One thing is rare in Nigeria; you cannot attend a Federal University in Nigeria without ever going on an ASUU strike, very rare.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is synonymous with the word “strike” mainly because you don’t hear anything from them aside when they are on industrial action.
In my undergraduate days, the shutting down of universities was so frequent that even during the proper holiday, people just assumed we were on strike.
Hence, it begs the question, why has it been impossible to end the incessant shutdown of universities?
The answer is basically summed up with the headline ‘game’. There are three direct parties in the scene: the Federal Government, lecturers and students.
The federal government (successive administrations) and ASUU have been engaging in games, the former tries to buy time by engaging in negotiating compromises it is not willing or able to fulfil, while the latter is hiding behind purported noble causes to push a selfish agenda.
Since 1999, ASUU as a body has embarked on a series of industrial actions, with successive governments setting up committees to negotiate a way forward.
The most popular one is the 2009 agreement reached with the FG. Close to 10 years after, however, the Union is on strike over the non-implementation of the agreement.
In 2013, ASUU shut down the universities for about six months amid other numerous warning strikes.
While at the heart of the agreement is the clause that the government will invest N1.5trillion in the government-owned institutions between 2009 and 2011, there is the insincerity on the part of the union as the N1.5trillion is not the main issue but that of allowances and salary structure.
Aside from the academic works done by the lecturers, they also do a number of administrative works such as Head of Departments roles (HOD), Deanship and examination officers – positions which they believe they should be properly remunerated for.
These are the real issues at the heart of the strike, but to avoid a backlash, ASUU backs a noble cause of calling for investments from the FG.
On the call for investment, no doubt the infrastructure at most of the public universities in Nigeria are in terrible and deplorable situations.
However, the real issue is, school fees in most federal universities average between N15,000 to N20,000 which means that going by the price charged by private universities in Nigeria (average of N400,000), the government is already subsidizing tertiary education per student by about N380,000.
Subsidized education in Nigeria is seen as more of a right rather than a privilege, so if any government should make such a proposal, it would be viewed as a gagging of rights rather than taking away a privilege.
So who will bell the cat?
This age-long adage is so true of the current situation. Who has the gut to speak the truth, definitely not the government!
The conversation is already gathering momentum on social media, as ‘influencers’ have already started the conversation on removing the subsidy on university education.
While it is easy for social media influencers to talk about the problem and propose what they feel as solution, it must be stated that, for any government to openly say that it will remove subsidy on education, such a move will be seen as political suicide, most especially during a campaign season which we are currently in.
One thing is certain, the argument on the side of the need to make universities autonomous is persuasive, “remove the subsidy, reinvest in technical colleges and other schools.”
This argument sounds more like the argument for the removal of fuel subsidy.
The scandalous fraud that trailed the process is still fresh in the memory as through the back door, subsidies seem to have made a return.
In conclusion, our history with our inability to match our words with actions.
The other argument is that education should be financed through the three means used in other parts of the world, namely: students loan, scholarships and self-financing.
Starting with the first one, with unemployment at double digits, and underemployment rampant, the chances of repayment of loan also diminishes.
On scholarships, there is simply little trust on the part of the people that the elites will not turn it to ‘man know man’.
Also, discrimination on the basis of certificate in employment into government establishments is also a thing of concern.
Everyone wants a university certificate, irrespective of ability.
On the third argument of self-financing, with over 80 million Nigerians adjudged to be in extreme poverty, will university education not be completely out of the reach of the poor people?
This question will trump any argument made, if not properly answered.
However, one thing is certain, the current system is not working and the quality of education is getting worse every day.
A recent report stated that 12 doctors are leaving the country weekly after benefitting from subsidized education, graduates are encouraged to learn a trade or vocation (make-up, tailoring) after completing professional courses such as law, accounting, etc.
We are training thousands of zoologists without having functioning zoos.
There is a total disconnect between the educational sector and the labour market, the recent surge in cybercrime (Yahoo) perpetrated by undergraduates and graduates points to faults within the system, inevitably there might be a need to abandon the ship, but jumping into the ocean without a plan is no wisdom.
A short-term solution might be reached again as elections are fast approaching, but this is definitely not going to be the last industrial action.
More will follow and the noise around the removal of subsidy will get louder, no doubt.