AS ASUU CALLS OFF THREE MONTH OLD STRIKE
AS ASUU CALLS OFF THREE MONTH OLD STRIKE
Whither The Education Sector?
(By Alayande Stephen T.)
The perennial crisis rocking the nation’s education sector has continued unabated, and as usual, it took a whole three months for the Academic Staff Unions of Universities (ASUU) to suspend the strike action it embarked on in March 26, 2007. The point of disagreement has always remained almost the same since the June 2001 agreement, which the government has failed to honour till date. For instance, the allocation to education thereafter has even been less than the previous one before the agreement and it has progressively declined. 7.0% of the Nigeria budget was allocated in 2001, 5.9% in 2002 and 1.83% was allocated for 2003, and it has not fared better till date.
The suspension of the three months old strike by the (ASUU) following the intervention of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who pleaded for ASUU understanding on the ground that he was new in office has temporarily made the lecturers go back to classrooms. But what is important is that the strike action was embarked upon to address working conditions in the universities and the decadence in the system occasioned mainly by under-funding, resulting to obsolete and poor infrastructures on various campuses, perennial brain drain due to poor remuneration packages, far below what is obtainable in neighbouring Africa countries. ASUU others demands are; university autonomy, 26% budgetary allocation to education sector as recommended by UNESCO and the reinstatement of the 49 unjustly sacked lecturers at University of Ilorin in 2001 by the Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.
ASUU’s decision to suspend the strike was brought about by the government’s assurance of its commitment to address all the issues raised by the union. However, one of the major demands of the union is the unconditional reinstatement of their 49 colleagues unjustly sacked at the University of Ilorin in 2001, by the Prof. Oba AbdulRaheem and Professor Shamsideen Amali led administration respectively, in the institution. It was during their reign as Vice-Chancellors that the institution had it worst administration and recorded the worst attacks ever on the rights of students and lecturers alike in the history of the University. Today, they have both left office of the Vice Chancellor of UNILORIN, leaving indeed a gloomy indelible mark as their trade mark, this is already telling on the former under whose tenure the lecturers were sacked. It would be recalled that Prof. Abdulraheem Oba was one of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s nominee recently pencilled down for a Ministerial appointment from Kwara State, but for the outcry of the general public including the DSM against his nomination, led to his name being dropped from the list.
The government and ASUU have gone back to the negotiation table. The crux of the matter now is that this fragile Yar’Adua’s government is calling for patience and understanding, so that it will, just like Obasanjo administration, dubiously review the agreement.
We wish to say that this antic is not in any way different from what obtained under the better forgotten Obasanjo era, whose penchant for repudiating agreement and treating the nation’s educational sector with levity knows no bound. Hence, ASUU should not be caught off guard by this antic of a so-called new government pretending to have a human face. The government is systematically hatching its plan including blackmail, diversionary tactics, divide and rule etc to break the resolve of the union on the need to revamp the sector.
The SUN Newspaper aptly captures it in its editorial on July 8, 2007 ” Other carrots dangled by the government to the university teachers is the recognition of the peculiarity of the work of university scholars and the need to remove them from the civil service framework especially as it relates to pensions and consolidation matters”.
However, it is instructive to state that while the struggle of ASUU is commendable, the task of revamping the education sector should involve the various staff union in the sector (i.e. ASUU, ASUP COEASU, SSANU, NASU, SSAUTHRIAI, NUT etc.) including the Nigerian students. There should be joint action among the staff unions and the students with formation of a formidable force that can give the required strength to the struggle. And as against the tactics of ASUU isolating itself in terms of propaganda and programme of actions to reach out to mass of people during any of its struggle, there is need for it to take the struggle beyond the four walls of campuses by organising public rallies and symposia in market places, work places, religious places etc in order to enlist physical participation of the working people and to mount a political pressure on the government. This should also include a national day of action to protest the ailing education sector, where all stakeholders will be mobilized to partake actively in the struggle to salvage the education.
Successive government’s brazen and shameless violation of the agreement is not unconnected with its characteristic contemptible attitude to the education in line with the IMF/World Bank dictated neo-liberal policies of privatisation and commercialisation of education and other social services.
Our institutions lack adequate and necessary facilities for qualitative studies like libraries, laboratories, classrooms, portable water supply etc. The institutions are run like military barracks with brazen infringement on the rights of the students and members of staff to freedom of expression, association, etc. where authorities are hell bent on suppressing popular and genuine struggles of students and workers for better academic and welfare conditions.
Contrary to government’s claim that it cannot all alone fund public education, thereby abdicating its constitutional and social responsibility of adequately funding the education sector, it should be noted that the bane is not unavailability of funds by the government, but the corruption in high places, especially by top government officials who have stolen and are still stealing the money that could have been used to fund education and other sectors. For instance, on the front page of the Guardian Newspaper of Monday 23rd, 2007, there was a screaming caption “Federal govt, states share N430 billion”, the revenue generated from oil and sundry minerals: non-minerals and from Value Added Tax (VAT) for the month of June, 2007, yet it claims it has no money. And as if that was not enough, page 17 of the same paper has another shocking revelation that the Yar’Adua’s government has perfected plans to dip hands into the country’s foreign reserve to enrich private pockets of political office jobbers and cronies alike, a whopping sum of $8.8 billion (about 1.1 trillion naira) under the guise of sharing money amongst the three tiers of government, shamelessly without tying it to any national programme such as health, education, agriculture, infrastructural development, or employment generation, that will benefit the mass majority of the poor people. So, a government like this cannot be in anyway different from that of former President Obasanjo, because they have a common goal of implementing pro-rich, anti-poor capitalist policies. The difference between the regimes might just be that of six and half a dozen.
Mass of the Nigerian students and their poor working parents are left to bear the brunt of paying through their noses, as various authorities imposed obnoxious charges and fees on the students. This has made education the exclusive preserve of children of the few rich and treasury looters. Moreover, the sorry state of our institutions, from the primary to tertiary, is not a concern to the ruling elite since they can afford to send their wards to private schools or abroad to acquire good education.
We reiterate that education is expected to be funded from the abundant resources of the country and the tax payer’s money. Lasting panacea would not be attained if we fail to recognize that corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of the system including the education sector, hence, our campaign for proper and adequate funding of the sector will be meaningless if we fail to demand democratic management of our institutions with the elected representatives of the students and academic and non-academic staff to every decision-making organ of the institutions.
Similarly the point has to be stressed that only by linking this struggle with the overall struggle of the working people against the entire IMF/ World Bank induced neo-liberal policies of deregulation of essential services, privatisation of commanding heights of economy, commercialisation of social services, etc can adequate resources be available on a permanent basis to guarantee basics of life for all and not just for a few as it is presently.
More than before, we now need a working people’s political party that can serve as the unifying point for the aspirations and yearnings of all the oppressed and pauperized people of the country, with a clear cut socialist programme of action leading to formation of a genuine workers and poor peasants’ government in place of capitalist economic and political robbers.