The lingering Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)’s strike and the rampaging infectious coronavirus pandemic have in no small measure fuelled the continued stay at home of pupils of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the country.
The prolonged ASUU strike and the inability to find cure for COVID-19 have so far struck discordant chords among young people in the society. With these challenges facing the nation simultaneously, several cases of vices among young people have reared its ugly head in recent time.
Indeed, the ASUU strike and COVID-19 pandemic cannot shy away from being the big factor that saw millions of youth on the street during the recent bloodbath that greeted the #EndSARS protests across major cities in the country. For students of politics and political education of the ruling class, the youth #EndSARS protests represent national political evolution and consciousness. The repulsive outcome of the protest could lead to the birth pang of an emerging democratic culture and an opportunity for national rejuvenation.
No doubt, the ASUU strike and the coronavirus pandemic have placed the nation’s education on a momentous crossroad. Such that our political leader’s lip-service and lack of political will to governance are being severely exposed. There are few prominent voices in government circles genuinely wishing for the end to ASUU strike and for government to do the needful. In a sense, this is not new or surprising. However, since the academic teachers’ strike, the ruling government has denounced the strike action with vigour, threatening fire and brimstone against ASUU. An action many stakeholders saw as being insensitive to the plight facing education. Between government and its apologists, the ASUU’s grievances are out of contest. Particularly as government continues mourning about paucity of fund, yet it spends billions of naira on elephant projects. Again, ASUU’s refusal to fall in line with the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) regulations does not only prolong the strike but viewed by government as a challenge.
Therefore, who blinks first as government chooses to withhold ASUU’s salaries for months. The ruling government continued negligence and turning a blind eye on the general decay in the education sector is worrisome. ASUU’s demand for improved salaries and better welfare, adequate funding for all universities programmes and activities as well as demand for laboratories and libraries to be equipped with relevant materials is not in any way asking for too much in the 21st Century.
Government’s nonchalant attitude to meet the ASUU demands is evident from the current reality in the education sector. It is true, nonetheless, that a lot is wrong with the way government is handling the situation. Over the years, government past and present has played too large a role in robbing education in muddy waters, acting either directly or indirectly through the ministry of education. The ruling government’s overbearing negligence to fund the education system has led to the continued poor standard of education in the country. Consequently, it has exposed graduates from Nigerian institutions to denigration across the world as many people hold the opinion that university graduates from Nigeria are half baked.
Without mincing words, government is wrong in the way it handles education issues and particularly so on the ASUU brouhaha to uplift education standard. Somehow, government and its officials behave as if they are doing ASUU a favour. The other day, ASUU rightly rejected the Federal Government’s N20 billion offered instead of the N500 billion requested for the revitalisation of public universities. Why is education being relegated to the background and not given sound attention? Before the 2019 election, a whopping N143 billion was doled out with ease to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for an exercise that lasted only a few days. Yet, it is hard to fund education that would bring about the enlightenment of the citizens and development of society.
Over the years, the need to redeem education has become a political tool to canvass for votes. One of the pre-occupation campaign pointer of President Muhammadu Buhari while running as the presidential flag-bearer of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) party was to strengthen the educational system. This was revealed in a paper he presented in 2010 titled: “Education stakeholders in free, fair and credible elections: My programme for the rescue of education’’ to the joint education stakeholders action in Abuja where he said, “I can assure you that I will suggest a minimum of 26 per cent of the national budget in consonance with UNESCO’s well-grounded recommendation …this percentage I intend to graduate upwards with time and result”. Of course, the current ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party has education as one of its cardinal priorities. It is therefore, not only surprising but very disheartening to note that after five years of President Buhari in power, one of ASUU’s demands is for government to appropriate 26 per cent of the annual budget on university funding. No doubt, this demand is by no means new to President Buhari as a person or to his government. What then is the hindrance, why is the Federal Government and ASUU are not making desired progress at the negotiating table on the need to save education?
However, while ASUU’s demand appears plausible and compelling, the seemingly rigid stance of the Federal Government on less important issues as IPPIS registration as a prerequisite for payment of salaries is shameful.
What all this dramatises is the continued danger on the way forward to pull education out from the quagmire. What education needs at the moment is for government to declare a state of emergency to re-build it. This re-building should start with proper funding on everything about education. Thus, while it is not true to say teachers generally are not doing enough, they do need to function properly along conducive environment and adequate remuneration. The Federal Government and ASUU prolonged failure to reach a mutual agreement invariably strengthens the decay in education to the disadvantage of the entire country. It is high time ASUU and the Federal Government learn to work together with greater understanding for the common good of all. The continued disagreement between them is neither in the interest of the students nor the education system in which both parties play frontline roles to salvage. Differences should be resolved amicably through sincere negotiation and compromises. After all, this is what democracy is about.