road, or behave as if it will magically disappear – kicking the ASUU problem down the road, is not an option. But will Uncle Jonathan hear? I heard he was busy with his old lecturer buddies last night in Aso Rock; hope they exchanged pay slip and at least appreciate how far a former lecturer has come from not wearing shoes to sitting in Aso Rock and flying overtime on taxpayer’s dole. Can someone restore sanity here please?