UI: Counting the losses of strike
By Sunday Saanu
So much has been spoken and written about the on-going industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), over non implementation of 2009 agreement signed by the government. Since there is more than enough blame to be shared by both government and ASUU regarding this strike that has absolutely paralysed public universities in the country, perhaps what we should be examining now is the cumulative damage that has been done. Obviously, this four-month old strike has wrecked incalculable havoc that will hunt us for many years to come! The strike, to say it plainly, is multi dimensional in impact.
As a nation, we have further lost parity of esteem in the global community of scholars. Already, we are not rated among the best. Nigerian certificate holders will be further treated with disdain, as this prolonged closure of our ivory towers does no good to our image in the knowledge driven global economy, just as we lose self confidence, thus, destroying the integrity of our public university system. Without doubt, this current strike has affected matrix of many lives negatively. Students across the country, particularly those in public universities have been unfairly treated by those who are responsible for the elongation of this strike.
Crises are normal in any society. Having challenges with our tertiary system is not the issue per se; the main problem is the management of the crisis! For goodness sake, why should a country allow a strike to fester for four months moreso when the ample of discord dates back to 2009? What has the government been waiting for? Before ASUU began the indefinite strike on July 1, how many times had government invited the union for evaluation and re-negotiation? Does it mean government did not recognise the problem before it snowballed into emergency? Clearly, the official attitude speaks volumes of our lackadaisical attitude to education as a nation!
However, using Nigeria’s premier university, University of Ibadan (UI) as a yardstick of measuring the negative impact of this particular strike, one discovers that Nigeria has substantially lost more than what could be imagined. In 2010, UI represented Nigeria to compete for the hosting right of Pan African University (PAU) along with other West Africa countries.PAU is a creation of African the Union with a mandate to train students from different Africa countries in certain core thematic areas. After a fierce battle of wits and a parade of antecedents, University of Ibadan emerged as the hub for the West Africa where Earth and Life sciences will be taught to other West Africa students. There are four other hubs elsewhere. This year; the programme for West African hub began with 74 students from different African countries who are visiting Nigeria for the first time.
Regrettably, on account of this strike, the programme has been vicariously disrupted. Those 74 foreign students have been forced to return to their respective countries. Some of them, probably, may not return to Nigeria for continuation of the programme. Africa Union which is sponsoring the programme will certainly be disappointed in Nigeria. Interestingly, while the West Africa hub in UI is being disrupted, other hubs are moving on uninterruptedly. Nigeria has definitely lost the confidence of the sponsor.
Besides, UI has hundreds of linkages with other universities across the globe. Some of these academic linkages brought many foreign students to Ibadan before the strike began. With this four-month old strike, those linkages are suffering. The implication, in the estimation of the foreign partners, may be that Nigeria is not a serious country to do business with! Complemented by our Boko Haram albatross, it is obvious that we may be isolated for indecent treatment. Coming back to UI campus, the impact of this strike is as severe as it is retrogressive. Before the strike began, the Professor Isaac Adewole-led management had planned to celebrate the 65 anniversary of the institution billed for this November with pomp and fanfare. Different committees had been set up towards a robust celebration. But with the prevailing circumstances, the 65th anniversary and the convocation ceremonies, according to a special release signed by the Registrar, Mr. Olujimi Olukoya, have been postponed till further notice.
Implications: all the programmes lined up for the anniversary are automatically put on hold, if not forever cancelled, as a result of this strike. All service providers that would have economically benefitted from the ceremony are disappointed. More importantly, graduating students who would have completed their programmes, graduated and moved on to the next phase of their lives are struck in the mud of strike! Their inability to graduate on time equally has its own implication for their lives. For instance, there are some job prospects that are age-specific. Overaged graduates will be excluded from jobs that would have otherwise changed their lives for the better. John Randolph says time is at once the most valuable and the most perishable of all our possessions. But why is the government interested in wasting the time of the future leaders?
If time flames like a paraffin stove and what burns are the minutes of our lives, what stops government from constructively engaging these seemingly indispensable university lecturers with a view to ending the strike, so as to stop wasting people’s time? Government has not treated this strike with the maximum dispatch it deserves. If it were petroleum workers that were on strike, would government have allowed the strike to drag on for four months without fuel for movement?
To our academic overlords, I think the best luck consists in knowing when to get up and go home. It is high the ASUU heeded the appeal of many eminent Nigerians that have been begging. Yes, ASUU has presented a good case, but since these problems did not come by in a day, it should not be expected to be solved overnight. All national problems cannot be resolved under one administration. President Jonathan should be pitied given the Boko Haram onslaught he is facing. In the interest of the helpless students who are bearing the brunt of the offence they did not commit, ASUU should have a rethink.
Saanu is of the University of Ibadan