Some educationists say that the new agreement reached by the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities may be the end of all strike actions by the union.
Less than two weeks ago, the academic community and Nigerians generally heaved a sigh of relief when the Federal Government reached an agreement with the Academic Staff Union of Universities to end its four month-old strike.
The key factor of the agreement reached by the parties was that the FG would inject N1.1tn into public universities in the next five years. Beginning from 2014, the FG would release N220bn per annum.
So far, the aftermath has not been a pleasant one.
On Tuesday, November 12, the death of a former ASUU President, Professor Festus Iyayi, in a road accident may have halted any further talks about the process of the implementation, as the academic community is presently in grief. Iyayi was on his way to Kano to attend the ASUU National Executive Council meeting when one of the vehicles in the convoy of Governor Idris Wada of Kogi State rammed into the vehicle conveying him and others on Lokoja-Abuja Road.
If only the FG had honoured the agreement that was reached in 2009, Iyayi’s death would not have happened, noted Dr. Sola Olorunyomi, a lecturer at the University of Ibadan and national convener, ASUU, on Human Rights. “We lost one of the brightest minds in Nigeria and anywhere in the world. We have to wait for our leaders to give us direction,” he said.
The incident aside, and all things being equal, striking lecturers are expected to go back to work soon. But will the 2013 agreement, considering the non-implementation of the 2009 agreement, be the end of future strike actions by the union?
“Let us hope that our policy makers and administrators would be able to make our universities what it should be. If that is done, you can say that this may be the end of the strike. The fact of the matter is that our leaders are not serious about developing the education sector, even though they get the best from public funded education all over the world, they don’t want to give Nigeria the best education, and as long as that remains, this new agreement may not be the end to strike actions by ASUU,” said Dr. Ademola Afeez, an educationist.
While Afeez stated that he was certain the present ASUU would do everything possible to ensure the new agreement does not go the same way like that of 2009, he called for accountability from the body on how it allocates and spends the proposed fund.
He said, “ASUU has not given us the complete breakdown of the figure yet. But be that as it may, whenever the figure is made open, everything concerning the agreement should be made public so that each university will know how much it is entitled to. It is very important that there is transparency within the university system,
“ASUU should also be part of the implementation committee in each of the universities, so that every kobo released could be accounted for and any amount earmarked for any project would not be diverted to other projects.”
The union has embarked on several strike actions in the past to press home their demands. According toThe Scoop, an online publication, lecturers have been on strike for a total of “30 months out of 156 months since 1999, the year Nigeria returned to civil rule.”
Beyond the FG honouring its part of the agreement, another significant factor to ending future strike actions is for the FG to increase budgetary allocation to public education, Olorunyomi noted.
“Despite that they have other emergency efforts in their various education sector, other countries have between 23 to 26 per cent of their annual statutory budget allocated to education; like South Africa and Ghana; Nigeria has barely eight per cent of its budget for education. Our benchmark should be 26 per cent. The poor funding of public education is the major reason for the dilapidated infrastructure in our institutions,” he said.
Infrastructure decay is a reason why many Nigerians who can afford it now prefer to further their education abroad. In 2012, according to the Chairman, Committee of Pro-chancellors of Nigeria, Dr. Wale Babalakin, N160bn was spent on university education by about 75,000 Nigerian students in Ghana.
If the issue of funding of public education is properly addressed, the exodus of Nigerian students to universities abroad would reduce, Afeez emphasised. He also called for specialisation of programmes in the universities to improve the standard.
“The universities should be more focused. Let’s know each university for what it can produce, be it a university of education, engineering or agriculture. Let these institutions produce specialists in these areas.
There should also be a synergy between the universities and the industries, so that research proposals can come to logical conclusions. Also, industries can also buy our products,” he explained.
The new agreement will also ensure that Nigeria universities compete favourably with their counterparts abroad. This would also help to improve the global ratings of the country’s tertiary institutions, added a professor of science and technology education, University of Lagos, Duro Ajeyalemi.
“Improving the infrastructure in our institutions is part of the reason ASUU went on strike in the first place. If the FG had been releasing these monies from 2009 at N100 billion every year, we would have improved on our infrastructure and learning environment greatly, and also have a stable calendar. But government reneged,” he said, adding that there would be no reason for the union to go on strike again if the FG keeps to the new agreement.
For Olorunyomi, Nigerians should not leave everything to ASUU; they should also serve as watchdogs for the country’s public education system.
“There are no guarantees. It’s up to Nigerians to decide whether they want the education sector to improve or not. Nigeria has the largest concentration of black people in the world, so the quality of its education will inform how we perform within and outside the continent, “he noted.
When contacted, the ASUU National President Dr. Nasir Fagge, neither picked his calls nor responded to the text message sent to his phone.
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