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ASUU STRIKE: The unending pains of lecturers and students in the nation’s Ivory Towers

Nigerian university system, once a beckon of hope for young Nigerians at independence and even immediate post independence is now fast losing its glory.

To say the least, the Ivory Towers are hemorrhaging, challenged by all manners of crises, including funding, poor infrastructure, social disarticulation, lack of motivation, endemic financial and academic corruption; nepotism, etc. Ironically these were ills the universities were, among other things, set out to address frontally.

Prior to the industrial action by Academic Staff  of Union of Universities (ASUU), the recent  reported hike in the school fees of 38 universities had attracted  condemnation from parents, students, ASUU and other stakeholders in the education sector  – a development described as a fallout of poor funding of Nigerian universities by
state and federal governments.

Despite the discontentment and uproar about the rising rate of unemployment and perennial ASUU strikes, however, facts and figures from Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), the body responsible for conducting examinations into the nation’s higher institutions of learning, show a burgeoning population of young admission seekers, a situation academics in the nation’s  universities say has exerted pressure on available inadequate facilities in Nigerian schools.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientifiic and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), at least 26% of the national budget of member-countries should be earmarked for education.

But investigations show that  while Benin Republic budgeted 25.02%, 22.34% and 22.23% for education in  2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively, Nigeria set aside 8.77%, 10.55%, 10.75%  and 7.92%  of her  national budget for education in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Corroborating the argument that Nigerian universities are poorly funded, Nigeria’s front-ranked journalist and poet, Prof Olatunji Dare, was once  quoted as saying  the annual budget of  a Mass Communication department   of a particular  American university is more than the entire annual budget  of  UNILAG (University of Lagos).

Students react

 

A student of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Idris Omolade, says minister of education, Adamu Adamu, deserves all the blame for the strike by ASUU. “I wonder what Adamu Adamu has been doing for the past two years.  He used to write to support to ASUU when he was not appointed a minister. I think this strike could have been avoided if we had a serious government.’’

But  a student of  Ladoke Akintola University, Wale Adamolekun, said long before the general strike, students of LAUTECH were (and are still) staying away from school due to ASUU strike.

‘‘The last time I was in a classroom was two years ago. I’m now learning how to barb, to keep myself busy. That is the sorry situation we have found ourselves.’’

 

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The TSA debate

Reacting to the insistence of ASUU  on the reversal of Treasury Single Account (TSA) implementation in the nation’s universities, a public affairs commentator, Badaru  Olalekan, said the argument that TSA causes loss of foreign institutions’ grants does not hold water.

“There have been systemic delays in having new accounts with the CBN which is caused by TSA-stipulated closure of domiciliary accounts. This is the main reason access to grants and donations from foreign agencies are delayed and not TSA implementation.’’

An educationist, Mr. Stephen Lawson, sees it differently: “Government is not the only source of funding of universities. Research institutes and corporate bodies fund universities. It can’t be right to have all these funds in the same account with the ones coming from government, especially when delay in releasing funds could affect the
time a research report is released,’’ he argued.

Enough Blame To Go Round

According to an ASUU member, Oghenochukwu Lolodi, the problems besetting Nigerian universities are numerous and ASUU only forms a tiny fraction of the problem.

Lolodi said, “As much as I agree that the rot is real  and crippling, I can boldly say that we, members of ASUU,  are just a minute fraction of the problem. Nigeria doesn’t know why she has universities, hence there is a gaping disconnect between town and gown, and between academia and industry.’’
He continued: “If Nigeria knew the reasons  universities  exist, she would create the environment for universities  to be financially and administratively autonomous to conduct quality research and train students to acquire diverse advanced skills that would enable them to contribute meaningfully to society.

“Isn’t it ridiculous that ASUU members are expected to fund ground-breaking research with their $250 – $1,250 monthly salaries? Our Professors are also expected to use their salaries to equip laboratories.”

Decrying corruption in the nation’s institutions, Lolodi said, “The few incentives like Tetfund for further training of lecturers are internally administered on the basis of ethnicity and nepotism. As long as  the Nigerian state continues to shy away from correcting its position in our universities, ASUU will continue to go on indefinite strikes.’’

Our young undergraduates have been subjected to extortion and abuses in the hands of university authorities, so much that allegations of inflated cost of books and handouts for the students no longer raise eyebrows.

Randy and irresponsible lecturers have been accused of blackmailing female students in “sex-for-marks” scandals in universities across the six geo-political zones; even with recorded evidences and proofs tendered by students, many of these cases have been swept under the carpet. Stakeholders are perplexed as to what quality of graduates these universities are expected to turn out for the future of our dear country.

Lolodi concluded that the Nigerian state must strive to clarify and monitor the effectiveness of its policies, as well as redefine its line with conventional standards in sane societies.

My colleagues thought I had compromised – ASUU President

Speaking on why ASUU had to down tools, ASUU president, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said on a radio programme monitored in Lagos that all avenues to avert  the strike were explored, adding that  his colleagues suspected he had compromised for being too patient with the  Federal Government.

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