As a former active participant in the academic life of University of Ibadan for more than three decades, I cannot in good conscience fault the current Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) leadership for embarking on series of strikes to back the demand for improvement in the university system in our country.
In fact, it is heart-warming to listen to the confession of the Federal Minister of Education when he said that the government has failed ASUU. It is obvious to any discerning Nigerian that our university system is on the verge of collapse due to monumental neglect of our universities by successive military and civilian administrations in this country. The neglect has led to the establishment of many ill-equipped private universities all over the country which pay premium to what the students can pay rather than the attainment of high academic standard.
The country inherited from Britain at independence a sterling university system which was comparable to the best in the world. The standard at University College Ibadan latter known as University Of Ibadan and other universities that followed in the sixties and seventies was very high.
The environment for learning was very conducive in these universities as libraries were equipped with latest books and journals; the laboratories had the state-of-the-art equipment for meaningful research. University campuses were like monasteries in term of serenity, orderliness and beauty. They were all then beacons of all that we’re good in the society.
The well trained students of these universities had easy passage to postgraduate training in overseas universities in Britain and USA effortlessly. It was at this time that Ibadan established itself as the premier centre for African History through its world-renowned Ibadan School of History and global leader in haemoglobin and natural products research in its department of Chemistry. The University College Hospital at Ibadan (UCH) was the best in Africa and one of the leaders in the Commonwealth of Nations.
The reputation of University of Ibadan was so high that in 1987 at the University of Western Australia in faraway Australia, a student from a lesser known university in Nigeria was admitted to do straight PhD instead of going through the Masters programme just because I intervened that the standard in this student’s university was comparable to that at Ibadan. Strikes at universities were very rare in those days. The pristine situation in our universities gradually deteriorated during the long stay of the military in the governance of our country. The university system was emasculated through shortage of fund, unwarranted interference in the university governance, unbridled expansion in the student population without corresponding increase funding and expansion of infrastructure and the taking over of hitherto regional universities by the federal military government which in effect made the government to bite more than it could chew.
The net results of these ill-thought government actions led among others to a decline in the academic standard, deterioration in learning environment, overcrowded classrooms, empty bookshelves in the libraries, desolate laboratories and a neglect and underfunding of research activities. The morale of staff and students sagged and as a result brilliant academicians left our shores for other countries where academic activities are cherished. The reputation of our universities as citadels of learning with high academic standard fell in international academic arena. Our students are now denied automatic admission to postgraduate training in overseas universities where they are asked to undergo remedial courses. This happened in my presence at the University of Fort Hare Alice South Africa in 2001 when a student with an honours degree from a first generation university was asked despite my intervention to join the honour class for a year before he could proceed to a Masters programme.
We are again at the cross road with present ASUU strike. The current government with the mantra of change should take the bull by the horn by taking measures that will permanently put an end to incessant ASUU strikes, so that we may have in place of strike in our universities, stability in the university calendar, efficiency and academic excellence.
(Edited By Olamide Michael)