By Dons Eze, PhD
As things currently stand, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), appears to be the only group fighting the federal government over its failure or inability to pay adequate attention to the education industry in the country. Every other group appears to have soft-pedalled, or to have entirely given up.
Over the years, ASUU would spotlight the rot, the decay, the total neglect of the education sector, particularly in public universities. They would call for urgent intervention by government to address the problems. They would threaten to down tools, unless the government harkened to their outcry, and took urgent action to remedy the situation.
But the government would keep deaf ears to their demands. They would be indifferent or ignore the ASUU demands, until the union made good their threat by downing tools, after they must have exhausted their patience. The union would then send their students out of the classrooms, and put the gates of the universities under lock and key.
When pressures were mounted on the federal government for the long closure of the universities, they would grudgingly, but partially attend to the demands of ASUU. The union would call off or suspend their industrial action. The students would be called back to school, and academic activities resumed once again.
This has been the trend these past four decades, when ASUU was formed. Since then, there was no year that the academic calendar would not be disrupted. Very often, the number of months students were out of the campuses would far exceed the number of months they were inside. Sometimes, the universities would be closed for one full academic year, and even more. You then begin to imagine the quality of graduates members of ASUU were turning out, and pushing to society, under such a failed system.
The current ASUU strike began in March this year, at the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and there appears to be no end in sight, as to when it will end. President Muhammadu Buhari has just stated that all employees of government must enroll into the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS), for them to receive their salaries, which ASUU was opposed to.
As things currently stand, while members of ASUU are bearing the pains, the agonies, and the difficulties of none payment of salaries for the past seven months or so, Nigerian students in public universities are staying at home, wasting, decaying, with some of them joining bad gangs, but the federal government appears unperturbed, not worried. This is disheartening.
Meanwhile, the children and wards of key members of the administration as well as the children and wards of other well to-do members of society, are studying overseas, or in some private universities in the country, whose lecturers are not members of ASUU, and therefore, not on strike. In other words, the government and their allies, those in the upper echelon of society, are not affected by the ASUU strike.
Who then are suffering the effect of the ASUU strike? They are the children and wards of ordinary Nigerian citizens who attend public universities, and of course, members of ASUU themselves, whose salaries are being withheld.
Unfortunately, many of these Nigerians whose children and wards are suffering the effects of the ASUU strike, do not seem to appreciate or to understand why the union is always on strike. This means that ASUU may be suffering from two ends, or different angles.
They suffer the obstinacy of the government that does not want to attend to their demands. They suffer the vilification and criticism of ordinary Nigerians, who are ignorant of the enormity of the rot in the education sector. They suffer the anger of their students, who believe or think that the union members deliberately want to frustrate their future. These are the predicaments of ASUU, and why the union is fighting alone.
But why has this been so? Why is ASUU fighting alone for the betterment or improvement of the education sector in the country? Why have ordinary Nigerians not joined them in the struggle?
Some people believe ASUU to be elitist, not connected to the people and their struggles. They see ASUU as not involving or carrying the people along in the fight. They see ASUU as not to have sufficiently educated the people, integrateing them into the struggle for the quest of a functional education system. In fact, many of them believe or have the impression that ASUU is only interested in the néeds of the stomach.
But the problem facing the education sector, which ASUU appears to be fighting is beyond stomach infrastructure, or the enhancement of the welfare of ASUU members. It is the failure of government to show sufficient interest, lay solid foundation, and provide enabling environment for the learning process to take place. Successive administrations in the country have paid lip service to providing functional education in Nigeria. This accounts for the rot in the education sector.
Unfortunately, members of ASUU have failed to educate the people along the process. They have failed to come down from their Olympian height to carry the people along in the struggle for improved education. They fight alone. They should present a common front with the people in the quest for a functional education system. They should holistically look at the problems facing the education system in the country with a view to proffering acceptable solutions.
Education is the bedrock of every society. It is the foundation upon which everything rests. That was why Philosopher Plato gave education, priority in his Republic. Plato believed that if the foundation of education is faulty, if there is no solid foundation for educating the youth, the society itself will be in topsy-turvy, in a confused state, and nothing works, as we presently witness in Nigeria.
It is necessary therefore,, for all hands to be on deck to make education work in Nigeria. It is not a fight for only one group, but a collective fight by all groups interested in education in the country. This is what will only make the government to sit up.