Last week, most major cities across the country were in turmoil following a two-day protest by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). The protest was organised in solidarity with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which has been on strike for five months and yet counting. Because in those five months, university undergraduates and post-graduate students in most public universities have been at home, most Nigerians were in sympathy with the protesters. For us, we hold that government needs to take urgent steps to end the ASUU strike.
Indeed, the longer the strike lasts, the greater the danger to our national development as it will affect the quality of graduates, and these are persons who would head different sectors of the national economy in years to come. There are also threats of strike by other sectors of tertiary education like the staff unions of polytechnics and colleges of education. While these challenges are not new, they are getting exacerbated by the day. Only two days ago, ASUU rolled over its strike by another four weeks!
We urge the Federal Government and other relevant stakeholders to take urgent steps to ensure that our undergraduates and post-graduate students get back to school. The present delay is dangerous, as it also exposes students to diverse temptations. After all, the cliché that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop is factual. The rise in cybercrime, otherwise known the yahoo boys syndrome, is likely linked to the delay in resolving the ASUU strike and others the tertiary system.
Unfortunately, the elite do not feel the pain, as their children are mostly studying abroad at a huge cost to the nation – if only in the use of scarce foreign exchange. Last week, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) reported that $378million dollars got spent in five months on foreign education. Such huge foreign exchange outflow no doubt adds to the economic challenges facing the country; after all, the present free fall in the value of the naira is a result of all manners of pressure on the national currency.
For the elite class, particularly public office holders, whose children are comfortably studying abroad, the prolonged ASUU strike sounds like a distant challenge, unlike the case with majority of Nigerians whose children are at home, wasting away precious time. Like salt rubbed on the public’s injury, pictures of these elite celebrating the graduation of their children abroad often regale the media space, whereas those left in care as public servants idle away.
We hope the Federal Government takes to heart the two-weeks grace period given by the NLC to resolve the ASUU strike. Hopefully, Minister of Education Adamu Adamu would work with a reported directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that government reaches a resolution with ASUU in earnest. Considering the challenges presently faced by the national economy, a shutdown by way of national strike could push it further south into recession.
We urge the Federal Government not to delay until the expiration of Labour’s grace period before scrambling to broker an understanding with it. The Nigerian public is disenchanted that while government claims it has no money to meet industrial demands, officials are being accused and arraigned for allegedly misappropriating humongous sums that could substantially meet the demands by ASUU. President Buhari, already in the twilight of his tenure, should worry about his legacy and take steps to resolve the ASUU strike.
On their part, ASUU and its sympathizers must tone down their rhetoric and make genuine concessions to end the strike. The comparison of the pro-ASUU labour rally to the better forgotten #ENDSARS protest that mutated into a grave threat to national security should be avoided. It is in the common interest of Nigerians that the ASUU crisis and others in the tertiary education system are resolved amicably.