The ongoing indefinite nationwide strike embarked by members of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, over poor funding of public universities has been blamed on lack of commitment by the Federal Government to implement several agreements reached on education growth with the union.
Moreover, Dr. Daniel Udoh, ASUU Chairman, University of Uyo Chapter, has pointedly cast the reneging action of the Federal Government in the mould of insincerity to deny Nigerian people affordable and quality education.
Udoh speaking on Thursday in an interview with Planet 101.1 FM, Uyo staffer, rued “It is very sad to observe that the Federal Government is not sincere at all with the Nigerian public. It is not because the government cannot meet the demands but the government is not committed at all. If the commitment was there, the government would have invited ASUU to discuss on the areas of difficulty. Yet, this has not been done.”
According to him, “Our struggle is for a better university system in Nigeria. You can trace back to Academic Staff Universities Union (ASUU) struggles over the years which in 2009 culminated into an agreement. This agreement was not signed over night but carefully traded between ASUU and the Federal Government. After the agreement was signed, the government admitted that it has not given sufficient attention to university education in the country.
“Government assured that it would make the agreement real. ASUU, on its part, said at any point in time you find it difficult to implement any aspect of this agreement, call on us. It was a round-table discussion.”
He narrated “In 2012, ASUU went back and asked the government for a way forward. That was the product of 2012 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). In 2013, another MoU was signed again. Up till 2017, no action was taken by the government and ASUU went on strike in 2017.
“In 2017, Adamu Adamu, the Minister of Education, said the government was not doing well and would henceforth be sincere and committed to implementing the agreement. That was what produced MoA and no more MoU. As such, the government and ASUU signed a Memorandum of Action (MoA) which carries time bounds- between now and then we will release this.”
The chairman explained “Education is not a privilege but a right of every child in this country. Government made an agreement with ASUU for the revitalisation of universities in the country. All seeming aspects of difficulty and solutions were put in black-and-white. What is left is just the implementation.
The chairman recalled “You can see what is called Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). It is the brainchild of ASUU. It was the same music that the Federal government sang in those years that government could not meet the demands of ASUU and ASUU said let us extract two per cent of taxes paid by multinationals, banks and aviation industry and set aside for the education in the country.
“This is something the government said it was impossible, but that is what we have today. Initially, it was Education Tax Fund (ETF) headed then by the late Prof. Ime Ikiddeh but now TETFUND. The infrastructures in the universities are provided through TETFUND. “
Responding to a question if the students are carried along in the strike, he said “ASUU’s strike was in the interest of the students. In 2017, the Babalakin-led Committee was set up to fashion a way forward and the committee suggested the establishment of Education Bank. What that meant was that a student would go there, obtain a loan of N350,000 from the bank. And the Nigerian child would be bound to that loan after graduation for years. ASUU rejected the idea because the burden would have still hung on their poor parents to refund the money.
“That is why we are where are today. In Nigeria, Federal government is trying to trade education only to the highest bidder. This is not fair and cannot be fair.”
Commenting on the culture of the rich shipping their children abroad for education, the ASUU Chairman reacted “You will recall that in Ghana lecturers embarked on strike for 24 months. That was after they had struggled for years. They used to come to Nigeria to have some bail-outs. As student, in the defunct University of Cross River State, some of lecturers were Ghanaians. But now, there is no lecturer from Ghana who may want to take up appointment in Nigeria.
“Our politicians and people who privileged to public funds would steal our money and send their children abroad unmindful of what is happening to the rest of the poor Nigerians. See the decaying infrastructure in the universities and the poor conditions of service to lecturers. That is why we are losing many sound brains to foreign institutions. Many of lecturers who go on sabbatical find it difficult to return home due to better conditions of service over there.”
He cited “General Ibrahim Babangida (retd), the then Nigerian military President sacked all lecturers, put up advertisements for employment of new ones. No lecturer from abroad applied because of what they saw as paltry salary compared to what they were enjoying abroad. He then came back and re-negotiated with ASUU.”
On his part, Dr. Charles Obot, Secretary of ASUU, University of Uyo chapter, narrated “I am a proud of community secondary schools from secondary to university. As a student in the University of Uyo, I could recall that the largest number of students in a class was 50 or 60 and we could comfortably sit in the lecture hall. As a lecturer, I remember during the out-gone session, the least number of students was 190. You would not notice the ordeal the students go through to attend lectures until examination period. No single examination on a particular course normally should exceed one classroom, but you have to use two or three classrooms for a particular course to administer examination to students. Supervision is difficult in this case.
Obot noted “Even this ASUU’s struggle, students should be at the forefront. You go to a class and most of the students are standing to receive lectures. I doubt apart from Law department if there is any department with a dedicated classroom. To me, it is not the fault of the students or that of the administrators of the university but the fault of the owner- federal government. Why do you keep on establishing universities, you cannot adequately fund?”