Government may do well to obey agreements freely entered

Predictably, academic activities were for most of last week grounded in several universities across the country as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) made good its threat to embark on a warning strike. But, as we have admonished repeatedly, it is important for the federal government and ASUU to quickly find common grounds on this perennial problem. To the extent that students in our universities have suffered enough in recent years, this administration should do everything to ensure we do not return to the dark past.
Strikes have contributed significantly to the decline in the quality of graduates of our public universities. The hurried academic calendars, following the end of industrial actions, allow for very little attention to serious studies or research. That is why our public universities have continued to go down the ladder of academic ranking, even among their peers in Africa.
The state of Nigerian campuses today is rather pathetic as students are practically left to their own devices. Even before ASUU’s warning strike, no academic work was going on in many of the campuses due to internal problems. For instance, at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, academic activities had been paralysed over issues of fraud and corruption. At the University of Calabar where lecturers joined the strike, Chairman of the local ASUU chapter, Dr Tony Eyang seemed more concerned about the application of the Treasury Single Account, (TSA) to universities.
It is noteworthy that the federal government and ASUU had for several years been locked in a running battle over the implementation of agreements on the funding of the country’s public universities. The consequences have been lengthy industrial strikes by the lecturers, with the attendant debilitating effects on educational development in particular and academic pursuits in general. Therefore, another strike would further damage whatever remains of the credibility of tertiary education in our country.
The university lecturers had announced recently that the union was being owed about N660 billion as Needs Assessment Intervention Funds (NAIF) by the federal government. According to ASUU, the money is part of the unpaid intervention fund for the last three years. In addition, ASUU argues that the federal government still owes academic staff in the public universities a whopping N200 billion arrears of earned allowances for the 2014 and 2015 academic years. The union made a number of other claims with a warning that it could yet go on another strike. That was the genesis of the ongoing one-week warning strike which, given past experience, could be a prelude to another long closure of our campuses.
However, we cannot shy away from the fact that the under-funding of the education sector has had collateral damaging effects on the country, such that our universities have now become carcasses of their former selves. But dealing with the challenge requires more than seasonal strikes by the lecturers while the federal government also needs to understand the primacy of constant dialogue, especially given the current realities.
Therefore, going forward requires other critical stakeholders in the education sector joining in the efforts to find a lasting solution to what has become a perplexing national challenge. In doing this, the federal government should take the initiative so that we can collectively come up with ways to reposition tertiary education in our country. It is unfortunate that disputes are always occasioned by the broken promises and unfulfilled agreements of the federal government. Yet there is no way we can develop our country until efforts are made to revitalise key sectors like education. Another strike by ASUU will not be in the interest of the nation.