ASUU vs Buhari’s Government; What Kind Of Public University Do We Want? By Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik

The interesting piece from Mr Salihu Muhammad Lukman, the DG of the Progressive Governors’ Forum is an indication that ASUU is alone in the fight for the survival of the public universities. While he analyzed the damage the ASUU strike has done to university education in Nigeria, he refused to x-ray the damage that the improper funding of the universities has done to university education. He also failed to critically evaluate the little input we had in public universities for the last 30 years. He deliberately refused to acknowledge that it is the proceeds of the ASUU strikes that gave our public universities a semblance of what is called a university today. While finding it difficult to propose a strategy that will make the government fund education, he stated that any proposal around the introduction of tuition fees to the students, may trigger another round of protests and strikes, which may receive the active support of ASUU members. His short term solution was that both ASUU and FG should produce clearly outlined sources of mobilizing the funds to implement the provisions of the December 23, 2020 agreement. He also advised his party to prioritize education and health for long term solution.


The DG is advising his party to prioritize education after 5 years in power. Meanwhile, on a Special Retreat of the Federal Executive Council on the challenges facing the education sector in Nigeria in 2017, the Minister of education requested that a state of emergency be declared in the education sector. The President Buhari in his address said his administration is determined to revitalize and effect changes in the education sector which he described as crucial to all-round national development. This is the 2020 end. And the revitalization seems to have ended at the retreat. All we can see is audio revitalization after 3 years of the retreat.

The DG quoted these words from Kabiru Danladi Lawanti ; “People have been asking me a lot of questions on the meaning of the ‘Conditional suspension of the strike’ by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). It is a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. Left to us, the strike should have continued until at least they release our withheld salaries. The level of thievery and misappropriation going on in this Buhari administration is better imagined. I never heard anywhere in our short history where a government can divert people’s salaries, but that is what these people did.” It appears the DG was particularly not pleased with the word “thievery and Buhari administration” in the statement. But how well can you describe a government that even with the dwindling resources, has funds to sustain their luxury lifestyle and to run the most expensive Democracy in the world, but has no fund for education that it described as crucial to all-round national development? As Alhaji Lai Mohammed said in August 2013 on behalf of APC, if the Federal Government reduce its profligacy and cut waste, there will be enough money to pay teachers in public universities.

The APC government was aware that they were inheriting a troubled education sector. This was obvious from their support for ASUU during the 2013 ASUU strike. That was obvious from the El-Rufai’s 62 reasons why ASUU was on strike, the Adamu Adamu’s beautiful back page column supporting the strike, the Lai Muhammed’s series of release as APC Interim publicity secretary supporting the strike action, etc. You would have thought that the APC-led government had an idea on how to end the strikes in public universities. You would have thought that the same government had developed a blueprint to address every single reason that is making ASUU go on strike and to permanently end strikes in tertiary institutions. But they seem clueless and only interested in grabbing power in 2015 and the 2013 ASUU strike gave them a chance to blow their trumpet. The tone now is that the agreement reached with Jonathan’s government is not implementable. How amazing that the agreement they once supported is no more implementable. So, what were they supporting then? It is either they lack principle or Nigerian politicians generally lack principle.

You would have expected that as soon as the government took over in 2015 it will put up a committee from public universities, the government, and other stakeholders to review the NEEDS Assessment report of public universities and the 2009 and 2013 ASUU-FG agreements. And also be mandated to figure out ways to source funds for the implementation to permanently end the strikes and funding crisis in public universities. But it wasn’t the APC-led government priority, instead, ASUU and the university systems were left alone. The union has no meaningful audience and discussion with the government from 2015 till the declaration of the ASUU-2017 strike. Sadly, the onlookers ended up blaming ASUU, not FG. An agreement was then reached, the strike suspended, and the agreement was not implemented. Consequently, led to the ASUU-2018 strike. An agreement was reached that was again not implemented and along with IPPIS enforcement on the universities, the ASUU-2020 strike came up. Of course, the Federal government won’t get the blame for not implementing the agreement but ASUU. The strike is now suspended on conditions. If the agreement is not implemented by January 31st, 2021, ASUU will be blamed and not FG. But come to think of it. What sort of government will allow a strike to last for 9 months? 9 unbelievable months. Of course, ASUU is blamed and not FG. What sort of people watch the government run an expensive democracy at the expense of education and other critical sectors and keep quiet?

