Viewpoint: ASUU, there is an alternative to strike

A man carrying placad

By Usman Abubakar Zaria

Nigerian public universities continue to be characterised by lack of adequate learning facilities, under staffing, poor staff welfare and gross under-funding. This explains why the universities and their outputs continue to be abysmally present at the global stages. But who is to be blamed? The government, academics or the parents/guardians/students?

Answers to these questions also raise other difficult questions. For the understaffing, inadequate facilities and poor work conditions, who does the accreditation on behalf of the National Universities Commission (NUC)? We, the academics, do this job. How can we assess and pass the institutions and departments as fit for teaching and research purposes and then come round to say that they are unfit when we want to prove certain points to the same government?

What are the universities doing to limit admission into these institutions to address the issue of overstretched facilities? This very action precipitates another issue – the excess workload, and unending fight for Earned Academic Allowances (EAA).

On the side of the parents, remember this is a country where government is not allowed to control how the citizens give birth to children, so it cannot dare interfere with how you multiply the size of your family, but the same government has the obligation to shoulder the educational responsibilities of your kids! Still, parents/guardians do not feel that they have to contribute certain commensurate finances towards the education of their children.

Government continues to accord abysmal attention to education as evidenced by the relatively paltry budgetary allocation to education and how it deals with education matters.

Why ASUU must change approach

Key ASUU demands remain unaddressed and worse still, all sorts of humiliations and divisive onslaughts are being meted on its members for calling the attention to such issues.

However, after decades of strikes with virtually little to show as gains, as intellectuals, we need to get back to the drawing board. In a sane clime, withdrawing any of the education services (teaching, research and community services) will force the government to come to the negotiating table. But what do you do when you are dealing with a government that doesn’t consider education service among critical national priorities?

Unfortunately, in Nigeria of today, for a strike to attract needed attention of the government, the striking body must be able to precipitate threat of significant revenue loss, potential to erode powers of the executive arm; powers to block budgetary appropriations, holding sensitive/classified information on offices and office holders.

Lobbying is the closest option to ASUU, which again, based on its founding principles, has to be handled with a pinch of salt because it shares many boundaries with corruption and other sharp practices.

ASUU is therefore grossly limited and unable to explore many traditional aspects of lobbying.

However, with the realities on ground, plus ASUU members’ unfounded fear of proscription of their union, there is need for alternative approach(es)!

We need to change the approach from one with too much subscription to strike to a new regime where government, universities and parents/guardians come together to finance the education.

ASUU members can conduct the Institutional and Programme Accreditation on behalf of the Nigerian Universities Commission.

Through this, we can do a fair and sincere accreditation, also and only admit students that can be accommodated by the available resources. These legitimate statutory exercises would right-size classes/workloads and even justifiably shutdown many departments/institutions.

So, with the new approach, departments or institutions may be shut down or right- sized not by ASUU strike but by fair/resource-based accreditation and admission exercises.

On this ground, ASUU can comfortably take government to court if necessary. Students affected and their parents/guardians will also be at the fore front in fighting the fight, which hitherto, ASUU has been fighting alone without appreciation.

Parents/guardians must be ready to pay higher tuition fees. The current rates are not realistic. It is self-contradicting that we pay higher for our kids in private primary and secondary schools than we pay for our children in public universities where students incur higher energy bills, need more sophisticated/advanced lab equipment/materials, need highly trained set of Academics.

Also, university managers must encourage relevant university organs, including departments, to do more in terms of revenue generation. Remove the bottlenecks such as the skewed margin-sharing formula between management, departments and the resource persons, grant them some form of guided financial autonomy predicated on a robust transparency and accountability framework. And most importantly, let’s reclaim our glory, let’s reposition ourselves as that group of topnotch intellectuals that used to add objective voices of wisdom to national and international discourses.

Let that spirit of intellectual debates/discourses return to campuses. Let’s redirect our research outputs to find relevance both at home and abroad. Equally important is the need for us, in collaboration with relevant authorities (like NUC), to review the outdated curricula to reflect 21st century requirements, which demand for university products that are independent problem-solvers, students trained to confront emerging realities/frontiers and adequately prepared to create jobs for themselves and others.

Dr Usman Zaria is a lecturer at the Department of Chemical Engineering, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. uabubakar@abu.ed.ng

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