On July 2nd 2013, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for the umpteenth time since 2009 went on strike over the refusal of the Federal Government to honour the 2009 agreement on the funding of Universities and a subsequent January 2012 MOU. The grounding of the Universities and paralysis of all academic and social activities to say the least is inimical to the long term development aspirations of Nigeria.
In today’s world that is knowledge driven, it is a wonder that almost two months into the ASUU strike, the government is still fiddling while the Ivory towers are ‘burning’.
It would be recalled that the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement was the culmination of three years of negotiation following a similar strike by university lecturers in 2006. Since 1991, the struggle by Nigerian lecturers to ensure adequate funding in order to arrest the rot in the Nigerian tertiary education has been on with hardly any year going by without the lecturers going on strike to either demand that government implements the agreement reached or calling for a review of the agreements.
Much more disturbing is the predilection of the government for reneging on agreements freely entered into with university teachers as was the case when the university sector was rocked by protracted industrial unrest between 1994 and 1996 as a result of the government’s refusal to honour the terms of the FGN/ASUU agreement of September 1992. The current round of strike is also a product of the federal government’s refusal to honour the terms of the 2009 agreement entered into with ASUU. These acts of bad faith by successive governments in refusing to honour the terms of agreements freely entered into more than anything else, has accounted for the intractable crisis in the nation’s university system.
Beyond the immediate implications of government’s unilateral repudiation of the terms of agreements freely entered into, is the larger implication for the economy and society at large in terms of the sanctity of agreements, contracts and treaties signed by the Nigerian government. A government that habitually reneges on agreements freely entered into with its citizens cannot be counted upon to uphold the sanctity of contracts, treaties or agreements. Little wonder then that all the jamborees of the government in the name of attracting foreign investors end up yielding little or no result since no serious investor will invest in a country where the sanctity of agreements or contract means nothing.
Fundamentally, ASUU’s demand has been on the need to arrest the falling standards and ensure the quality of tertiary education which has been generally acknowledged as having fallen beyond imagination. The report of the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities (CNANU) set up by the Federal government vividly captures this rot.
The struggles of ASUU to attract adequate funding as well as qualitative tertiary education has been on despite the existence of a statutory body created specifically for the purpose of ensuring the quality of tertiary education in Nigeria and advising government on issues of remunerations in the university system. The National Universities Commission (NUC) has a duty as part of its functions as stated in its enabling act to ‘… prepare periodic master plans for the balanced and coordinated development of all universities in Nigeria’, ‘lay down minimum academic standards in the federal republic of Nigeria and accredit degrees and other academic awards’, ‘to ensure that quality is maintained within the academic programmes of the Nigerian university system’, ‘to advise the Federal Government on the financial needs, both recurrent and capital of university education in Nigeria…’, ‘to undertake periodic review of the terms and conditions of service of personnel engaged in the universities and to make recommendations thereon to the Federal Government as appropriate’.
It is quite clear from the foregoing therefore, that the incessant agitations of ASUU is a direct fallout of the embarrassing abdication of responsibility by the NUC. Clearly, it has not been up and doing with regards to its primary duty to the Nigerian university system. The question in view of the monumental and disastrous failure is, is there any basis for the continued existence of the NUC?.
Incessant strikes by ASUU over the very issues that are squarely within the remit of the NUC and for which it ought to have properly advised the government on, clearly shows that the NUC has over the years failed woefully in the discharge of its primary function of ensuring standards and advising governments on the needs of the universities.
The colossal failure of NUC to perform its primary functions and save the nation the current embarrassing state of affairs in the university system that has necessitated ASUU embarking on strike is a product of NUC’s abandonment of its primary duty of regulation, ensuring standards and calling the attention of the government to the worsening decay in tertiary education in the country. As recently revealed, the NUC, which ordinarily should be focussed in regulating standards in the university system was said to be enmeshed in contract awards, management of scholarship funds and directly managing the affairs of universities in clear violation and breach of extant laws. This, to say the least, clearly explains why the NUC has failed woefully in saving the nation from its current woes through timely advice on the critical state and needs of the Nigerian university system as well making proposals on how to avert the current state of rot in the system.
Given the grave tragedy that incessant strike actions constitute to the immediate and long term economic and social wellbeing of the nation, we, the undersigned civil society organisations, call on the federal government to, with immediate effect-
1. Demonstrate the requisite political will to respect the terms of the agreement which it freely entered into with ASUU. This is, to us, the hallmark and minimum requirement for a responsible and credible government.
2. Re-open the collapsed negotiations with ASUU as quickly as possible.
3. Set in motion with immediate effect , all the mechanisms necessary for meeting the funding requirements of the FGN/ASUU agreement of 2009 including those that have fallen due.
4. Stop forthwith all efforts at derailing the interventionist agencies in stabilising the Nigerian tertiary education system.
5. Ensure that the extant laws regulating the operations of the TETFund are respected by all and sundry including but not limited to the NUC.
6. To immediately ensure that the NUC and other regulatory agencies within the tertiary education sector forthwith remain and operate within the ambit of their primary functions of regulating and setting standards for the university and tertiary education system and desist from getting enmeshed in functions that are best left to the universities/tertiary institutions/other relevant agencies and outside their core mandates.
7. Ensure the full implementation of the report of the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities (CNANU).
1. Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC)
2. Women Organisation for Gender Issue
3. CiviI Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)
4. West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF)
5. Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Nigeria
6. National Procurement Watch Platform (NPWP)
7. Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Group (ISDMG)
8. Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN)
9. Public Interest Lawyers League
10. United Action for Democracy (UAD)
11. Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP)
12. Citizens Centre for Integrated Development and Social Rights (CCIDESOR)
13. Community Outreach for Development and Welfare Advocacy (CODWA)
14. Say No Campaign Nigeria
15. International Press Centre (IPC)
16. Coalition to Save Education in Nigeria (COSEG)
17. Feed Nigeria Initiative (FENI)
18. Greater Nigeria Movement (GNM)
19. Ethical Computing and Cyber Research Centre
20. Centre for Responsible Engagement and Patriotism