The ongoing strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has received various reactions from different sections of Nigeria. While many see it as justified and necessary, others argue that it as an undesirable disruption and totally uncalled for. As a student in his final year, I definitely want to graduate and go out there to do something good for myself and my family.
However, in as much as I want to graduate and leave, I must confess that an objective assessment of the issues at hand has made me to conclude that the strike is absolutely justified and justifiable. Anybody who has been to university campuses in the country recently will agree with me that the condition of our university system is anything but standard. In most universities across the country, there are inadequate lecture halls, inadequate teaching and non-teaching staff, outdated libraries that are better described as museums, and a generally hostile environment for teaching and learning.
The federal government have been trying hard to deceive Nigerians by playing up ASUU’s demand for better pay as if it is the only reason the union is still on strike, thereby making them look greedy and selfish. The demands of ASUU include better condition of service, university autonomy and academic freedom, and better infrastructural facilities in the Ivory Towers.
It is amusing to listen to the federal government’s childish arguments and actions. I think they are yet to realise that they are dealing with highly educated people who know what they want, and who have been stretch beyond the point of endurance. The federal government have not come out to tell Nigerians that no university from the Giant of Africa makes the list of top 50 universities on the continent. Yes, they have not told us on television and radio that no Nigerian university is in the top 5000 universities in the world. Or have they told Nigerians that the only few international students in our universities are from the poverty-stricken countries of Chad and Niger? Have our “wise men” told Nigerians that our lecturers are one of the worst treated in the world, thus keeping foreigners from coming to teach in Nigeria? They must be big time jokers indeed!
For those who are calling on ASUU to go back to the class and give government time to address their concerns, it is necessary to remind them that this government have proved it beyond any reasonable doubt that they are unwilling to honour agreements except under pressure. The strike actions embarked upon by different workers’ unions recently in the country quickly come to mind, and most of them were because of failed promises. Meanwhile some people have attributed the sudden surge in crime across the country to the activities of idle students on forced holiday.
One way of addressing the abnormality in the education system will have been to make adequate budgetary allocation to the sector. Instead what we have seen is a reduction in allocation from 10.2 percent in 2008 to 8.8 percent in the present fiscal year. It is noteworthy that UNESCO had advised any country interested in rapid national development to allocate at least 26 percent of its budget to education as it holds the key to unlocking latent human capital needed for development.
No nation has ever developed without adequate and competent human capital. In his presentation of the 2009 budget to a joint session of the national assembly, President Musa Yar’Adua had declared that his priority areas were critical infrastructure, human capital development, land reform and food security, security, and the Niger Delta. The key two sectors under human capital development are education and health yet while education got only 8.8 percent budgetary allocation, health got just 5 percent, representing a decrease from 10.2 percent and 6 percent respectively of 2008 budget. Interesting, any of our Messiahs who is sick quickly jets out of the country for medical treatment while their children are studying in good schools abroad. For goodness sake, why can’t this money be invested in providing health facilities that all Nigerians can enjoy? What happens to millions of poor Nigerians who cannot even afford to go to Ghana for treatment? May God deliver us from these wolves in sheep’s clothing!
It is really ironic that a government that have the vision of making Nigeria one of the 20 biggest economies in the world by the year 2020 have adamantly refused to fuel the engine of rapid economic development – education. How can the country develop if we refuse to develop our human capital base? Japan and Israel are less endowed with natural and human resources but the effective development of their human capital has made them developed countries today. In both countries, literacy rate is about 99 percent.
Even in the United States, the unprecedented prosperity and technological breakthrough experienced in the past 50 years did not come by accident. It all began after World War II when policymakers were making frantic efforts to rebuild the post war economy. With the Cold War having begun between the US and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, each country was also trying to outdo the other in technology and armaments. The deciding moment came for the US in August 1958 when Congress passed the National Defence Education Act in response to USSR’s launch of Sputnik 1 into space the previous year.
President Dwight David Eisenhower realized that the only way to outdo the USSR in technology and the space race was to upgrade the education system. Education became a weapon of national defence. The Act authorized expenditure of $900 billion for the next four years on education. It should be noted that before then the US education system faced similar challenges to what Nigeria faces today. Subsequent follow up efforts by Presidents John F. Kennedy especially and Lyndon Baines Johnson bore fruit with the landing of the first man in the moon, Neil Armstrong, in July 1969. Other breathtaking technological breakthroughs spearheaded by US university research institutes led to creation of employment and wealth that was unprecedented in the history of humanity.
Even the emerging economic powers of China and India are known to spend heavily on education as well as sponsor hundreds of their best students annually to Harvard, Yale and other top universities in the US to “steal” technology. But our wise men in government will have none of these; they want to sit in their offices and negotiate technology transfer with the West. Is it not daydreaming to expect somebody to come and give you his means of livelihood?
As President John F. Kennedy once said, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter that our progress in education”. It is time the Yar’Adua-led government woke up from sleep and face the reality on ground. We cannot attract the best heads to our universities if there are no infrastructural facilities for research and learning, if our lecturers are paid pennies in the name of salaries. We cannot develop as a nation if we continue to ignore the short-cut many nations have been taking to prosperity.
This is definitely not the time for pretence and empty promises. No, this is time for concrete action, and not childish threats. From all indications the lecturers have not made unreasonable demands that a reasonable government cannot grant. If we are serious about national development then now is the time to rescue our education system from collapse. It is indeed time for all well meaning Nigerians to prevail on the federal government to save our education system. But, will Yar’Adua listen to the voice of reason and save us or will he continue to listen to the deception of the self-centred, unpatriotic sycophants urging him on? Only time will tell, and posterity will surely judge him!