I vividly recall the devastating ASUU strikes of Obasanjo era the longest of which lasted for almost nine month, but despite the autocratic nature of Obasanjo he was brought to submission by those strikes especially toward 2003 election period. The education sector and from there the whole of the economy suffered because of Obasanjo insensitivity and ASUU greed. Perennial strike by ASUU has become part and parcel of Nigerian university education, hardly a full year pass without ASUU threatening to go on strike. And, hardly a month pass without government breaking her promises be it to labour unions such as ASUU or the Nigerian masses. Nigeria is unique indeed, unlike her giant continental rivals (South Africa and Egypt) her education sector is in serious comatose condition that it requires nothing less than revolutionary overhauling to make it to catch with those of these rivals. While Nigerian government has been busy talking of putting measures in place to make her economy surpass that of South Africa and become the biggest economy in the continent by 2015, her neglect of the education sector will make that difficult if not impossible to achieve. No economy in the world reach the level the South African economy attained without sound university education system. While South Africa and Malaysia (another middle income giant) have a couple of universities in the world top 200 ranking Nigeria has none.
While the federal government take most of the responsibility for the continue strike in Nigeria, ASUU too has it own share of the blame; many analysts have become tied of some of these ASUU endless excuses for embarking on their strikes. For example, some of these lecturers themselves are not doing their job according to contract of their employment, as they engage in their personnel businesses and endless travels. These habits of the academicians have contributed in no small way in the present problems our university system is facing. In a country where her universities churn out half bake graduates, the economy suffers as a result. In developed countries around the world, nations are proud of their graduates (as they are up to any task) but the same cannot be said here in Nigeria. These scenarios left many employers with the task of spending millions of Naira in giving training to these graduates before putting them into a proper task. While some employers resort to employing secondary school leavers and given them the training needed, and at the end paying lower monthly payment to them than graduates. Skill labour is the most important component of rapid economic growth and development at the heart of East Asian success stories, which was made possible by massive educational investments of these countries over the years. Thus, there is a direct connection between economic development and educational growth. The monetary cost of any lost working day to the current ASUU strike is huge as it runs into billions of Naira, both in term salaries and wages, as well as lost productivity.
Despite the poor research and innovation capability of our present set of universities, incessant strike will continue to jeopardize the little research they are undertaking. The kind of research and development activities that can put Nigeria in the league of developed nation cannot take place in a disruptive environment like the one we are currently witnessing in our universities. It is, therefore, clear that the current ASUU strike will have negative effect on our industries and from there our Gross Domestic Products (GDP). As Daily Trust argued in her editorial of Tuesday December 13, 2011, ‘the physical structure of many universities are substandard, books are either out of date or not available, the conduct of examinations does not meet minimum requirement, and the standard of learning, especially of English, is atrocious.’ No concrete learning and research can take place in atmosphere such as this, hence, the sympathy that ASUU continue to generate from the Nigerian public, and people condemnation of federal government I don’t care attitude towards the education sector, but at the same time we have to acknowledge the fact that ASUU continue resort to strike is jeopardizing the very sympathy they have garnered so far from the public.
What is the way out? First and far most federal government must realize that it vision of taking Nigeria into the league of 20 largest economies in the world can not be realistic without the simultaneous empowering of our education sector and the power supply, two key raw materials for boosting economic growth in Nigeria. Like the federal government is giving it self a target of putting Nigeria in the league of 20 largest economies, it should also give itself the target of putting the best of Nigerian universities into the league of top 100 universities in the world. This however, will not be realistic without both ASUU and federal government coming to the understanding that they both have a stake in this endeavor; federal government is in this case undermining it own economic agenda by neglecting to strike a compromise with ASUU, likewise the academic union cannot achieved what it set to achieve without bringing the federal government into buying its idea of reforming the education sector. It is a shame that despite the return to democracy in 1999, Nigerian government cannot move up it budgetary allocation into the education sector beyond the range of 2-4%, when our West African neighbours such as Ghana are allocating up to 20%. Ghanaian economy is today one of the most dynamic in Africa and is on the road to achieving emerging market status, depending on the angle from which you view the matter.