The authorities must find a way to end incessant strikes in the universities

It is a measure of what tertiary education has become in our country today that many Nigerians are not even aware that administrative activities, including admissions of new entrants, have been suspended in all federal universities for almost three weeks. The strike, embarked upon by non-academic staff, which had been temporarily suspended on September 25 to allow room for more dialogue with the federal government, resumed on December 3 and there are no signs that the crisis will be resolved anytime soon. 

Apparently incensed by the refusal of the federal government to negotiate with them, the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the three Non-Teaching Staff Unions of Nigerian Universities from the South West, last week staged a public protest. Drawn from the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff of Nigeria (NASU) and National Association of Academics Technologists (NAAT), the striking workers matched through the major streets of Akure, the Ondo State, chanting slogans. And they have vowed not to resume work until the federal government accedes to their request while the students continue to bear the brunt of the endless disruptions on their campuses. 

At issue this time is the N23billion recently released to 24 federal universities, being the amount owed the lecturers as Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) for 2009 and 2010; a concession granted after the last Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU) strike. While the academic staff received N18.4 billion, representing 89 per cent of the total sum, the three non-academic unions were allocated N4.6 billion which amounts to 11 per cent of the money. It is the disparity in the distribution that is causing the problem. But since the money was for academic allowances, we find the position of these non-academic unions untenable and we ask that they call off their strike.

What makes the situation sad is that students in public-owned tertiary institutions are now caught in what amounts to a rivalry between academic and non-academic staff. The consequences have been a situation where these unions alternate strikes, with the attendant debilitating effects on academic pursuits. Meanwhile, these 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, allows for very little attention to serious studies. That is why our public universities have continued to go down the ladder of academic ranking, even among their peers in Africa.

However, we cannot shy away from the fact that the under-funding of the education sector, over the years, has had collateral damaging effects on the country, such that our universities have now become grotesque carcasses of their former glorious selves.Besides, commercialisation of academic grades and poorly written handouts, delayed dissertation, award of questionable degrees and all manner of unwholesome practices have combined to practically ruin university education in Nigeria. 

The state of many Nigerian university campuses today is rather pathetic. The weak financial conditions in the universities are exacerbated by the current crippling economic crisis afflicting the nation. Yet besides personnel costs, funds are required to rehabilitate dilapidated facilities, purchase consumables and research capability. And frequent bursts of strikes have become the routine weapon used by university staffers to force the authorities to listen to their plight.  

However, dealing with the challenge of thin liquidity requires more than seasonal strikes by both the academic and non-academic staff,while the federal government must also understand the primacy of constant dialogue, especially given the current realities. To the extent that there is no way we can develop our country until efforts are made to revitalise key sectors like education, the authorities must find a way to end the incessant unrest on our campuses.