Now that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have called off their six month old strike and students can now return to the classroom, who holds the university lecturers accountable to their own end of the bargain?
Throughout the duration of the industrial action, most public commentators were very critical of the Federal Government for not implementing the 2009 agreement it voluntarily entered into with ASUU. While the backlash was justifiable and quite understandable, I did not get why ASUU went under the radar of public opinion without a serious backlash. Maybe they did. Or perhaps most of these commentators were simply sympathetic to the striking lecturers cause that they did not realize with more funds pumped into the education sector, comes bigger responsibility.
To get my point clearly, I will highlight some part of the 2009 agreement which provides for autonomy and funding of the universities. This is the major bone of contention that led to the present stalemate that was only just last month.
The agreement, for instance provides under what it described as a long-term solution to the problems facing the universities, 26 per cent of federal and states’ budgets to be channeled to the education sector, with 50 per cent of that figure set aside for universities.
Other section of the agreement provides for a special salary structure for university lecturers, which include earned allowances, honoraria, supervision of postgraduate students and leave allowances, as well as pension matters and even retirement age for professors, which was put at 70. The latter has since been implemented.
The 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement, which was produced in January of that year, was an offshoot of the FGN/ASUU 2001 agreement and it further states that: “The single Term of Reference of the Committee (FGN/ASUU negotiation committee) was to re-negotiate the 2001 FGN/ASUU Agreement and enter into a workable Agreement.
“In the course of discussion, the committee agreed that the essence of the re-negotiation was: i) to reverse the decay in the university system, in order to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development; ii) to reverse the brain drain, not only by enhancing the remuneration of academic staff, but also by disengaging them from the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure; iii) to restore Nigerian universities through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and iv) to ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom”.
On paper, the agreement looks plausible and ASUU look like ‘patriots’ for fighting for the future of ordinary Nigerians and the education sector but a second look at some of the expected outcome from the agreement may not be realizable after all. Call me an incurable pessimist but that’s the gospel truth according to me!
ASUU hopes that with the signing and implementation of the agreement, Nigerian universities will no longer produce half-baked graduates; the lost glory of Nigerian universities will be restored over time; put a stop to endless strike actions and reverse the brain-drain problem – the revised 2009 agreement is like a ‘silver bullet’ to all the academic problems bedeviling the university system among others.
Now, my question is how can you bend an already dried cane without damaging it? The problem of ‘half-baked’ graduates from experience did not start at the universities as they have their roots elsewhere but how can you address a problem without treating the root cause? Put more succinctly, there is nothing even the smartest and most brilliant don can do to help the situation of a student, who can barely read and write, or did not score the required UTME score and earn at least five O’Level credits in WAEC/NECO including Mathematics and English but is given admission by virtue of his/her ‘catchment area’ or ‘connection’. When such candidates gain admission into the university system they are ‘managed’ as a result of their parents’ influence or simply because they have all the money to bribe their way through graduation. I’ve personally seen and heard of lecturers whose stock-in trade is to help students under their supervision write their final year projects and give them high grades after money must have changed hands. This is the ugly truth for anyone familiar with what Nigeria’s public-owned institutions of higher learning have become.
The same applies to lecturers, who have constituted themselves to demi-gods and whose words are yea and amen. If you’re a student, pray and fast never to fall into the hands of this category of lecturers; not a few students have been frustrated to the point of suicide by these evil men and women that parade the lecture halls of our universities. Will they suddenly change because the much-needed 2009 agreement has been signed? Will they stop demanding sex-for-marks from their students (both male & female) or even money-for-marks? Some of them don’t demand for either as they’re just plain wicked and would rather see their student(s) suffer the painful consequence of ever ‘carrying’ their course especially when it is a core.
Let me briefly share a personal experience. I gained admission in 2004 and graduated in record time (strikes and all) without any carry over by the grace of God in 2008 for a four-year course at one of Nigeria’s premier university in the North. But I didn’t go for service until 2010, two years later because my examination officer, a young lecturer, wanted to ‘punish’ me, yes, he told me point-blank, for being unsure of the course code of an examination I’d written and passed when it did not reflect in my final result. Worse tales abound of students, who have been deliberately denied by their lecturers from graduating due to one flimsy and sometimes outrageous excuse or the other. Will the 2009 agreement suddenly make this sort of lecturers turn new leaves?
