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ASUU must persevere for the sake of our university system

24 October 2013, 11:55

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria have been on an indefinite strike action. Its been 3 months now and the students have been at home causing all sorts of mischief that their idle minds can conjure.

ASUU is asking for a about $7.5billion over 3 years to fix our university system. It is contained in the details of an agreement freely entered with the government in 2012 but which negotiations started more than a decade ago. A conservative figure considering the major mess the system has been but which the government can't seem to find the will to address. 

We need to digress a bit here with some salient facts about the Nigerian university system culled from the report of the Federal Government Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities:

1. The average Teacher : Student ratio in our universities is as high as 1 : 363 for the National Open University

2. Take away the private schools, no current Nigerian university is able to accommodate 35% of its student population

3. The research capacities of the Nigerian university is virtually non-existent as evidenced by the lack of visible papers published by lecturers and the near absence of patent registrations in the past decade

4. Laboratories are so ill equipped that in many schools, a cooking stove takes the place of a bunsen burner

5. There are no wholesale computerised libraries in any Nigerian university

6. In some cases, such as Plateau state university, as much as 74% of the teaching staff are visiting fellows

7. The majority of the teaching staff (44%) are junior lecturers with over 57% of the entire teaching staff without a doctorate degree. As a matter of fact, only 7 universities have up to 60% of their teaching staff with PhD. 

8. There are 2 times more non teaching staff (77,500) than there are teaching staff

9. 76% of Nigerian universities use well as source of water, 45% use pit latrine, 67% of students use the bushes as toilet

10. The current Nigerian President was a university teacher and should otherwise know better. Yet, the present government have not deemed these issues strong enough to declare a state of emergency in the sector and direct much needed funds to the system

You can get a summary of the major issues by clicking here.

In 2011, this same government deemed it wise to declare a state of emergency the power sector. It caused both the ministry of finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria to disburse well over $8billion to the sector to initiate new power generating plants along with privatizing the distribution companies and generally improving power supply amongst others. As at today, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria no longer exists. Serious progress has been made in bringing private sector led initiatives and more importantly, investments into the sector. The government realized over $2 billion from the sale of the distribution companies (DISCOS); it has also eased its burden by paying off the entirety of the current workforce in the DISCOS and successfully handed them over to the new owners. Considering their profile, these new owners are expected to pull funds into the sector from every continent on this planet.

Also in May 2013, the President declared a state of emergency in the three northern states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno, in the wake of wanton destruction of lives and property in the area by the dreaded Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram. The government sent in the troops to curtail the violence. It caused the National Assembly to approve a Bill to finance the operations of the army. Today, the horrendous living in northern Nigeria is waning. Boko Haram is on the back foot and though the war is far from over, there is considerable relief among the populace from knowing that the government is doing its best to ameliorate the situation.

There is therefore, the need to draw from these examples for obvious reasons. Whenever the leaders of this country have found it necessary to be proactive in generating results, they have done so with aplomb and with considerable success. Why such a will is missing for our stagnating academic sector is a mystery, particularly, when the government is led by a former teacher.

ASUU is asking for about $7.5 billion spread over 3 years to tackle the rot in the university system. A rot that is so deeply entrenched that it stinks to the highest heavens. It is not an amount that is anywhere mind-boggling as the $ 1billion expended so far by the government in a phoney amnesty programme for a handful of ex-Niger Delta militants. These individuals have undergone training in various fields in all corners of the world. A superior education, no doubt, to the miseducation imparted in our students in our own universities. A head honcho of the militants, Tompolo, had as recently as last month regaled us with his new found wealth in the form of a private jet acquired at the cost of $13.3 million from the various concessions of the government to his vast business interests. Another one continues to be so enamoured by the charities of the government that he now persistently threatens the rest of the nation with anarchy should his benefactor not be reelect for a 2nd term in 2015.

Again, I ask, what is $7.5 billion over 3 years for the entire 112-odd universities in Nigeria compared to the wastes from the government's many ostentatious spendings. On average, the amount is still less than the $6.2Billion so far appropriated and spent by a group of 469 people in the National Assembly in the last 8 years. This is a group that spends about 6 months in a year on recess with each member taking home a basic salary of $1 million each per year. It is also significantly less than this government had been willing to spend on a scandalous petroleum subsidy scheme before Nigerians revolted and got them to react. $7.5 billion is nothing compared to the official-backed oil bunkering programmes across the Niger Delta. Oil production figures last month was reported to average 1.2 million barrels per day compared to 2.5 million projected in the national budget. No one can tell me that a government will sit idly by and watch half it's earnings go unaccounted for without major operations disruptions nor declarations of force majeure. Oil bunkering excuses are the new scam. We must be pathetically dumb if we think this is acceptable.

This government can claim that $7.5 billion is a huge amount that is difficult to access yet it is sitting on over $46 billion in foreign reserves as at August 2013. The Nigerian government is supremely capable of coughing up $7.5 billion without the unnecessary drama. ASUU has asked nothing of this government except to meet the obligations in various agreements it willingly entered with them between 2002 and 2009 and which, it has consistently broken. What is most damaging is the effort to politicize their legitimate demands

As a recruiter, I am always amazed at the quality of fresh upper credit graduates who cannot recall minor details in their project's thesis, which they claim to have personally carried out barely months prior. I can still recall my trauma when when a chemical engineer was asked to define water as a chemist and he failed! Scan through any number of blogs in the social media and you will be left seething from the poor grammar that ooze from "learned" Nigerians. There has to be a point when right thinking people will need to take a decision and say, "Enough!". And for this purpose, ASUU must persevere.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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