By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Communication, in the words of Grunig and Hunt (1984), is the biggest tool mankind has as a potential way of overcoming difficulties. But in most cases, we have it abandoned and embrace traveling the circumference of chaos before coming to access this powerful instrument.
A fitting example of the above is the current/protracted industrial action embarked on by the Non-Academic Staff Union of the Nigerian universities (NASU) to press home their demand for ‘Earned Allowance’, An exercise that has lasted for over three months with the Group staging a peaceful protest on Thursday 8th March, 2018 in Abuja.
Mundane and inoffensive as the demand may appear, it has become a worrying development that strikes action in our educational turf has become not just incessant but a regular trademark to the extent that before the dust raised by the ASUU strike will go down, that of the NASU is up.
Also revealing is the fact that this current strike action has since morphed from a conventional action to an emblematic pulpit that sermonizes on two cardinal messages; first, that FG has become a self-declared enemy of education in Nigeria with neglect and underfunding as a formidable tool. While NASU on its part has resolved via its rigid posturing to suffer the children they were hired to protect, discrete the originally respected citadel of knowledge as well as ensure the sustained downward ‘progress’ of our educational sector.
This fears as expressed cannot be regarded as unfounded, as FG has barefacedly disregarded the Memorandum of Understanding [MoU] recently entered with NASU. The Joint Action Committee (JAC), the umbrella body of the non-academic staff unions on the other hands, has been brazenly unable to articulate, and comprehensively communicate their demands before taking to industrial action. Their recent statement bears eloquent testimony to this fact.
Adding context, the said statement by JAC among other things stated that ‘the Earned Allowance, they received from the federal government was too meager compared to what ASUU received’, while calling the FG to explain the rationale behind the disparity.
Arguably a well-chiseled remark, but, it has again necessitated the question as to what exactly NASU is fighting for; merited allowance or a fight propelled by envy that ASUU got the lion share of the earned allowance?
Regrettably, the ultimate result of what the Federal Government and NASU are doing currently is in the womb of the future. An occurrence that the result may not be palatable if the trend is allowed to complete its gestation without something dramatic done to have it aborted.
According to what the people are saying, no matter how reasonable the decision of the government or that of NASU maybe, they need to urgently get the fears of the masses allayed, as a visit to these universities will present that they share but a common denominator; pain.
While the returning students now wear a forlorn courage, the new intakes have frustration/despair painted all over. Their parents are not left out in this mood, as they bemoan the present fate of their children; in their sorrows and hardship.
If you are in doubt of the magnitude of this harsh impact, then, check out a development where academic activities have since resumed without the usual support of the non-teaching staff. New students that ought to be adequately guided are now allowed to wallow in cluelessness even as some schools are conducting examination without the supervisory assistance of the non-academic staff.
As if that’s not was not enough, most of the fresh students that paid their hostel fees without hostel accommodation allocated to them have gone to town to rent alternative accommodations. And now have to attend lectures from far distances, a development that adds to the financial burden of their parents. Aside from the financial burden, Nigerians are saying that the whole arrangement appears discomforting to the fresh students who may just be new in the environment.
Again, what becomes the fate of the hostel fees paid since many are writing their first semester examinations without the hostel accommodation they paid for? Is the part of the money paid going to be refunded to them?
However noble the demands of NASU may be, the global watchers feel that their action is likened to the decision of a father refusing to send his son to school simply because his own father failed to train him. What these students are suffering at the hands of NASU is, but a transferred aggression orchestrated by the FG inability to meet their demands.
No doubt, this sorry story has understandably raised series of worry among the students, their parent as well as irked the sensibility of the critical stakeholders; with many wondering what the future holds for our educational sector while others now query why the government cannot take its policies on education seriously?
But against all speculation, the policy inconsistency may not be the only problem standing against tertiary education smooth sail in Nigeria as a further peep into the nation’s educational horizon will further reveal that achieving a smooth operation of academic calendar is usually bedeviled by inadequate funding occasioned by our nation’s inability to heed to the United Nation Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] budgetary recommendation which states that any nation desirous of achieving a hypermodern development must allocate at least 26% of its annual budget to the educational sector.
When you juxtapose this recommendation with the nation’s 2018 budgetary allocation on education, which hovers around 7%, it will further provide more insight to situating why our entire educational sector is on its knees.
This problem of poor funding is again compounded by the federal government obvious reluctant respect for education as FG is known to be a dispenser of goodness by proxy when it concerns education, but gets directly involved in other social cum political activities.
Although, it’s not as if the government is not making any effort to have the problem solved as recent development has shown the rigid posturing of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) is further fuelling this crisis while subjecting the innocent students to severe hardship.
Therefore, to catalyze a truce in the interim, the FG and NASU must remember that a decision to rest when one is not supposed to be called laziness. Hence, the situation at hand calls for hard work via a ceaseless dialogue until an understanding is reached.
Nigerians will equally appreciate the government looking into the age-long underfunding challenge of our educational sector which has kept the entire sector in a sordid state. NASU, on their path, among other things should learn to have the interest of these students at heart when considering industrial action and unlearns the rigid posturing in negotiation as recently demonstrated