I laugh sometimes when I hear ASUU say their insistence on the full implementation of the 2009 agreement is partly geared towards reversing the rot in the public universities. Yes, successive governments failed in their responsibilities to adequately fund and maintain the education standard of Nigerian universities that once made them shining lights in the early sixties but can the lecturers claim not to be guilty of contributing to the downward spiral being experienced in the sector?
How many lecturers can boast that their teaching materials/course outlines and contents are the latest discoveries and knowledge that obtains in their field? Some of these lecturers are so lazy and do not care to learn/research about modern discoveries in their fields that they keep on recycling old lecture notes whose knowledge has been outdated or modified. Will the signing of the 2009 agreement address these lapses or will it be business as usual?
If I have to continue talking about why ASUU needs to be held accountable to their own end of the bargain, I could continue and it would be an unending story but these are only few of the noticeable ills rocking the Nigerian university system that I haven’t heard the almighty ASUU tell Nigerians how they hope to address and possibly the time-frame when the results would begin to manifest.
On that note, I want to salute the Federal Government for agreeing to most of the demands by ASUU and plead that under no circumstance, ever again, should our youths be kept at home for one day not to talk of six months as a result of non-implementation of agreements willingly entered into. It does not augur well for a country that aspires to be one of the top 20 world economies by 2020 (20:2020).
Therefore, may I suggest that to effectively address the rot in the education system, a bottom-to-top approach should be adopted. To build a house that will stand the test of time, the foundation must be solid and the building plan carefully followed without cutting corners. The several policy summersaults in our education sector is not helping either. We were doing the 6-3-3-4 education system then it was changed to 9-3-4 and only God knows what next is in the pipeline. Nonetheless, it is truism that if the primary and secondary levels of education have been bastardized and compromised, there is no way it can be addressed at the university level. Afterall, you cannot plant okra seeds and expect to reap oranges. To borrow the computer term, it is ‘garbage in, garbage out’.
ASUU must put in place effective internal monitoring and feedback mechanisms to checkmate the embarrassing conduct of some of its members. If such mechanism exists, then it must be strengthened in all public owned universities and must be unbiased in dealing with cases involving members as highlighted in this article and others. It is a well-known fact that in some universities, one of the pre-requisites to remaining an undergraduate perpetually is to report a lecturer for committing an infraction or crossing the boundary of student-lecturer relationship. Moreso, ASUU should find means of enforcing researches among its members so as to ensure that students are taught modern discoveries not some archaic pre-exiting knowledge in their courses of study. That way, Nigerian students will be able to compete favorably in a modern age.
The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency, desist from dabbling into the day-to-day affairs of universities. The education sector should not be saddled with the complexities of Nigerian politics as is currently playing out now in the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). Competent administrators and technocrats, rather than politicians and narrow-minded individuals should be appointed to head the governing councils of universities. That way, competent Vice Chancellors can enjoy good-working relationships with their governing councils rather than engaging in battles of political wits throughout their tenure that will not add any value to the system.
It might not sound like a good idea but the ‘catchment area’ policy is an ill-wind that has never blown anyone any good and will not in the present or future. When we consciously admit that some persons are from ‘educationally less disadvantaged/developed states’ and so should not be allowed to compete on an equal footing with their contemporaries, we are sub-consciously entrenching mediocrity and telling such persons that it is acceptable to be average and not strive to be the best. When a handicapped is constantly reminded of his/her disabilities and is treated on the basis of their handicap, they are limited in life and will never fully develop their potential. That is the pathetic situation of these persons from ELDS
Finally, dear Nigerian student reading this ‘lengthy’ and ‘boring’ article, how have you developed yourself? How are you striving to equip yourself in an ever-evolving world? Are all your concerns about how to get the latest mobile phone or electronic gadget in town? Wear the latest designer clothes/shoes and have all the boys/girls chasing after you at the expense of developing yourself academically? Throughout the ASUU strike, how did you keep yourself engaged and on track towards achieving your life goals? These questions are very important because even if government pumps all the money in our external reserves on education and you are not willing to learn or subject yourself to the rigors of learning, it would be like the case of the person who keeps pouring water in an empty basket. It is never too late to reorganize your priorities in life and follow a dedicated path towards excellence; that is my challenge to you.
Ayodele Daniel is a Content Creator at Information Nigeria. Kindly follow on Twitter @ayoadaniel