2022 ASUU strike: End of an era?


ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke

By Samuel Oluwole Ogundele

A lot of articles have been written by several people about the deteriorating conditions of the Nigerian university system, especially in recent times. This is a positive development. Nigeria has to be liberated from the bondage of economic and/or technological under-development at all costs.

Indeed, more write-ups are needed because sanity remains an elusive concept in the lexicon of Nigerian universities. We have to maintain the continuity of ideas and struggles.

Good quality education is an important force capable of influencing, shaping, and reshaping the contours of a given human society, in tandem with the challenges and aspirations of the changing world-historical environment.
But unfortunately, the Nigerian rulership’s detestation of a population capable of engaging in critical, innovative thinking is second to none. Consequently, the country is losing all the opportunities it has to become a prosperous, truly independent geo-polity. This scenario should worry every serious Nigerian.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has become synonymous in recent times, with long-drawn industrial actions leading to an epileptic academic calendar that threatens the regional and/or global integrity of these institutions.

ASUU strike is now a biennial ritual which may later gain an annual status in the absence of a proactive approach. Thus, for example, in 2020 ASUU went on strike for nine months over the non-implementation of reached agreements since 2009. This was the longest strike action in the last 23 years or thereabouts. Innocent students were kept at home idling away. Some of them may have joined criminal gangs. Similarly, this strike might have forced many young ladies into prostitution.
The Nigerian political class, out of blissful ignorance, a lack of responsiveness, and unfettered self-interest are consistently polluting our academic and social space.

Another round of the ASUU strike began in February this year, and as usual, the students are at home or in the streets. Politicians want to have an army of idle university students for political rallies. Idle, frustrated, hungry students are easily mobilized to serve these gluttonous humans whose children are studying in the US, Europe, and parts of Asia (of course, with the Nigerian taxpayers’ monies).
There is no empathy for other people’s situations no matter how critical. In actuality, the Nigerian political leaders (with a few exceptions) are chronic adherents of Machiavellian philosophy.

A comprehensive review or overhaul of the Nigerian university system is long overdue. May this be the last ASUU strike at least, in the next 20 years. The damages are too deep to be mathematised. This is a recipe for a national disaster.

Disorientated students risk mental health challenges among other things. After each strike, frustrations on both sides (students and lecturers) often remain a devil to wrestle with. There is usually a gross lack of enthusiasm for teaching and learning. Most people hardly know, let alone appreciate the fact, that lecturers too, are negatively affected by these avoidable strikes.

The strike is an encumbrance of robust knowledge production. In this regard, (a strike) is usually a last resort, when all attempts to negotiate or re-negotiate agreements/agreements reached, have failed because of the reluctance on the part of the government.

Strikes have become a component of our academic tradition, foisted on us by the reactionary, “janjaweed” political class.

A mature, sensible, cosmopolitan political leadership is of the essence. Peace is a pre-condition for sustainable progress in the university education sector and by extension, Nigeria. This desired newness entails reasonable budgetary allocations to education, economic/financial discipline among the critical stakeholders, and unalloyed patriotism.

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This biennial ritual christened ASUU strike is most disturbing. ASUU and government should learn to work together to restore university education to its glory days. Nobody needs their egos, especially at this critical period of Nigeria’s chequered history.
Nigeria can be a great country once the leadership across the board is very sincere and committed. Creating sacred cows is a sign of poor leadership. Indeed, this weakness is Nigeria’s undoing. We need to re-define our appalling punishment systems, to prove among other things, that nothing is wrong with our brains or genetic make-up.

A task force with several sub-committees is urgently needed to design new, workable models geared towards sustainable peace and progress. This task force may also have to critically re-examine earlier reports on reforms in education, written by certain eminent stakeholders. Members of the task force have to be men and women of high calibre within and without academia.

Experience has shown that having an impressive or intimidating curriculum vitae does not automatically translate into good leadership. There are thieving swine all over the place! Consequently, members have to be carefully selected to generate some practical ideas for action.
This is by looking into such areas of university life as internally generated revenues, donations from friends and alumni, endowments, students’ loan facilities, scholarships, bursaries, and staff/students’ welfare. This is in addition to the introduction of some minimum tuition fees.

University managers today should demonstrate uncommon capacities for creative thinking and incorruptibility. Members of this task force must ensure that unbridled materialism or corruption does not cast a cloud over high ideals. No room for cronyism or ethnic chauvinism- a cancerous social disease tearing Nigeria into shreds. The gown has to be a model for the town.

All the sub-committees have to be reviewing their activities regularly. This is because university education as a sub-system of society with expectations and sensitivities is not fixed once and for all.

Again, the implicit assumption that ASUU members with their highly esoteric taste, only know how to read and write “fat” books, is wrong. Hypothetically, no matter how well equipped, university laboratories are, poorly remunerated lecturers cannot contribute maximally to robust research and training. It is very commendable that ASUU members are no longer hiding their disfigured hands under their dresses.
The whole world must know the extent to which the Nigerian state has impoverished the intelligentsia. The Nigerian political class continues to show contempt for sound knowledge and by the same token, its producers. Consequently, sustainable development, a by-product of research remains a mirage.

Establishing bogus, caricatured varsities all over the place, for economic and/or political reasons, is extremely irritating and unhelpful. We need a new Nigeria rooted in the advancement of science and technology largely derivable from our time-tested indigenous knowledge systems. We need a country where innocent students and to a lesser degree, lecturers are not becoming increasingly despondent or disillusioned with education, as a result of incessant strikes.

ASUU strikes are always directly or indirectly bringing the entirety of the country to its knees. Indeed, we are at a crossroads! Therefore, there is a need to zoom in on the epistemological challenges of the Nigerian education sector, to take a patriotic first step on a new pathway of peace, stability, and progress.

Nigeria needs a messianic leadership with an unerring instinct for a good political deal at the local and international levels.

No room for religious or ethnic sentiment in good governance. Nigeria can only be an exception, at its peril.

*Prof Ogundele is of Dept. of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Ibadan.

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