WHEN you have two obstinate bodies confronting each other, over issues that should normally be settled across the table, with mutual respect and understanding, what you get is the concomitant effect of what is happening in our universities today.
There is the African partnership with Japan, expressed through TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development), a donor conference through which the Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, is promising a $30 billion aid, over three years, to Africa. The caveat here is that Japan is choosing what areas the money will be expended on, especially as it concerns the green energy.
With the Russia-Ukraine war and other conflicts, the whole world is targeting the resources of Africa. With 30% of the world’s oil mineral reserves, a strong emerging market for commodities and 54 countries log bloc in the United Nations, the continent is now a battle ground for the Super Powers, and Japan is in support of a seat for Africa in the UNSC (United Nations Security Council). Former Prime minister Shinzo Abe says: “We should not be aid recipients but partners for growth “.
In this partnership and movement forward, where does our intellectuals, university lecturers that make up the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, fit in? We have just received the cheering news – we hope this is for real – about the stoppage of fuel import from the middle of next year 2023. We must begin to reflect on why the different pledges made by government, in the past, did not materialise.
Is it the lack of political will, deliberate sabotage by the people in charge, misplaced positioning of personnel or outright apathy of leadership? We must also look at ASUU and our various research centers in all of these; are they complicit in our cumulative failures? There is a dearth of foreign currencies in our land because of the massive expenditure on fuel importation, resulting from our inability to keep our refineries running; what is ASUU doing about this?
Successive governments have been running below par since the military handed over in year 1999. What has been ASUU ‘s role in this? Our electoral reforms are still hanging and we have not seen ASUU put up a strong resistance against a system that does not guarantee the putting forward of best candidates for elections.
We are forced to bother about the role of ASUU in our society, as we keep churning out graduates that cannot fit into the employable labour market, year in and year out. We cannot get electricity power to work efficiently in this country and ASUU is not bothered about coming up with solutions.
Perhaps, more worrisome is the uni-dimensional manner ASUU is going about solving its problems, that of the easy way out, a lazy man’s approach, that of strike and stoppage of work, knowing very well that if there is stoppage of work, there will be no productivity. And, this has been the biggest albatross for ASUU in their struggle against a recalcitrant Federal Government, one that is not sensitive to the people’s plight and feelings, one that is ready to collapse the building on everyone’s head for personal interests. The strike keeps going on, by overwhelming everybody, both the government and ASUU, especially the parents and students.
When you look critically into the basis of these strikes, you find ego and politics. ASUU understands that government cannot meet its demands because of its inability to generate the required income, and the government is not ready to allow ASUU to operate freely because of politics; if they do, they will incur the wrath of the people, especially with regards to fees.
Definitely, we cannot continue with this unhealthy ding-dong affair between ASUU and the Federal Government; we must look for a holistic and final solution to put ASUU ‘s perpetual restlessness to rest and for our children to enjoy uninterrupted education calendars. As it is, the unbecoming behaviour of people in government has given rise to a very obdurate ASUU. Our solution must hold both the Federal Government and ASUU to account.
Government must be ready to commit according to its resources and allow ASUU to use creative ways to make up the difference so that the universities can run according to the required standards. With the arrays of intellectuals in our universities, it is expected that they will come up with noble means of dealing with government, shorn of the incessant strikes that we have been witnessing.
In this light, I will go for Professor Jide Osuntokun’s submission. According to him: “What ASUU should now be fighting for is university autonomy. Once university autonomy is granted, each university should cost what it will take to educate students across all disciplines in the universities in a differentiated school fees and come up with economic costs”. If government is sincere in its determination to see the end of ASUU strikes, it must yield to this recommendation.
It is clear that, over the years, some people in government have been using the university control as a way of manifesting their political influence; some others see it as a cash cow which they must hold on to; government must be willing to let go. Also, government must be ready to fund research and development in our universities and higher institutions; it is something that we must deliberately cultivate if we are to survive this age of technology.
Today, Israel is devoting as much as four percent of its annual budget on research and development, R&D, and they are enjoying the rewards of their investments through collaborations with multinational companies and other countries that desiring to key into the benefits of these researches.
This should be our direction; any amount spent on education, research and development is never a waste. The challenge a lot of people have with ASUU now, is that, with the array of intellectuals available to them, they have, over the years, not been able to find innovative ways of dealing with their problems with a recalcitrant Federal Government.
In the long run, they ran into overdrive, with things done in such a way that they have unnecessarily lost the support of the people. They are now being portrayed as cold, calculated, unfeeling and greedy for their cause alone and not in the interests of the people and country. And, the Federal Government is capitalising on this with its stonewalling attitude.