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Lingering ASUU strike signals failure of governance

It is unthinkable to imagine that a strike commenced on February 14, 2022, by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been allowed to persist indefinitely. The protracted dispute raises troubling questions about the coldness, unkindness and insensitivity of the Federal Government to the situation in public universities, the quality of teaching and learning in the institutions, the welfare and mental health of public university teachers and students and the lack of attention to higher education policy.

The idea that no senior officials of government such as the Labour and Employment Minister, Chris Ngige, as well as President Muhammadu Buhari and his advisers have stood up to put an end to the disagreements that have grossly undermined public university education more than four months since the stalemate started clearly demonstrates the failure of governance and the incompetence of men and women who administer higher education in the country. What a shame.

The appalling environment has exposed a government that lacks knowledge and understanding of how to handle industrial relations disputes, a government that does not care whether public universities remain shut forever, a government that cares little about university students and their learning objectives and the wellbeing of university teachers. Overall, the standards of public university education have been compromised. It will take decades to fix the fragmented education system and to restore public confidence in public universities.

There is something cynical about the promise made by the Federal Government some weeks ago suggesting that the strike by ASUU will end soon. Paradoxically, on the same day the promise was rolled out, the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) announced they would extend their ongoing strike by two months. Apparently, the government and ASUU did not resolve the issues that have stalled academic and research activities in public universities before the Labour and Employment Minister rushed to make the announcement.

It is important to keep in mind that while ASUU started its strike on February 14 this year, both SSANU and NASU walked out of their jobs on April 21, 2022, to push their demands. A month later, precisely on May 23, the two groups said they would extend by one month the ongoing strike. What a messy situation.

Not only has public university education been severely disrupted, it has also been completely messed up, broken, rendered unworkable, put out of order and placed in a state of coma from which it would be extremely difficult for meaningful teaching and learning to take place. Consider the backlog of students who should have graduated in the past six months, the long queue of first year students who have been placed on a holding pattern and, therefore, cannot commence their studies, as well as final year students who were already overdue to start their mandatory national assignment (the National Youth Service Corps).

Whenever ASUU and the Federal Government resolve their long-drawn-out disagreements, they will face a chaotic environment in which going forward would be an uphill struggle and returning to their trenches will be unattractive and moronic.

Frankly, everyone is tired and sick of watching public university campuses decaying. The structures and facilities may not be used for the foreseeable future. One of the consequences is that teachers and students have been diminished by the yearly cataclysmic industrial relations standoff.

Nigeria is in a quandary. Planning and moving forward will be difficult. We are in this situation because of the government’s apathy and inattentiveness toward higher education, and the pig-headedness of the minister and senior government officials. They are negligent and uncaring. The circus featuring egotistical government officials and ASUU officials must come to an end. It is not in the nation’s interest to stall university education for too long. Shutting down public universities holds no value to students and their parents; it will not enhance quality education.

Buhari ought to have used his executive powers to bring the strike to an end, regardless of what it might take. That would have been a demonstration of leadership and statesmanship. As the saying goes, the buck stops at the President’s desk. Buhari should have taken the dispute settlement talks off the grip of the Labour and Employment Minister to show that the President is in charge, that the President cares and that he has the duty of care to all university students and their parents.

If things don’t go well in a country, everyone expects the President to show leadership and responsibility because it is the President who would be held accountable, not his assistants. Buhari has all the resources – human and material – to bring the strike to a quick end. It should never have lasted this long. Public university students have suffered enough. It is time the government showed maturity by resolving the deadlock in public universities. The longer the strike lasts, the greater the embarrassment the government and the country would suffer.

By the time the dispute is settled, the government would have lost everything and gained nothing.

In 2015, Nigerians elected a government that promised significant changes in the lives of citizens. Unfortunately, the past seven years have turned into a nightmare for everyone. Rather than experience positive changes, Nigerians have been reduced to beggars in their motherland. In place of the government’s promises to annihilate terror groups such as Boko Haram, kidnappers and bandits, the terror groups have overwhelmed the country.

Rather than see improvements in quality education and educational facilities, university students have been forced to sit idle at home, waiting, wasting, watching, and praying for a breakthrough in the protracted dispute between ASUU and the Federal Government.

One tragic lesson that 2015 taught everyone is that a mistake made at the polling centre cannot be amended instantly. Voters will be condemned to live with the consequences of that error of judgment till the next election. It will be like a life in prison. That is why it is critically important for voters to make sure they vote wisely in 2023. A bag of rice, a container of naira notes and bottles of vegetable oil offered by duplicitous presidential candidates to influence voters during election will be exhausted even before the election day in 2023.

Voters must be driven by long-term interests. They must not be swayed by temporary gratifications that will evaporate quickly and still leave them in their impoverished condition.

In 2023, voters must demonstrate they are much smarter, more perceptive, more perspicacious, more judicious and certainly more aware than corrupt politicians take them to be. All eligible voters must make the point that they can no longer be perceived through that tunnel vision of ignorance and naivety that positions them as clueless, ill-informed people who can easily be fooled. The world is changing. Nigerian voters must reflect awareness of that global transformation.

Insincere promises can no longer get any presidential candidate across the victory line. Offering financial inducements to buy voters and votes will not be productive anymore.

These issues and more, particularly unfulfilled promises, the collapse of national security, worsening economic conditions of citizens, abandonment of public universities, the disintegration of essential infrastructure (e.g., roads), the disappearance of public healthcare facilities, and the swelling number of bandits and kidnappers all over the country, will constitute veritable grounds on which the 2023 elections would be contested.

By EGWU DANIEL

Chief Publisher of BLU EEAGLE MEEDIA

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