For over four months now, academic activities have been non-existent in universities all over the country. This is borne out of the fact that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has embarked on a crusade to comprehensively put the educational system of the country back on a sound footing. This is a commendable effort! It has however come to a point where an objective review is paramount. Noble as the effort is, it has come to a situation where an end is put to the casualties of this strike action.
As we talk now, many students have lost track of the essence of university education. Coupled with the uncertainty of work after graduation, students are already getting disillusioned about the continued absence from the learning arena. Reports have it that female students have become prostitutes and escorts at social gatherings because, as the cliché goes, ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’. Parents have equally become casualties as they are fed up with the continued idling of their wards and putting on hold of their plans for their children. Parents who had hopes that they would not have to use their pension money to train their children now have to re-plan. There is also so much anxiety in the land; will ASUU call off the strike? Is ASUU being used by politicians? Are ASUU members really altruistic or plain selfish in their demands? Where will all these lead to? These and other questions are causing increase in the blood pressure of Nigerians. Here is the latest. A renowned professor has also become a casualty. For a man who was committed to the cause of raising the bar in our educational system, Professor Festus Iyayi’s tragic death in a motor accident is the latest in the casualties of this four-month old strike. And, Professor Iyayi’s death is known because he is a popular name. Who knows how many others that have fallen victims unsung. How did we get here? When will this stop?
As a graduate of a Nigerian university in the late 80s and presently with graduates of early 2010 and beyond working around me, I have an idea of ‘fallen standard of education’ and ‘unemployable graduates’ mean. Probably the advent of democracy after a long spell with the military in 1999 and the new-found freedom shifted emphasis from education to politics with the result that more resources got diverted to politics rather than education.
Presently between my wife and I, we come up with a school fee of N1.6 million per year for my boy in a private secondary school with plans to send him to a university outside the country when the time comes. I also have an undergraduate staying with me. So, it was with a mixed feeling of happiness and apprehension when ASUU on July 2, this year decided to take it upon itself to make the government see reason and put money into the revitalization of the educational system in the country. I believed that if ASUU could make the government implement the 2009 agreement the two parties entered into, then we could use the money saved for other productive ventures.
And so, when talks started with Governor Gabriel Suswam leading the Federal Government’s side towards a resolution of the crisis and with statements credited to the governor pointing to the fact that the universities would soon be reopened, I was convinced that we were finally getting to see and benefit from what had been in the pipeline all along. The optimism soon fizzled out when news emerged that Governor Suswam’s statements were mere wishes as talks had broken down between the two sides. It was at this point that I decided to look for what was contained in the 2009 agreement that Governor Suswam and the Finance Minister and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could not give a commitment to implement. This was also against the background of the statement from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Ayim Pius Ayim that most of the issues contained in the 2009 agreement had been fully met except for the earned allowances estimated at N92.8 billion.
Some of the issues in the agreement include: funding, university autonomy, academic freedom, earned academic allowance and registration of Universities Pension Management Company. Others are: amendment of pension retirement age of academics at the professional cadre, federal assistance to state universities and transfer of Federal Government landed property to universities.
My investigations have revealed that while most of the non-financial aspects of the agreements have been substantially met, it would be practically impossible to meet the financial aspects of the agreements wholly as demanded by ASUU. I found out that while the Federal Government was offering N30 billion for now as earned allowances, ASUU was asking for N92.8 billion. Also, while the Federal Government was making available N100 billion to the Suswam-led Needs Assessment Committee for infrastructure development in the universities, ASUU was looking at a staggered sum running into close to two trillion in the next five years.
With the current hemorrhaging of the economy and global economic downturn, coupled with other infrastructure developmental commitments of the country not forgetting the security challenges, it has come to a situation where we have to call on ASUU to bend a little and open the universities.
After the continued insistence of ASUU on full implementation of the 2009 agreement and the 2012 MoU and the determination to put an end to the crisis, President Goodluck Jonathan met with the striking ASUU members for over 13 hours and I must confess that after this meeting, I told my cousin to prepare to go back to school as I believed that after the meeting with the Number One, and with his word, the road will be clear. I understand that in the meeting with Mr. President, he offered to put in N220 billion every year for the next five years , with an additional N10 billion (making N40 billion) on earned allowances against ASUU’s insistence of N350 billion next year and N400 billion in subsequent four years.
ASUU was in the process of discussing the latest offering when Professor Iyayi died. I can imagine the anguish on the President’s mind judging by his condolence message on the Professor’s death , expressing his dismay “by the fact that Professor Iyayi has sadly lost his life while going to contribute to efforts to finally resolve the current ASUU strike which has unfortunately disrupted academics in most of the nation’s universities for over four months.” As if that was not tragic enough, newspaper reports have it that ASUU has put forward further discussions on Government’s proposal until next year because of the death!
Sincerely, I do not believe this will be a good way to honour the dead former ASUU President. After all the appeals from leaders of the National Assembly, former Presidents, Traditional Rulers and other eminent personalities, I want to appeal to the patriotic sentiments of ASUU to rescind the decision to suspend further discussions on resumption of academic activities in the universities. Everybody has suffered enough. Parents, students, governance, even the lecturers have suffered enough! ASUU should also consider the sacrifice of Mr. President and other well meaning Nigerians and emerge as defenders and promoters of education in the country.
Source: Guardian Newspaper
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