Protecting public universities through strikes

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The president, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, joined other Nigerians to condemn the use of strikes to compel the government to honour agreements. He, however, said strikes were the only language government understood to meet public demands.

Ogunyemi, who spoke after the union suspended itsthree-month old strike, recently said it was never the desire of ASUU to usestrike as tool for agitation.

According to him, it was regrettable and painful thatindustrial action is the only language successive governments since 1980understood to meet public demands in virtually all sectors.

Comrades and compatriots, as we have always argued, thelast thing ASUU members love doing is to cause disruption in the smoothintellectual engagements with colleagues, friends and students right on ouruniversity campuses.

ASUU is strongly convinced that if academics fail to fightthe cause of university education, the fate that befell public primary andsecondary schools would soon become the lot of the public university system inNigeria.

ASUUs advocacy on the need to stem the continued slideinto rot and decay in public universities since the 1980s has fallen on deafears.

Our experience, as a trade union, shows that successivegovernments in Nigeria always entered into negotiated agreements only toplacate those pleading the cause.

This proclivity of the Nigerian ruling class, irrespectiveof which wing of the insensitive stock they belong, must continually betracked, engaged and resisted by all people of goodwill.

Chairman ASUU,University of Ibadan, Dr Deji Omole, aligned with Ogunyemi, when he addressedASUU congress of the university.

Omole said the association would not allow the ruling eliteto destroy the heritage of the poor which is qualitative public universityeducation.

He said that the strike was borne out of genuine andpatriotic commitment to ensure a better future for children of the masses andby extension, Nigeria.

He dismissed the allegation being bandied by the governmentthat the strike was political.

How can our strike be political when there are matters thatyou as government signed and you failed to fulfill your promises?

ASUU, during the three-month strike, rejected the membershipof Mr Wale Babalakin, as leader of the federal government negotiation team.

Omole, who spoke on the issue, said that Babalakin wasrejected by the union because he was an interested party, as he is pursuing aprivate university license and will do everything to jeopardise public educationfunding.

Omole noted that a situation whereby two members in thefederal government team are pursuing their private university licensesindicates that they will never support public funding of universities.

Babalakin, however, responded to some of the allegationslevelled against the federal governments negotiation team.

He said that Nigerians deserved quality education, whichmust not be compromised as a result of inadequate funding, which has been thesituation in the last 30 years.

Babalakin debunked allegations that his team suggested a feehike in universities, explaining that the committees scope of work had nothingto do with fees payable in schools.

He said that his team believed that no Nigerian should bedeprived of university education because of his/her financial circumstance.

He stressed that his team and ASUU were in agreement on theneed for improved education funding but differed on where the funding shouldcome from.

He explained that while ASUU wanted the government to fundeducation alone, his team believed funding should come from multiple sources,such as the government, private sector, education bank, students loan schemeand scholarships, among others.

In spite of protestation by ASUU about promoters of privateuniversities being members of federal government negotiation team, Chief AfeBabalola, founder of Afe Babalola University, backed the suspended strike.

Babalola said that the federal government has consistentlyunderfunded the education sector with meagre allocation of seven per cent ofthe national budget.

He spoke at a ceremony to mark the 9th anniversary of AfeBabalola University.

According to him, it is worrisome that the government couldearmark seven per cent budgetary allocation to fund education, when the UnitedNations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommended26 per cent.

I have been pro-chancellor and chairman of council,University of Lagos, and I knew that the universities lack facilities andequipment to be of high standard.

In our universities, students are not resident in schools,some stayed outside the lecture theatres to receive lectures.

Some even use forest as toilets, lecturers are not paid asand when due, all these are intolerable.

The federal government must look for funds to make ouruniversities be of high standard, Babalola said.

He said that ASUU was right to embark on the three monthssuspended strike.

ASUUs case is strong this time, and I support them inspite of the fact that I have been criticising them in the recent past, but Istand with them this time.

ASUU alleged that over 70 per cent of the projects in ouruniversities are uncompleted for lack of funds and corruption, this is wrong.

In Afe Babalola University, we complete our projects intime. We built our planetarium within six months. Some federal universitiesstarted theirs 10 years ago and they have not completed it, he lamented.

Analysts and commentators say that Ogunyemi was right thatif care was not taken, public universities could collapse like governmentsecondary and primary schools.

They listed prominent public secondary schools ofyester-years like Government College Umuahia, Hope Waddel Secondary School,Calabar, Methodist College, Uzuakoli, Government College, Ibadan, IbadanGrammar School and Barewa College, Zaria, just to mention a few that have gonethe same way.

They queried, how many of the prominent Nigerians thatattended these schools would want their children to study in their alma mater.

They say that the same thing is now happening with publicuniversities. Many prominent and wealthy Nigerians, now prefer to send theirchildren to private universities or abroad, where date of graduation issacrosanct.

They convinced that irrespective of the pains, Nigeriansmust align with ASUU to secure the future of a large chunk of Nigerianchildren, whose parents lack the capacity for a mercantile universityeducation.

Obike Ukoh wrote for NAN

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