By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Talking about national development, a glance at the news headlines across the world points to the fact that getting the children off the streets and making quality and affordable education available for them is one of the cardinal steps that must be taken by government to achieve such a programme..
Separate from the consideration that education is the bedrock of development of any nation, there is an accompanying belief that the streets are known for breeding all sorts of criminals and other social misfits who constitutes the real threats in the forms of armed robbers, drug addicts, prostitutes, drunkards and other social ills that gives a society bad name.
Based on the above realities, it is viewed a worrying development that while nations are re-doubling their investments in, and finding traditional progressive solution to education-as it has extremely valuable strategy for solving societies problems, Nigeria government still look for ways to justify it perennial under funding of the public universities and other strategic failures which consequentially; impedes lecturers from carrying out scholarly researches, truncates academic calendar with strike actions by the Academic staff Union of Universities (ASUU),and the Nion Academic Staff of Universities (NASU), lace Nigerian universities with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities with the universities producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower demand by the nation’s industrial sector.
The latest of such failure that however, brought something that is fundamentally new and different was demonstrated recently in Abuja, during the Ministry of Labour and the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU), meeting with the leadership of the House of Representatives.
Specifically, instead of telling the gathering the effort the Federal Government was making to find real solution to the warning strikes embarked upon by ASUU, which was the crux of the meeting, it was in the news that the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, who represented the Federal Government, in his submissions got more preoccupied with establishing the illegality inherent in the strike.
Quoting the Trade Dispute Act which requires that ASUU give 15 days notice before embarking on any strike, Keyamo stressed that since the ministry has not received any notice of strike from ASUU, the FG remain officially unaware of the demands of ASUU.
Despite the virtues and attributes of the above position, it was universally understood and open to every individual that the underlying premise of Keyamo’s argument will not hold water when faced with embarrassing fact. As his approach only but treated the effect of the ‘illness’ while leaving the root cause to thrive. And this is pricely the role Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi, the National President of ASUU, played in his response at the meeting.
Ogunyemi spark of insight was very instructive as he disclosed that our government was routinely informed of every development. He stated that; on February 7, 2019, a Memorandum of Action was signed between ASUU and FG. He explained that on January 9, 2020, the union met with President Buhari and the ministries where he asked the ministers to look into the issues raised-noting that there had been meetings with the Minister of Education and ASUU. He added that ASUU had written to the Minister of Labour informing him of the strikes.
The most serious loss of the argument on the part of the FG that further blew fresh wind to the Minister’s position lies in the next observation.
While he argued that the 2019 agreement is the originating document and, till date, the agreement has not been met, Prof Ogunyemi further submitted that the union is at loggerheads with the government over the directive to members of ASUU to enroll in the Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which the government made compulsory for all civil servants,because it is not in line with the best global practices and capped with capacity to further reduce the ranking of Nigerian universities.
What does this all mean to the Federal Government? Can truthfulness and creativity be taught? Or can it be cultivated consciously?
Whatever the true position may be, I believed and still believe that from the ASUU’s well chiseled positions, the first reaction that comes to mind is; what prevented the Federal Government from abiding with the terms of the Memorandum of Action entered with ASUU since 2019? Why has FG demonstrated a very high level of timidity in implementing such accord and similar ones in the past?
Viewed differently, strike and other rots in the Nigerian education system did not start today. The Federal Government and ASUU have been on face-off over lack of funding for a very long time. In facts, the ASUU strike dates back to 1988 when the union’s officials started a protest over a wage increase which led to the suspension of the union and then reinstated in 1990. Since then, particularly with the re-emergence of democracy in May 1999, the frequent interruptions in the university education in the country has continued unabated.
However, if what has been happening in the 80s/90s is worrisome; the present situation is both scary and dangerous. Specifically, from the present administration’s ‘decision’ to handle education sector with levity, in my views, it is evident that there are points the FG failed to remember about the role education has to play in determining the future of our republic.
First comparatively, aside from the understanding that with sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made -as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower, FG’s choice of technicality, half truths and innuendos as defense, as against finding real solution to strike actions and other rots in the academic system could be likened with a horse shaking off flies with its tails oblivious of the fact that as soon as it stops to flail its tail, the flies will come back more determined to snipe.
Similarly, looking at their argument, the minister and of course the FG appears to have forgotten the age long believes that ‘without wood, the fire goes out; that charcoal keeps the ember glowing as wood keeps the fire burning’. Same is applicable to the issue on ground. There is no way the ASUU could have embanked on warning strike without good reason(s). Looking at commentaries, it is barefaced truth that the insensitivity of the government to basic social infrastructures like education, health, power among others propel industrial actions in Nigeria. The statistics of such records are staggering and its by no means limited to the present administration.
Admittedly also, it is important to recognize that educational development, particularly at the tertiary level is not what government alone can shoulder as its both capital intensives and requires productive collaboration. It, however, important to underline that any government that would want to secure ‘the future of Nigeria must invest in education.-this is more urgent in the north where historical underdevelopment in western education is glaring.
To catalyze this process, what I would expect from Keyamo as a former activist is not logic but to encourage the Federal Government see how they can comply with the United Nation Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] budgetary recommendation.
Jerome-Mario Utomi (firstname.lastname@example.org), is a Lagos-Based Media Practictioner.