Since February 14 when members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on a warning strike, academic activities in public universities have been paralysed. Other activities in the universities also ceased when the unions of non-teaching staff commenced their own strike. Today, virtually all unions in the universities are on strike. The universities have become literally lifeless. Academic calendars have been disrupted and an end to the problem is not in sight. Given the high season of electioneering, with many consequential political officials engaged in political outreach and mobilisation to get the ticket of their political parties, the problems in the universities have been relegated to the background of policy and political concerns. Indeed, to further deepen the face-off between ASUU and the Federal Government, a no-work-no-pay order has been enforced. To show its resolve, ASUU has declared that the strike will not be called off until specific minimum demands are met. It seems that Nigeria’s public universities are going to be shut down for a long time, with dire consequences for university education.
Incessant strikes have become a common feature of the university system. In the last two decades, the university system has been shut down at least once every five years due to strike actions. The recurring face-off between the Federal Government and unions in the universities seems to have become one of the most challenging problems in the university system today. The tragedy is that there is no permanent solution in sight. Yet the issues in contention are not new. These include funding of the education sector, implementation of agreements between the Federal Government and unions, effective and fair payment platforms and regular adjustment of wages and salaries. These issues are recurrent and there are frameworks for addressing them to forestall the escalation of conflicts that lead to prolonged strikes.
The processes in place in Nigeria to address these issues include collective bargaining, arbitration, mediation and industrial court rulings. These processes, if effectively utilised, can prevent strikes. However, their effectiveness requires responsibility on the part of parties to the issues in conflict. The parties have failed to demonstrate sufficient responsibility and commitment to the sustenance of quality education to make the processes work. We call on all parties to demonstrate responsibility by being conscious of the adverse consequences of strikes on the students and the credibility and quality of university education in Nigeria.
Incessant strikes constitute a major setback to Nigeria’s university system. The current strike has undermined the entire academic calendar for this session. Students have been thrown into uncertainty over how long the strike would last while being left redundant at home. Many of these students cannot take advantage of private universities or travel abroad because their parents cannot afford such luxury. Many parents have watched helplessly as years of their children’s youthful life are lost to chronic strikes in the universities. The uncertain environment makes it difficult for students to engage in alternative productive activities usually specified for a given life span during strikes. In these circumstances, many of the students are vulnerable to making life mistakes. As it is often said, an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. The future of such students is being mortgaged because of avoidable confrontation and muscle-flexing. Students, parents and other concerned citizens are passing through gruelling moments and experiences due to the closure of federal universities. The few who can afford it have left the country in search of university education, causing the country to lose hard currency that could have been ploughed into the Nigerian economy.
We call on the striking unions and the government to have a rethink in the collective interest of the country. Education remains the bedrock of any society that values development. The Federal Government and ASUU need to come together to quickly resolve the dispute to save students from further miseries. The warring parties must call a truce to re-strategise and avoid travelling the ignoble road that has subsisted for decades and led to nowhere.