By Yusuf Salisu Muhammad
It’s a very sad incident to Nigerians that the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU) strike has been persistent for decades. It firstly started in the 70s during Obasanjo’s regime. ASUU went on firmly with its struggles and opted for strike as a major weapon to fight for its rights and those of Nigerian students. For many years, strikes have been reoccurring like celebrated festivals; it’s hardly to end an academic session without ASUU embarking on a single strike. If the history of the ASUU strike will be unbundled, it will be clearly seen that it has been consistent since the military regimes and thus; one may not be unjust to say, the needed actions were not taken even in the past, had they heeded to ASUUs agitations and calls, we wouldn’t have been experiencing what we are experiencing now.
Today, under Buhari’s administration, which even a layman thought would enjoy when it grabbed power; students have been suffering from the repercussions of the conflicts between the FG and ASUU. On Monday 14th February 2022, the union declared its first one month warning strike, and then added two months, after which they extended the strike by three months. If I may ask a question which may not have an answer, I would say, even in Africa, if not in Nigeria, where can universities be shut down for almost more than six months, and the government seems not to care? But if answer is to be given, it might be: no serious administration will “take no notice of” its country’s education sector sliding into anarchy and confusion like this. However, no thanks to the I don’t care attitude of the government, it is surely making history.
The main ASUU’s demands now, as declared by the union, are: ensuring the acceptance of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) and also to fulfill the ASUU/FG’s signed agreement of 2009, which can all be implemented if the FG’s effort is genuine in getting rid of the “cog in the wheel” of the future of the Nigerian Youths. Therefore, the FG’s refusal to implement the aforesaid ASUU’s demands is simply “adding salt to the wound” of the Nigerian students and the education sector in general.
On the other hand, the demanded money and facilities by ASUU for revitalizing the sector can be disbursed as far as the FG treats the issue seriously considering what it spent on other sectors, which compared to education, they are definitely less important. Some menies spent are even irrelevant to the welfare of the masses or misplacement of priorities.
For instance; on 24th November 2021, the Punch Newspaper disclosed that “the minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba said that, the FG spent more than 2.3 trillion as a stimulus for covid19.” If the FG can spend more than 2 trillion on Covid-19, why can’t it at least spend 1 trillion on the education sector for ensuring its activation and ending the ASUU strike that has been in existence for more than twenty years? The same union strike which the current president and his minster of education were criticizing the last administration on?
In addition, Vanguard Newspaper reported on May 15, 2022 that the “Socio Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP) sues Buhari for spending N1.48 trillion on maintaining refineries with no crude oil”. If more than 1 trillion can be unfruitfully spent on reviving the useless refineries why can’t 500 billion be disbursed to ASUU for revitalizing the education sector?
Additionally, the Punch reporterd on 22 February 2022 that: “FG to spend 3.53 trillion on infrastructure and human capital development in 2022”. This was amidst the ASUU strike, which is yet to be called off. If 2.53 trillion would be spent mostly on invisible infrastructure, why can’t 1 trillion be allocated to the education sector for its rescue or is there any infrastructure that can be enjoyed without qualitative education? I believe commoners would rather love to have education than any other infrastructure. Also, providing sound knowledge is the best way to development, not only for humans but for the whole country and what it contains.
Based on Daily Post analysis on October 15, 2021,” about 12 trillion has been allocated to the security sector in the past 7 budgets under president Buhari”. Based on this analysis the increment of the spending for the sector in the administration is whooping 15 percent of the country’s budget. If this can be done in an attempt to tackle the insecurity we still suffer from, despite the relevance of security in any country, why can’t the same attempt be done for the education sector even for once? These are few examples. One may argue that all the aforementioned spendings were already budgeted and also the education sector has its own budget, but is he aware that the sector’s budget is just a paltry sum?
Premium Times Nigeria, on October 27, 2021 stated that “since taking office, president Buhari’s highest allocation to the education sector is 7.9 percent of the total budget”. Meanwhile, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommended 15-20percent of any developing country’s budget for the sector.
The FG should be alerted that this persistent strike is affecting not only students, their parents, and lectures but also the economy of the country as many small scale and medium enterprises depend on the campuses, howbeit, It’s indeed condemnable that ASUU’s demands have not been attended to.
Moreover, it will shock any Nigerian of good will to hear the claim that the president was unaware about the ASUU strike till when he was notified during his Sallah visit to his home town! Kudos to Nigeria, my fatherland, where universities could be shutdown and academic staffs’ salaries stopped for months and yet the president doesn’t even know what is happening! The university lecturers’ strike for months with stoppage of their salaries, but the president was unaware? This alone, can prove the FG’s failure in salvaging the education sector in Nigeria. They don’t seem to care and I don’t think they will care at all. Their beloved children are elsewhere, outside the country, enjoying good education, while the poor peoples’ children grow in ignorance.
In addition to the points raised above, Nigeria, with 10.5 million out of school children, topped the list in the world, as declared by the United Nations Children Funds (UNICEF), Daily Trust on Monday, 24th January reported. Furthermore, the FG’s budget allocation to the sector is yet to reach the UNESCO’s recommendation, while looting allegations on government officials are not unknown, but still ASUU’s demands are neglected.
In conclusion, I urge the government to move with rapid efforts in overcoming the hindrances in the education sector, others the government and all Nigerians should await more troubles, confusions and skirmishes.
Yusuf Salisu Muhammad writes from Katsina State, Nigeria.