Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria, founded in 1978, took over from the defunct Nigerian Association of University Teachers, which was founded in 1965. Ordinarily, ASUU, with a background of a recurring history of militancy since its formation, would have been irrelevant in Nigeria today if successive governments at both the Federal and State levels did enough to promote, fund and sustain high quality tertiary education in Nigeria.
From inception, ASUU has been in one battle or the other, traversing various regimes, military and civilian, and culminating in the present one, which like a few others before it, has hit a dangerous mark.
In all these, whenever ASUU went on strike, the nation suffered loss. Parents and students were adversely affected and disorganized. For a growing nation like Nigeria to suffer an aggregate loss of over two and a half years to avoidable strikes that completely disrupted academic activities in our campuses since 1999 till date is scandalous. For the records, the following chronology of ASUU strikes in Nigeria is worrisome. 1999 – 5 months; 2001 – 3 months; 2002 – 2 weeks; 2003/2004 – 6 months; 2005 – 3 days; 2006 – 1 week; 2007 – 3 months; 2008 – 1 week; 2009 – 4 months; 2010 – 5 months and 1 week; 2011/2012 – 3 months; and 2013 – July 3, 2013 to ???.
The truth today is that a systematic debasement of tertiary education in Nigeria over the years has taken a great toll on the economy of the nation. There is a devastating erosion of confidence in the education system and all countries of the world know this. It has affected the political and economic image of Nigeria in a very negative light and this sad situation cannot be allowed to stay any more.
It is difficult to exonerate the ASUU or the FGN and the States in this decay that has become part of Nigeria’s malaise. How has the ASUU and indeed university lecturers protected the integrity of education? This is a national embarrassment and shame. This is a national calamity and we must tell ourselves the only truth and save the school system from irrecoverable fall. Sentiments do not come in here. Politics or party interest should have no business here. Abusing the President or the Minister of Education or ASUU President doesn’t solve the problem. It is not about President Goodluck Jonathan or his Ministers and it is not about the ASUU President Dr. Nasir Fagge. I am concerned about the deep injury the Nigerian education system is suffering. It is truly deep.
We must begin to solve our critical national problems with one heart and purpose. We must draw a line when sectional interest or political sentiments come in. We cannot toy with the future of these children because they are the backbone of the future Nigeria. No military commander can go to war with limping soldiers and win major wars. So Nigerians together must see the fall of tertiary institutions in Nigeria as a collective concern and not a political tool or a matter for ego voyage. We must address the problems and honestly face the issues so that Nigerian universities can even begin to compete with other universities in Africa.
Nigeria is a rich nation and her assets in human capital top the list but what have we done with our strength? We are rapidly inflicting loses on the economy of the nation. Many Nigerian students litter foreign universities in search of uninterrupted quality education. While the students migrate to other countries in search of better education, some tentacles of the national economy also go with them. Foreign fees are paid in foreign currencies and the nation bleeds. Statistics in 2012 show that there were 71,000 Nigerian students studying in neighbouring Ghana spending close to N160 billion. This is in addition to an earlier report in 2010 that Nigeria supports the UK education sector to the tune of N246 billion.
The case of America and Canada is not different. For two academic sessions alone Nigerians spent a whooping N137 billion for tuition and living expenses in British and American universities. While state governments fall over one another to grab foreign university education openings in other countries including the eastern bloc to the detriment of the nation, official statistics show that the FGN spent N900 million to sponsor 150 students in 2011 alone. The story is the same in several other countries where Nigerians are migrating to seek better university education and despite the huge capital flight, schooling abroad has in addition, become a status symbol for many people.
Giving the belligerence of ASUU in the present face off, many would think that only the FG share the blame in failing standards over the years and even long before President Jonathan became a Deputy Governor in Bayelsa State. While Federal universities are the responsibilities of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the same cannot be said of state owned universities who have merely joined the current strike in solidarity. It is totally immoral in a federal system of government to have state universities shut down for months in sympathy with Federal universities and we join well meaning Nigerians to condemn this reckless loss inflicted on the nation by this practice.
Many blame successive governments for these recurring failures. However, the university community especially the lecturers who populate the ASUU and hold the academic key in the universities deserve some knocks. The falling standards in education cannot only be found in the failure of infrastructure alone. Some of the lecturers have become merchants, selling handouts and using that as a condition for examination favours. Sexual harassment has become the order of the day and many complaints against lecturers are poorly investigated or no action is taking at all because of victimization from other ASUU members. Can this happen in any part of the world without sanctions?
Besides that, some of the lecturers have become typical truants and barely have time to read, prepare and impact adequate knowledge on the helpless students and all these adversely affect standards beyond the current impasse. Examination malpractices in the ivory towers have assumed alarming dimension and this could not have been possible without the active connivance of some ASUU members. The cumulative effect of these anomalies goes to the root of the quality of education that our unemployable graduates receive in the hands of some ASUU members.
This is a serious problem in our education sector and unless all the stakeholders genuinely address it beyond political considerations and the present grandstanding of ASUU, foreign education will continue to suck Nigerians to fund their local university education. This is clearly a huge loss to our economy and a great damage to our psyche.