FG/ASUU’s endless industrial dispute

Indeed, a nation of supposed transformation, even without realistic planning in the foremost sectors of its economy including education, human capital development and power. Nigerian University lecturers under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), again, have embarked on a week-long warning strike to press home their demands for the implementation of a labour agreement signed with the Federal Government (FG) few years back.

Education as fundamental tool for socio-economic transformation in any human community has been described as a process of acculturating the young members of a society to understand the values and ideals of and become competent members who could make meaningful contributions to the development of their immediate locality.

Among such other reasons adduced for the dismal performance of the education industry in Nigeria over time include lack of needed teaching, research and learning facilities, shortage of trained teachers for the teaching subjects and courses of study, and frequent strikes largely instigated by unpaid staff salaries and allowances as well as unsatisfactory conditions of service.

Other identified yet disturbing factors include corruption, gradual relapse into mediocrity rather than meritocracy, students’ lack of concentration due to negative social influences, exam malpractices, and society’s undue emphasis on just paper qualifications to mention but a few.

However, in the latest altercation between the FG and ASUU, issues of contention between the two parties, of course, include the much-expected raise in the University lecturers’ remuneration, better funding of the nation’s public universities, and extension of the retirement age from active service of dons, particularly in the rank of professors, from the current statutory age of 65 years, or 35 years of service as obtained in the Civil Service, to 70 years with full pay.

Thus, the 70-year retirement age demand by ASUU ordinarily, may appear a compassionate offer to the Government to help in addressing the widely acknowledged dearth of senior academics, yet, the step predictably, may turn Nigeria into a nation of gerontocratic University system with scores of ageing Papa and Mama ’70s coming into lecture theatres with walking sticks soon. What about the accompanying declining productivity in such septuagenarians? This unfolding scenario in the all-important industry in Nigeria’s economy is rather unfortunate, embarrassing and unacceptable.

More so, based on the recent reported revelations of the Abuja-based National Universities Commission (NUC) Visitation and Accreditation Panels to universities across the country, enthroning “academic gerontocracy” in the University system definitely defies logic in that a 51-year-old independent nation said to be bubbling with over 150 million “happy” citizens cannot even boast of at least 500, 000 senior academics, together with professors to teach in its more than 100 Federal, State and private universities.

The NUC visitation panel officials also purportedly discovered instances where some lecturers have taken up teaching appointments in two or three different institutions, peradventure to make up for the inadequate number of needed academic staff in such universities.

As a beleaguered industry over the years, the challenges poor leadership, inadequate funding, lack of focus, ineptitude and official corruption among others in the education industry have been attributed to the current sorry state of the essential sector. Even the proliferation of privately-owned academic institutions, arguably though, has not really improved the lot of the sector, based on realities on the ground in these schools.

That is why educational experts, notable and informed minds and other stakeholders, have continued to maintain that days of many schools, but declining quality are here with us in this once thriving industry, beacon of sparkling optimism and unswerving plank for capacity-building that used to attract the attention of the international world.

Miffed by an observed sharp drop in the quality of University graduates and other tertiary institutions in the country lately, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State took the bull by the horns by collapsing all his state-owned higher institutions of learning into a single university.

Asked about the rationale behind his seemingly drastic executive fiat weeks back, he explained in a media encounter thus: “We are talking of functional education; people who are not just parading the place with degrees. There are so many people with degrees without skills. We believe we can do a lot better and we can provide our graduates with entrepreneurial skills, with functional education and we can have a University that really speaks to the name of a University, not to proliferate the whole place with institutions that are not better than glorified secondary schools….”

Conscientious stakeholders in the education sector, including purpose-driven Government leaders at all levels must improve funding while private individuals, associations and groups should make increased, sustainable investment in the industry, engage in training and re-training of teachers and instructors, pay staff salaries as and when due, provide suitable teaching, research and learning tools and facilities in addition to building and stocking more libraries with relevant, up-to-date books so as to minimise the obvious brain drain in the system.

The current Administration should learn to honour agreements with individual Nigerians, groups, associations, or professional bodies by shedding the toga of official irresponsibility and destructive divide-and-rule tactics with the Labour unions, whether ASUU or NLC, a disheartening development that allegedly has characterised most part of the nation’s governance since 1999. As leaders, there shouldn’t be any room for speaking from both sides of the mouth. Your words ought to be your bond: this is simple responsibility.

The Ivory Tower in conjunction with relevant Government authorities must encourage and support young, energetic and promising men and women with exceptional First Degrees with scholarships, to enrol for higher degree programmes in order to boost the ranks of senior academics in the University system.

Let the truth be told: Ageing professors and other senior academics due for retirement should be made to enjoy their retirement years with their grandchildren, but not to continue to engage themselves in any rigorous academic research and teaching required at this level of education.

It should be noted that quality education thus far remains the bedrock of any sustainable national, professional and personal development in the modern world.

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