Day, after slow day, I sifted through my memory, as though through debris trying to find a reason why a student would be in a semester for almost a year. Sometimes, it is as bad as staying two years at a particular level; turning a four-year program into six years or more. Drowning in disbelief, I realized that this reality is common to Federal and some State Universities in Nigeria. This reality keeps repeating itself in the prolonged strikes by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as a reaction to the failure of the Nigerian government to meet up to the demands of the union. Consequently, it is necessary to state here that these protracted strikes by ASUU has its implications on our educational sector and by extension every facets of the Nigerian state. This stems from the fact that education can be used as a means of enlightenment, freedom, and progress for the Nigeria polity. Little wonder, the late UN Secretary General Kofi Annan avers that “education is the premise of progress in every society, in every family, and on its foundations rests the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”[i] Thus, if these strikes continue unabatedly, then we keep crippling our progress, growth and development in Nigeria.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was established in 1978, after the collapse of the then National Association of University Teachers (NAUT), with the aim of regulating the relationship between academic staff and employers through the maintenance of conducive conditions of service for its members by the employers.[ii] This entails that the employers (government) play their own part in the agreement by ensuring that they fund the universities, provide conducive environments, pay salaries as and at when due, grant academic autonomy, and give them the wherewithal to ensure the smooth running of Universities in Nigeria, amongst many others. Through this checks and balances, the Latin question; ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?’ (Who watches the watchmen?) is thus answered on both levels. ASUU checkmates the government and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) checkmates ASUU. Moreover, the members of ASUU in return ensure that they offer good and quality education to their students.
However, in carrying out this principle of check and balance between the ASUU and their employers, ‘strike action’ has been a useful tool. At this juncture, we are taken aback to a section of the Marxian class theory, wherein the bourgeoise (in this case, the government and administrative elites) exploit the proletariat (in this case ASUU). The employers expect so much from ASUU with meagre resources. I still get myself so puzzled thinking about how ASUU would achieve much with little or no resources. Strike action therefore, becomes a means of getting the attention of our so-called bourgeoise to stop their exploitation on ASUU. ASUU has come to discover that whenever they make demands through a memorandum, their employers give no attention to it and pay deaf ears to their requests. Hence, memorandums are simply a miserable tool in making their voices heard, while sadly strike action has been very fruitful. This goes a long way to tell us the reason(s) why strike is being used by ASUU almost every time. It is a response from members of ASUU to their employer’s negligence.
Unfortunately, the habit of calling strikes by the ASUU has led to the characterization of University education in Nigeria as synonymous to ‘strike.’ This is because every year since 1999 till date, has been plagued by the ASUU strike, making strikes more consistent and normal than the academic calendar of Nigerian Universities.[iii] Strike action results in the shutdown of Universities, sometimes for months, paralyzing academic activities, leaving students frustrated and sometimes exposing them to many negative aspects of life.[iv]
One major impact of these prolonged strikes is the effects on the psychological health of students in their education. During normal school programs, it is quite difficult for students to put themselves together, let alone when they are sent home abruptly because of strike. Some students think the strike would be for a short time. The longer the strike endures, students end up channeling their energies to other activities, some noble others nefarious, as they mix with other of their peers for one reason or the other. As it is commonly said, “The idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” To this scripture would add, “Bad company corrupts good conduct.” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:33). This leads many of these students turn to smoking, drinking, cultism, and even prostitution to make ends meets. Some justify their actions on the fact that they are from poor homes, and the pain of being financial burdens at home. Others still are unnecessarily exposed to accidents such as road hazards, robberies, kidnappings etc. By the time school resumes, many of the youths become psychologically distracted or derailed entirely.
Another impact is that education in Nigeria becomes stunted. This means that education in Nigeria would see no positive growth and thus, remain at the already dysfunctional level it is. How would one explain why a country for the past sixty years, has found it difficult to have a well-defined curriculum that cuts across the nation? That is why a particular University would take a course for four years and another University would take that same course for five years. As a nation, we should have a unified system, and a well-defined curriculum by which all Universities in Nigeria must abide by. Through these strikes, we would not have time to focus on our growth, but simply trying to make amends to resolve strike issues and matters. Time is spent in the past; time is lost in the past.
