Buhari should save the university system

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Many people have written articulately about the ongoing ASUU strike, but as a stakeholder whose livelihood comes primarily from the university system, I am compelled to add a few words. Some of the articulated pieces were presented adequately without the need for additional words.

However, things are sometimes repeated to insist as well as to make the targeted people reason and do the needful.

I hope that these words which I add will appeal to my President, our President, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, to address squarely and permanently the issues for a amicable settlement.

The issues are clear and simple; The government has the means to end the strike in no time. It’s been the same problem since 2009, when the federal government signed and sealed an agreement with the union.

The 2009 agreement was bolstered by the Memorandum of Understanding and Memorandum of Action signed by the two parties in 2013 and 2020, respectively.

From 2020 to date, so much water has flowed under the bridge, two different negotiating committees at different times have been set up, each headed by a prominent Nigerian: Professor Munzali’s Committee and Professor Brigg’s Committee and they all submitted endless reports to the strike.

Subsequently, a series of events took place; meetings and consultations among key stakeholders, including a courtesy visit by the Pro-Chancellors to the President on September 9, 2022. During this visit, the President assured his guests and even Nigerians that he would hold further consultations to end the strike.

Then, the Minister of Labor and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige took ASUU to the Labor Court following the failure of negotiations between the Federal Government and ASUU. The Court ruled in favor of the federal government and ordered the ASUU to quash the industrial action. Could this be the solution to the FG-ASUU imbroglio? Before answering this question, it is imperative to have a broader perspective of the ASUU struggle.

Truly, Nigeria is a complex nation; the pressure from governance at all levels is gargantuan and requires strong will and dedication to bring about the kind of change that ASUU demands. It is a passage from rot to prosperity, from decadence to progress, the kind of progress the country needs to become a great nation, and a well-deserved position to which we all aspire. If we fail to meet ASUU’s demands to stop the rots in the university system, the nation could be doomed sooner rather than later. May God forbid it.

As written in this column a few weeks ago, the university system is the essential ingredient for national development. The economic dynamism and development of the nation depends on the intellectual capacity of its citizens, especially the leaders. This intellectual capacity is acquired as a product of a university system.

The university system in Nigeria is decaying exponentially due to years of gross neglect and reversing the decay requires injecting the necessary funds and care.

Thus, ASUU has identified all the problems responsible for the decay and proposes solutions, including “how and means” to find the funds with negligible financial pressure on the government.

The government must listen carefully to the ASUU with the genuine intention of solving the problems. Yes, addressing the decline of the university system requires understanding the importance of the university system as an essential ingredient of national development.

The nation must stop and reverse the decadence to ensure a glorious future for the nation.

The legal standoff is not a solution to the amicable end of the ASUU industrial action. It’s like forcing the reluctant doctor to tend to your sick patient. How do you force a reluctant teacher to teach in a crowded classroom with no facilities and an empty stomach?

As Adeola Soetan said in Sahara Reporter “The teaching is physical, psychological and emotional with interest and passion. When one or more of these traits is lacking, no proper teaching and transmission of knowledge will take place”.

Thus, teachers must be mentally stable and fervently in an environment conducive to the transmission of knowledge for optimal assimilation. Certainly, decreeing peace in a university system without addressing the issues raised by the ASUU cannot be achieved.

The court can order the suspension of the strike but cannot order the opening of the universities. According to the law, the university senate is the only body empowered to open and close the university, award degrees, certificates, approve the curriculum, etc. and more than 90% of the members of the university senate are members of ASUU.

Although the government owns public universities, it does not have the power to open or close them without recourse to the senate. In addition, there is a clause called “ANC”, which is active non-cooperation, which implies that a worker can return to work after a forced suspension of industrial action but will do next to nothing. Is this the kind of situation we are looking for?

So far the university system has lost too much in the last three years, nine months of strike in 2020 and seven months in 2022 and still counting, the brain drain as some professors have left the system and many professors have been subjected to abject poverty, many businesses in academia were grounded. Students have lost years and many intangible losses to the nation. I reported in this column that trillions of naira worth of businesses have collapsed. So this must be stopped. Mr. President, Sir, this is an action within your jurisdiction.

Yes, first the FGN team needs to get off their high horse and listen to the ASUU voice of reasoning. Agreements and negotiations are subject to due process review with mutual respect. When agreements are signed, a party has difficulties in implementing them, the party can ask for renegotiation and present transparently why such agreements cannot be implemented.

In conclusion, let me borrow the words of the Pro-Chancellors, that Mr. President, “is the father of the nation, the visitor to all the federal universities in Nigeria”, and has the magic wand to save the university system. Since the President has been fully briefed by the Education and Labor Ministers, should he grant an audience to the ASUU team, he would see things as we see them today.

He would realize that he has a key to unlocking a solution to permanently end the ASUU strike and bring peace and progress to the system. I hope the ASUU team will be among the stakeholders that the President promised to consult during the visit of the Pro-Chancellors before his departure to the United Nations Assembly. Nigerians are really tired of the decaying university system.

May the Almighty give Mr. President the wisdom to do what is urgently needed.

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