Wednesday, November 6, 2013

ASUU logjam: Need for sincerity

IN his media chat with a team of journalists in September this year,
President Goodluck Jonathan declared his government's commitment to
end the logjam with the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities,
ASUU, by effecting the changes demanded by the lecturers. This
followed an earlier directive to the Federal Government's negotiating
committees, the Universities Needs Implementation Committee and the
Earned Allowances Committee, to take immediate action to end the ASUU
Chairman of the needs committee, Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue
State, told journalists after a meeting held by the President with
the committees, "The President has instructed us as to what to do, and
has shown commitment to flagging off projects worth about N100 billion
in all the Universities in the country! About 61 of them. He gave
assurance that the lecturers would call off the strike in no distant
Several months after those assurances were given, the funds are yet to
be released. Investigations at several universities indicated that no
one has received a dime. A vice chancellor spoken to said, "The
Federal Government has only sent us a memo through the Ministry of
Education that we are getting N650 million of the fund. When we get
alert into the University's account we will know how sincere the
government is. But presently, we are yet to receive the money."
So far no university has confirmed the receipt of its share of the
N100 billion. This translates to insincerity on the part of the
Federal Government. The ongoing ASUU strike is not based on fresh
demands by the lecturers. They are, on the contrary, demanding the
implementation of an agreement it signed with the union in 2009 on the
proper funding of the country's public universities. In that agreement
government negotiators agreed with ASUU on the needs assessment of the
universities and agreed to release money for its implementation.
The situation was aggravated when the Minister of Finance and
Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala,
declared in a key-note address at this year's National Council on
Finance and Economic Development, in Minna, Niger State, that the
nation's economy cannot for now, accommodate the demands of the
striking lecturers. She said, "At present, ASUU wants government to
pay N92 billion in extra allowances over and above their salaries.
Though we are in discussion with them, the problem is that the
resources to take care of the demands are simply not there."
It should, however, be noted that the intellectual quality of the
Nigeria graduate is a direct reflection of the academic standard of
the universities. Only recently, it was alleged that many National
Youth Service Corps members cannot write application letters. A state
government official lamented in her office recently that corps members
posted to her department, who were graduates of statistics, could not
interpret figures.
Examples abound everywhere. The bottom line is that academic standards
in the nation's universities have fallen to an all time low.
Facilities are over-stretched and grossly inadequate. Libraries and
laboratories are ill equipped. The lecturers are not provided with the
funds for researches. In the face of all these challenges, the falling
standards in the universities, as reflected in the poor quality of the
graduates, are often blamed on the lecturers. That is, perhaps, why
they are insistent that Nigerian universities must be made to compete
with those in other parts of the world.
It is not enough for government to claim that the strike is
politically motivated. This is no time to play the ostrich. If
government says it has released N100 billion for the upgrade of
facilities in public universities, then the money should be made
valuable to them. Since President Jonathan has assured that his
government is committed to effecting the desired changes in the
universities, then he must be seen to do just that. The people need to
have confidence in their president. Telling ASUU that they should not
expect him to close down other sectors solve their probe overnight,
could be seen as fueling an already inflammable situation. All that is
needed now is sincerity on the part of government.

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