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ASUU AND GOVERNMENT’S RECURRENT TUSSLES
· “When two elephants fight, the grass suffers”. This has over the years become the lot of helpless students in the country’s universities who cannot afford the high tuition fees in private universities, let alone travelling overseas for education. Absolutely, nothing is wrong with attending public schools except some shortfalls and extremisms. Prominent among them is the industrial action always embarked upon at every election year by the umbrella body of lecturers – the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which makes public schools look unserious. Going through the litany of ASUU demands, all things being equal, the demands are germane as no investment on education is superfluous; however, it is characterized with traitorous lacuna.
· To start with, the 2022 total budget of the country stands at N17.13 trillion from which N923.79 billion is allotted to the education sector. Interestingly, ASUU is made up of intellectuals that understand and teach checks and balances. Now, in Nigeria’s education sector, there are four levels of education, namely: early childhood (pre-primary); basic education (nine years) – comprising Primary and Junior Secondary Education, which is compulsory and free; Senior Secondary Education, and Tertiary Education. Under tertiary education alone, there are three categories, namely; universities, colleges of education and polytechnics.
· By the above categorization, annual budgets on education must always split equitably to take care of the four levels. And by the clause ‘compulsory and free’ on the basic education, more funds must certainly be voted to effectively implement the policy. Of course, by prudence and precedence, investing in the first three levels is very critical as they are pillars for a sound tertiary education which is the fourth one. So, whereas all levels are important, basic education demands added attention, and cannot be ignored.
· Now, from annual budgets, education sector in 2015 got N492.03 billion; 2016 – N369.60 billion; 2017 – N550.00 billion; 2018 – N605.80 billion; 2019 – N620.50 billion; 2020 – N671.07 billion; 2021 – N742.52 billion; and 2022 – N923.79 billion. In all administrations, education is just one out of many sectors demanding critical attention from the treasury, hence, scaling up preference based on priorities remains the only option vis-à-vis meagre resources. Thus, ASUU is under duty to first consider the nation’s aggregate budget, followed by allocation to the education ministry, before tertiary institution which includes two other categories aforesaid. Understanding this template will give insight and bring about implementable agreements for sustainable activities.
· Regrettably, the seeming competition on who spearheads the longest strikes is becoming a cycle which is absurd as it is always counterproductive. Undeniably, scores of students at home have many ugly stories to tell. Basically, they will pay additional rents for hostels and other unbudgeted expenses. Meanwhile, the comrades unrelentingly, demand remunerations during the strike. The utmost task on nation’s academic unions is eradicating cultism, sexual harassment by lecturers, forceful sale of handouts to students and other uncivilized acts prevalent in the nation’s tertiary institutions. It is worrisome that well-to-do families have abandoned home universities for foreign schools including neigbouring ones like Ghana and Republic of Benin. Shockingly, the mess didn’t reflect in ASUU litany.
· Defending the strike embarked upon on February 14, 2022 which lasted for eight months, ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke knocked federal government’s renege on the agreement signed many years ago. Amid the strike, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige approved the registration of two equivalent bodies – Congress of Nigeria University Academics (CONUA), and Nigeria Association of Medical & Dental Lecturers in Academics (NAMDA) possibly to unbundle the union against monopoly. The action further received condemnation from ASUU. But the bitter truth is that exigency, expediency demands a radical remedy against monopoly for meaningful engagements and activities. Literally, monopoly anywhere characterizes despotism.
Carl Umegboro, ACIArb is a public affairs analyst and social advocate