Nigeria ASUU and the implications of strike action

In 2009 when ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) declared indefinite strike, a friend of mine who is a lecturer – a dedicated teacher by the way, explained the reason that the strike action was mainly to get the government to provide teaching materials to aid teaching and learning process in our schools. The point that I understood completely, I knew from experience that it is a reasonable request, much needed one at that. How could you impact knowledge efficiently into your students when teaching aids were missing. It could only benefit everyone in the end I concurred.

In Nigeria today, being a graduate is very common and to be able to defend the certificate given is a whole different story. The reason for this is very clear, for more than a decade an academic year in Nigeria tertiary institutions is more like a two semesters or less and still students get moved on, students were faced with numerous needless exams yearly, students read only to pass exams not in anyway to use the information given them in day to day life – the result is appalling quality of our graduates. The most laughable part is that the people who end up getting ‘top job’ don’t even have to attend any lectures as they would be passed and end up being in offices and later when they were bored, will make attempt in politics as ‘another thing to do’ with clearly no clue of what it takes to run a home let alone a nation.

I remember one time that a class of 30 students were given a project, we all needed to do our research in the library where we expected to find books relating to given topics, internet was non existence at the time not in Nigeria at least. By the time I got to the library I learnt there were only two books available for topics we were all eager to learn more about, and that the related pages in which the topic were discussed in detail have been ripped off from both books. I ended up paying fellow student for  photocopied pages. This is just one example of how bad Nigeria higher institutions have become in terms of investment in teaching and learning materials/aids. The situation is the same in all our tertiary institutions around the country.

In a broken society everyone with a little insider knowledge would do their best to take advantage of the broken system. For several years now ASUU has discovered the easiest way for them to claim salary without having to work for it at all is simply by declaring strike actions. And of course many people think being a professor equates to having common sense and making informed decision to positively influence the government decisions or indecisions. We are all aware that something has to be done to the education system in the country but it is grossly unfair to expect lecturers to be paid when they decide to embark on strike leaving our youths roaming the streets.  In this manner of strike by the ASUU, the short term losers are the students whose four year university degree would be completed in eight years however, in the long run we are all losers regardless of your socio economic background. You only have to look around you to see those who lead us to realise we are all in it together – blind leading blinds. Of course we are not all blinds but most of those that end up leading us are ridiculously incompetent and incapable of making any decisions that will leave future generation with hope.

Nigerians live in e go better even when the future is so bleak, we are told to have faith even when we could clearly see there is no way forward. The irony of the strike action is, this is not the end of it even if the government allocates the whole of the nation’s budget into building more classrooms, provision of teaching aids and build more student hostels and doubled the lecturers salary. Some of the lecturers are used to the perks of travelling abroad for a few months while their salaries and benefits will be paid during the strike actions. Where would you get that anywhere in the world? Any allocation given to end strike action will mostly be spent on bonuses for ‘big’ professors so they could send their own children to be educated out of the country as well as for them to spend holidays abroad while their salary were intact.

It is a vicious cycle.

About the government, what can I say. It is sad that we are likely to be judged based on who our leaders are. A resent email from President Obama of America made me wish Nigeria government is different, different in the sense to care a little bit more about the citizens. Maybe my wishes is not appropriately placed because I know it is difficult to expect someone who was hand-picked to lead the nation so as to add another status to their resume to genuinely care about the welfare of the nation. I wish Nigeria could one day have leaders who have foresights, who could see how talents were being wasted on daily basis and act in the interest of everyone in order to move the country forward.

Here is the first paragraph of President Obama’s email to his nation on 22 August titled “This is personal for me.”

” Michelle and I wouldn’t be in the White House today if it weren’t for our college educations. It wasn’t cheap. We didn’t finish paying off our student loans until about nine years ago. That’s why it’s been a personal mission of mine to make higher education more affordable for more Americans — and starting today, I’m hitting the road to talk about real reforms to fundamentally rethink how we pay for college in this country.”  Here Obama was talking about the cost of education in the country, a nation that believes everyone deserves a chance if they work hard and of course in the country of mine, the same could not be said. No access student loan to begin with and no one has any given right to education in Nigeria and even if you were especially keen, there are forces all around to crush that dreams right in front of your face at any given time.

What we do have now in Nigeria is Nigerians whose parents were politicians and also those who have ‘connections’ in places get to study outside the country where they know their learning would not be disrupted by mindless strikes and also where their government have invested substantially in education and learning resources were readily available. And ofcourse their tuition would be paid by Nigeria government one way or the other.  See a bit of how much Nigerian government spent on study abroad annually in my previous post and of course it is a lot higher if you consider everyone including those students who were paid for by their parents/family.

If you drive around Nigeria today, the number of private universities is beyond joke and guess who the founder of most of them are? Yes, they are either affiliated to either a church or a politician…what a nation!  Most of the lecturers at the private universities have existing contracts with state/federal universities , so they have double salary. Okay I know that some earned their salary through hard work but most could not be bothered, they are there to milk the system. The tuition charged by most of these private universities is beyond the reach of most citizens, they are in the region of 500,000 naira (USD 3000) per annum. So private universities in Nigeria to me is another avenue for the privileged to educated especially when they can not go out of the country and of course many hard working citizens who could afford the tuition do get their children in.

Nigeria government this academic year alone spent spend 200 million naira to send 200 militant students to Igbinedion university, Okada  to study Political Science and Conflict Management. This is the kind of government we have, always surprises us with their decision making,  you wonder why they chose to send Nigeria army militants to a private school rather than state/federal one.

I don’t have the right answer but I do know that we Nigerians have to wake up and do our part to at least talk about issues affecting education system more. By doing so we will collectively realise that it is important to choose leaders who have positive track record. We need to realise that it is only education that could liberate our minds. Not all of us could afford to either go abroad to study or attend private universities. Sometimes, I genuinely feel my mother who has never attended formal education values it far more than our decision makers, I also think that we need to stop worshiping our leaders especially those who clearly don’t deserve our respect. I know the problem we face today in terms of our tertiary institutions is not necessarily created by the current administration, however the present government could do their part by making positive impact that future administrations could emulate, for example make it punishable for ASUU to embark on strikes, no work no pay. They are all adults, they could arrange for delegates to meet with government officials, ASUU is not creating solution, they are part of our problems. And for the government, Nigeria citizens need to act in the interest of future generation and choose a leader who is competent and has our interests at heart. It is not enough to talk grammar, we need action.

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