For the umpteenth time the academic calendar of the nation's university education system has been brought to a halt due to the industrial action embarked upon since July 1 by members of the Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU). This time it is over the inability of the Federal Government to implement the 2009 joint agreement reached by both parties.
ASUU claims that the university lecturers are owed some N87 billion. While the federal authorities do not dispute the claim, they have put on the table the sum of N30 billion, in addition to another N400 billion set aside for infrastructural development in the universities.
The government has also promised to start disbursing the money as from next month and has in fact released a N100 billion intervention fund to the implementation committee of the Universities' Needs Assessment Report, headed by the Benue State governor, Gabriel Suswam.
Unfortunately, that was not enough to assuage the university lecturers whose National President, Dr Nasir Isa Fagge, has vowed that ASUU would not suspend its strike until its demands were totally met. Among other things, the lecturers demand that the government stick to the terms of the 2009 agreement which stipulated the allocation of a minimum of 26 percent of the nation's annual budget to the education sector and that at least 50 percent of this 26 percent be allocated to Universities; making the funds for education a first line charge in the Constitution; provision by the federal government of general assistance to state governments for their universities and other academic institutions of higher learning. They also demand that the Education Tax Fund (ETF) should revert to its original concept as Higher Education Fund.
While the Federal Government believes some of these demands can be negotiated, ASUU is angry that over two years into the three-year lifespan of the agreement some of the key outstanding components yet to be implemented include: Funding requirements for revitalising the Nigerian University system; provision for progressive increase of annual budgetary allocation to education to 26 percent between 2009 and 2020; transfer of landed property to the universities; payment of earned allowances as well as amendment of the pension/retirement age for academics on the professorial cadre from 65 to 70 years.
From the foregoing it would seem that the university lecturers have some reasonable grounds for their protest. But no matter how genuine their grievances may be, walking out of the classrooms should not always be their only option. What the constant recourse to strike--which appears to be their only solution--has done is to make them lose the respect of many Nigerians who ordinarily sympathise with their plight. The lecturers should device a much better way of continuous dialogue with government on the fine details of the agreement rather than closing the campuses at every stage, especially during the conduct of semester or end of session examinations. The ASUU should always consider the overall interest of their students who are the ultimate victims of their actions.
In the same vein, if the federal government is unable to implement certain aspects of the 2009 pact, the relevant authorities should call for a renegotiation instead of cynically brushing aside the commitments made to the lecturers. The government should be concerned by the serious decline and decay of public education in our country and the fact that the country's universities do not meet the requisite standards for listing among the best in the world. Even if it could be argued that government does not have all the funds required for a comprehensive transformation of the nation's education system as demanded by the university lecturers, there should be a continuous dialogue on the way forward so as not to further compromise the future of our children by perpetually keeping them at home.