Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: South East Varsities Resumption - Matters Arising

Great news came from Anambra State on Monday, January17, 2011. The six month-old strike by the Academic and non-Academic Staff Unions in state universities in the South-East was finally called off at Anambra State University, Uli, paving way for the immediate resumption of academic activities.

Anambra State University had come under intense spotlight because of Governor Peter Obi's chairmanship of the South-East Governors' Forum and the perception that he held the key to the resolution of the crisis.

The suspension of the industrial action has brought relief not just to the parties to the dispute but to all who care about normalcy.

The breakthrough in the protracted negotiations came on the heel of interventions by the Anambra State Government, concerned elders of the state and the state House of Assembly. Notably, Governor Obi was able to fast-track the negotiation with the appointment of a new, Acting Vice Chancellor on January 5, 2011.

The body of concerned elders and eminent citizens had on November 9, 2010 brokered a tentative agreement between the ASUU and the university's governing council. The agreement which represented the position of Ndi-Anambra on the dispute, created a middle ground on the conflicting stance of the relevant parties. ASUU was to accept a 60 percent raise in salaries; the university would increase tuition fees while the Anambra State Government upped its subvention to the university by 90 percent.

This formula achieved about 87 percent implementation of the oft-quoted Federal Government-ASUU 2009 Agreement. Further implementation is to continue in March 2011.

But the reign of the enhanced university salaries is coming at a huge price for the larger society. The university's tuition fees will now increase from N35,000 to N100,000. The socio-economic dislocations bound to ensue from this upward review cannot be over-emphasized. Many students will be unable to afford the new fees outright. Many too will just barely cope under severe sacrifices.

The situation would, predictably, ignite storms of students' unrest across state universities, thus, further disrupting academic sessions. There is a real danger here of alienating university education from the teeming numbers desiring it.

Is this what ASUU wants? Is ASUU comfortable with the commercialisation of university education, which scenario presently stares us in the face? Nigeria's development depends on the availability of an educated citizenry. University education should not be viewed as an elitist affair, otherwise government will have no business running universities.

State and federal governments established universities for human capital development and socio-economic wellbeing of society. This noble mission should not be eroded. This is part of the reasons why many had thought the university staff unions would have met the state governments half way and accepted what was within the ability of the states to pay.

Closer understanding between the state governments and the university staff unions is required to sustain the fragile peace in the universities. ASUU appears not to appreciate the challenges faced by the South-East states which zone receives the least allocation from the Federation Account. With regard to Anambra State University, Uli, ASUU's appraisal of its development has not taken into account that the institution is barely 10 years old, the law creating it having been passed in 2001.

Between 2001 and 2005, a token of structures was put up here and there to convince sceptics on the functioning of the university. It was not until the advent of the Obi regime in 2006 that the fortunes of the institution took a leap forward.

In just five years, Obi's administration empowered the university to achieve full accreditation for the law faculty, departments of public administration and mass communication, among others. Governor Obi within this period furnished the departments of microbiology, industrial chemistry, industrial physics and computer science with fully equipped laboratories and equally provided the university with an e-learning and research centre.

In the area of physical infrastructure, several faculty and departmental buildings consisting of classrooms, studios, offices and library, have been built in the past five years. In the face of these impressive strides, ASUU should be more co-operative toward the state government.

*A commentator on national issues, writes from Awka, Anambra State

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