Frequent strikes have very damaging impact on academic pursuits
With more than half the current academic session gone, the non-teaching staff of Nigerian universities operating under three unions, namely, the Non Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) finally announced the suspension of their strike last week. The decision followed a commitment by the federal government to source for about N8 billion to settle some of the financial claims within the next five weeks, after acceding to the unions’ demand that no worker will be victimised on account of taking part in the strike.
The strike had been temporarily suspended last September before it resumed in December with the students bearing the brunt of the endless disruptions on their campuses. Yet, as we stated in an earlier editorial, it is a measure of what education has become in our country today that while the strike lasted, many Nigerians were not even aware that administrative activities, including admissions of new entrants, had been suspended in all federal universities cumulatively for more than four months under the current 2017/2018 academic session.
The frequent bursts of strikes that have become a routine weapon by university staffers to force the hands of the federal authorities have done incalculable damage to tertiary education in the country. But with all manner of unwholesome practices becoming the order of the day in many of these institutions of higher learning, it is difficult to predict an end to the incessant campus unrest. “We shall not hesitate to resume the strike if government reneges on the agreements reached or delays in any aspects,” vowed SSSANU President, Samson Ugwoke, while giving an update on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) with government’s negotiation.
The main contention is the N23 billion released last year 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 amounted to 11 per cent of the money. It is the disparity in the distribution that has been causing the problem. But since the money was for academic allowances, we have always considered the position of these non-academic unions untenable.
What makes the situation particularly unfortunate 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 on our campuses. The hurried academic calendars following the end of industrial actions allow for very little attention to serious studies. These have contributed significantly to the decline in the quality of graduates of our public universities.
However, we cannot shy away from the fact that the underfunding 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 selves. 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.
While dealing with the challenge of thin liquidity requires more than seasonal strikes by both the academic and non-academic staff, the federal government must also understand the primacy of constant dialogue, especially given the current realities.
The hurried academic calendars following the end of industrial actions allow for very little attention to serious studies. These have contributed significantly to the decline in the quality of graduates of our public universities