It is over 5 years of Buhari’s government, the government is fully aware of the decay in the education sector- the main reason why the president and his government officials send their kids abroad for education. Yet, FG has no clear policy to reposition education and universities in particular. So, what sort of Universities do we want to have? A mere clearing houses or institutions that can compete with any other one in the world like we use to have till the 70s? Meanwhile, even with the funding crisis in the universities, the federal and state governments are still establishing more universities without funding plans. What do APC governments intend to achieve with the current establishment of more universities and other tertiary institutions? Why does ASUU need to go on strike for the universities to get attention from the government? The amazing part is that those in the government that used to be in academics are not talking. Were they overpowered as a minority in the government or just a display of hypocrisy? FG is sure our employer through the respective University Governing Council. You want your employee to be productive? You give him all that he needs to be comfortable to work perfectly well.

I got a postdoc job in Norway around May 2013 and in August 2013, I received an email that they are ready to receive me in Trondheim by 1st of Sept 2013. I eventually got there last week of September because I got d visa last week of August. I was shown my office with a brand new computer that was delivered just before my arrival. I was then taken to my lab located at SINTEF basement. And Lars said: Abdel, this is where you will be spending your 2 years and we laughed. In the lab was 2 High voltage sources, Omicron partial discharge detectors, photomultiplier tubes, CCD camera, amplifiers, oscilloscope, signal generators, pressure stuff, pressure test cell, etc. I met a complete lab that gladden my heart and mine was to use all that was in there to get results.

Then, I had an issue securing a visa for my wife to join me. I was destabilized. The department and international office quickly took it over and we got a visa for my wife within a few days. And Lars said: Now that you can bring your wife here to be with you, I hope we can now have the whole of you here to do our work. My wife joined me, they got the whole of me and we got the results that were above their expectation. NTNU Trondheim is one of the public universities in Norway. That is a working system that wants results. They provide for you your every needs and they are getting the results.

In Nigeria, very little is spent on research and teaching facilities in our universities. The undergraduate and postgraduate student laboratories are in a terrible state. Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP government put up the NEEDS Assessment committee that was chaired by Professor Mahmud Yakubu. They went around to assess the university infrastructures and they were pathetic scenes. The pictures were published. How can you train fully baked students for BSc, MSc, and PhD degrees with such facilities? Universities are supposed to be research hubs blessed with a group of solution developers. So, how do you develop solutions without facilities and funds? These were among the reasons that made the FG NEEDS Assessment committee recommended that as of 2012, 1.3 trillion naira is required to revitalize the public universities.

President Buhari’s government has put a lot of emphasis on diversification and universities are sources of foreign exchange for many countries. The UK government estimates an income of over £5 billion excluding tuition fees from international students every year. International students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. International students were reported to contribute an average of RM7.2bn (£1.4bn) to Malaysia per year via tuition fees and other living expenses. Malaysian leaders not beclouded with greed were able to see that education is not just the key to national development but also a source of foreign exchange and they key into it. Education was allocated RM50.4 billion (over NGN4.6 trillion) in Malaysia’s 2021 budget proposal. The expectation in 2020 was to hit a target of 200,000 international students in Malaysia to generate RM15.6 billion. What is education to us? What are the expectations? How do we make our university programs attractive to international scholars without facilities? How do we make our universities attractive to the rest of the world without facilities? How do we get global recognition and ranking with our laboratories having 70s teaching facilities?

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was quoted to have said: “I do not want the children of my drivers to be drivers to my children, neither do I want the children of my cooks to be cooks to my children. Nevertheless I want free access to education for all”. It is time to define the kind of education that we want, public universities inclusive. If Buhari’s government is serious about public universities revitalization and sourcing for the fund to implement that, he need to take charge like Jonathan did in 2013 and stop looking at the issue from labour point of view and ministerial conciliatory meetings. It is not too late to put up a team of “serious minded” people from the stakeholders with specific terms of reference and timeline to figure out ways to raise the fund to reposition the universities and improve the conditions of service of the university workers. That I think is the only way we can bring an end to the perennial strike actions in public universities.

 

Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik
Department of Physics
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
aaabdelmalik@abu.edu.ng

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