Nigerian academics down tools to force government to salvage decaying tertiary education

UNILAG

Both University and Polytechnic lecturers are on strike.

With the announcement of an indefinite strike by university lecturers last Monday, following in the steps of polytechnic lecturers that have downed tools since April, tertiary education in Nigeria is, again, on a near-total lockdown.

In what has become an insufferable circle of disruptions in academic activities in our institutions of learning, university lecturers are on strike because government, again, has refused to honour an agreement it signed with lecturers four years ago, the lecturers, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), have said.

“ASUU went into an agreement with the Federal Government in 2009 and into an MOU that was signed in 2012 and government has refused to honour those agreements. It was based on their refusal to honour those agreements that this strike has been called, said Adekunle Idris, the chairman of the ASUU chapter of the Lagos State University, LASU.

Violating agreements

According to the strike bulletin issued by ASUU, in the October 2009 agreement it signed with the government, the union demanded increased funding for the revitalisation of Nigerian Universities, a progressive increase in annual budgetary allocation to Education to up to 26 per cent, setting up of research and development units by companies operating in Nigeria, and the teaching and research equipment provision to universities laboratories and classrooms.

The union is also asking the government to pay academics their earned allowances to compensate for excess workloads, examination supervision, and the supervision of post-graduate programmes. The union also wants an amendment of the pension/retirement age of academics on the professorial cadre from 65 to 70 years and the reinstatement of prematurely dissolved Governing Councils.

On March 20, 2011 ASUU suspended a three-month strike after the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing to implement the 2009 agreement. The government has not been true to that MOU. The lecturers said the government has only implemented two of the commitment – reinstatement of Governing Councils and the amendment of the Retirement Age Act.

The union’s President, Professor Nasir Isa, said the government’s refusal to meet other commitment shows the “government is unprepared to address the challenges facing Nigerian University System with the urgency that is required.”

The Lagos State government, like several other states, is also yet to implement the Retirement Amendment Act. On the Earned Academic Allowance, Mr. Isa said the government has repeatedly shifted the goal post.

“What we are demanding as the earned allowance is not more than N12, 500 per person, yet government is saying it cannot afford such. They pleaded for a reduction and we decided to step the cost down to 80 per cent. That not enough, it also appealed for another reduction to 50 per cent. This 50 per cent, government said, will be a one off payment; that it was from that 50 per cent that we shall take care of everything, including the earned allowance. This did not go down well with us and so we decided to meet and take the decision we have just taken,” he said.

The condition of polytechnics is the same, if not worse.

Polytechnics too

The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, asked its member to embark on an indefinite strike due to the decrepit state of polytechnics and their complete neglect by government.

“We are faced with feeble and moribund infrastructure on our campuses, with no serious challenge to motivate research and learning.

Government’s budgetary provisions for the polytechnic sector in Nigeria reflect a deep neglect of the sector,” said Chibuzor Asomugha, President of ASUP.

Mr. Asomugha said the government has met only one of the several demands of the lecturers it agreed to meet.

“But in view of government’s failure to address all the issues listed in the union’s demands, the on-going indefinite strike shall be sustained until they are addressed. All polytechnics shall remain closed, and no form of services shall be rendered by our members throughout the period of the strike,” he added.

In its only major reaction yet to the strike, the federal government has said it is not to be blamed for the university lecturers’ strike, while keeping mum on that by polytechnic teachers.

The Minister of Education, Ruqqayatu Rufai, on Tuesday, said the government has made an offer to the lecturers but was yet to receive any response from their union. She did not comment on why the government would renege on the agreement is had with the workers.

“They are our colleagues, we meet with them, we discuss with them.

There is an offer from government. We expected to hear from them and up till now we are expecting to hear from them,” she said.

Devastating Implications

While the incessant logjam between academics of tertiary institutions and the government seems intractable, no one is in doubt of the devastating effect it has on the country’s educational sector.

Mr. Idris said due to the frequent strikes, there is a massive talent drain from government-funded institutions to private universities and universities outside the country.

Many of the private universities in Nigeria, largely owned religious institutions, charge fees that are beyond what ordinary Nigerians could afford. They are the exclusive reserve of the elites who can afford them.

Nigerians also spend huge amounts of money to send their wards to foreign universities including those of neighbouring countries.

The Vice-Chancellor of University of Port Harcourt, Nimi Briggs, said Nigerians spend N160 billion annually as tuition fees in just two Ghanaian universities. This is the equivalent of a third of the total budgetary allocation by the federal government on the entire education sector in 2013. The allocation for education is N426.5 billion.

There are over 71, 00 Nigerian students in institutions of higher learning in Ghana.

Nigerians also spend considerably more money in universities in Europe and North America.

Though education got a lion share of the Nigerian budgetary allocation (8.67 per cent) for 2013, it is still a distant call from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommended allocation of 26 per cent.

As the shutdown of institutions of higher learning continues, millions of students who have had to endure a haphazard education are the biggest losers. Many have been swindled into enrolling in unaccredited universities and bogus training institutes.

Mr. Isa said the government is merely paying lip service to restoration of the tertiary education to it former place of pride.

“The crisis affecting the Nigerian education sector stems largely from the failure of the Nigerian government, over the years, to boldly address the suffocating challenges which have stymied the development of the sector that while the government is fully aware of the enormity of the infrastructural, personal and other forms of decay at all levels,” he said.


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