More so, the future of tomorrow is obscure. When I was quite younger, I was told to say that I am a leader of tomorrow. I always felt so happy, as these emollient words slipped out of my lips so smoothly. But right now, my head pounds and throbs as this vision becomes fogged on a daily basis. Nigeria is undoubtedly a country that gives no encouragement to youth leadership. We have instances wherein politicians and high-ranking officials in different fields of leadership do not want to resign. They simply want to wield power to their graves e.g Nigeria’s ambassador to the U.S, Sylvanus Adiewere.
This is not a good sign as each day, the dreams and hopes of Nigerian youths to be leaders of tomorrow are stifled. Worse still is after many youths must have been delayed in University education, they do not get jobs based on the fact that their ages are beyond the age requirement. Their employers fail to remember how the University education turned the four-year program of these students into six-years or more. (Hence, this is simply brazen show of wickedness by not giving them the jobs).
For this reason, many youths no longer value education viewing it as a waste of time when there are other faster means to make money. Since the youths are not given any opportunity, they seek other means and places where they would be accepted. The wisdom of ancient philosopher Plato is no longer fulfilled as philosophers cannot be kings and kings cannot be philosophers. The youths by implication cannot be philosophers as they see education as alien. Nigeria concurrently produces a cycle of uneducated men who wish to rule later in future. So, the vicious cycle of bad leadership becomes our lot over and over again.
Olabisi A. asseverates that education inculcates values into people.[v] This implies that through education, people get to imbue in themselves certain values for the growth and betterment of their society. Values are no longer lost as they are passed down from generation to generation through education. Through the incessant strikes and their longevity, salient values that should be taught are sidelined as the focus is to hurriedly conclude the semester and let students move to the next level. This is why Nigeria prides herself in celebrating immorality as seen in the popularly acclaimed ‘Bbnaija.’ This also makes evident the reason(s) why the budget allocated to education is very low. This also makes vivid the fact why teachers are paid minimum wages and entertainment stars; politicians receive a fortune. “Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well.” If we have decided to allow education in Nigeria, then we must give it its due pride of place.
From the issues raised, it becomes clear to the blind and audible to the deaf that these educational strike actions, while they have their place in resolving the injustices between the government and the educators, have adverse implications on the prospects of education in Nigeria. Subsequently, it behooves on the government and ASUU to recognize these challenges and make amends to resolve these overarching issues. Government should respect the demands of ASUU through their memorandum and not wait for them to call on strikes before listening to them. This would mean that government officials would refrain from profligate spending and borrowing of funds. Government officials should also appoint ministers of education based on merit and they should give them the autonomy to function thereby encouraging decentralization of power. Thus, the current state of education in Nigeria would be reviewed and laid principles would emerge and function accordingly.
Nonetheless, there is a clarion call on all of us to recognize that we are all to be educational stakeholders. No one is above education. Education brings about knowledge and as Francis Bacon puts it, “Knowledge is power.” Through this knowledge we liberate ourselves from the shackles of poverty and the veil of underdevelopment. This would also develop a sense of national unity, bolstering of the economy and reduce the rate at which Nigeria is grossly alienated from her greatness as a result of an intellectual and professional emasculation.[vi]
[i] https://www.globalpartnership.org (Accessed on 13/12/2020)
[ii] Uzoh Chigozie, “An Assessment of the Impact of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on Human Resource Development in Nigerian Universities,” International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences 7, no. 4, 2222-6990 (2017), 742.
[iii] Ojeifo Aidelunuoghene, “Asuu Industrial Actions: Between Asuu and Government Is it an Issue of Rightness?” Journal of Education and Practice 5, no. 6, 2222-1735 (2014), 9
[iv] Tumba Ardo et al., “Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Industrial Action Impact on Student’s Academic Performance in Usmanu Dandfodiyo University, 2013/2014 Academic Session,” The Interscholar Journal 3, no. 2, 2507-1528 (2020), 173.
[v] Olabisi A., Lecture Notes on SS/PHI/310: Philosophy of Education, Seminary of Saints Peter and Paul, Bodija, Ibadan (2019/2020 Academic Session)
[vi] Paul O. Irikefe, Why Nigeria is not working: The Predicament and the Promise, (Ibadan: Kraft Books Limited, 2013), 40.