BREAKING: Another ASUU Strike Looms
Information reaching Ibom Focus says that Another ASUU Strike Looms
After eight dreary months, Nigerian lecturers who were determined to revamp the Nigerian university system have been forced back into their laboratories and classrooms, there to teach their bemused students who have surely forgotten all the lessons they had learned over the last year and more. That, in short is the story of the just concluded ASUU strike which grounded the ship of our tertiary education for far too long. Even now however, no single step towards the build up of a viable tertiary education system has been taken. Another opportunity to prepare a blueprint for a viable tertiary education system has been lost irretrievably and the future of the nation appears now to be so heavily compromised that it can be said that all hope is lost, at least for another generation and when a human generation is put at thirty years, that is a very long period of time within which virtually nothing can be achieved in the Nigerian sector of academia.
Whatever has happened over the last six months, the outcome is null. There have been two major sides talking to each ither or perhaps more appropriately, at each other but unhappily, not with each other. The need for justification on both sides was so strong that that was all that mattered. The opportunity created by the situation was ruthlessly disregarded and the overblown egos of those operating under the protection of Federal might simply rolled over anything that was seen as opposition to massively entrenched government positions. Under such circumstances both parties simply dug deeper Into their trenches and lobbed verbal grenades at each other from time to time if only so as to keep each other honest on the surface. At this point, one simply has to ask, what us the point of education, especially tertiary education in Nigeria? The answer is needed quite urgently but it will not be provided never theless. The manner of the interaction between ASUU and government was, quite unfortunately openly adversarial and unproductive.
At this point in time, we should be talking in terms of where our educational institutions are heading rather than how much or how little we should be paying those that work within the university system. We have been talking about this for far too long without coming to any agreement about how much our lecturers are worth, probably because we really do not have any clear idea of what they should be doing to earn their salaries. Lecturers teach, carry out or pretend to carry out research and carry out some ill defined public services. For these we pay them a salary which according to them is not commensurate with the effort they put into their work. However, unless we are absolutely sure about what is expected of them, whatever they receive is pure guess work.
Lecturers work within a defined salary structure within the public service and it should be possible to situate their wage demands within the generality of the public service wage structure. To become a bona fide lecturer in Nigeria today, you are required to have successfully passed through a doctorate degree programme, a project which can consume as many as seven years after graduation. Under normal circumstances, it is a course of very rigorous training and the salary commanded by a fresh university lecturer must at least be comparable to what a civil servant earns after seven years of work within the service. Being accepted into a post-graduate programme is not something that can be taken for granted and it should be rewarded adequately in which case, entering the university service at the lowest point, as a Graduate Assistant should be seen to score some points higher than those who enter the civil service with first degrees. In this way entering into an academic career will be seen to carry some financial advantages, making it more attractive than taking up appointments in other sectors of government service. In other words, people must be encouraged to think of a career in academics over other sectors of government service. Indeed this is what was the case in those days when our first generation universities were being built up and this is why they were able to attract the best brains of their generation. And until Babangida’s unfortunate intervention in Nigeria’s affair this is what was the staus quo. True, lecturers were not paid fabulous salaries but there were other perquisites such as heavily subsidised quarters which were set in salubrious areas within which they could bring up thier children, not to talk of staff schools within which their children had access to first rate primary school education within a serene environment. All those attractions have now gone with the wind and lecturers are left with nothing but their salaries which have been diminishing in value with every passing year. Thirty yesrs ago, lecturers cried out in anguish over the paucity of their take home pay and for all those thirty years, they have have been studiously ignored so that their visibility in society has all but disappeared. How then can new lecturers be attracted into the field except of course for those who cannot find a job In other more lucrative areas? Even if it is for this reason alone lecturers should be paid more than they are being paid at this time.
The university system has expanded almost beyond reason in the last twenty years and the expansion is even now, gathering pace because as everyone knows, there are a myriad would be students who are still scrambling for places within our overstretched universities.
The admission process to Nigerian public universities are so fluid that even the best students are not guaranteed admission to the university of their choice nor the courses they wish to study. In other words, tbere is no way if knowing how our university places are filled in an organised manner. There is therefore no attempt to match enrolment data with the needs of the country. Medical schools, Law departments, Pharmacy schools and engineering departments are opening up all the time whilst schools dedicated to the production of agricultural scientists are being given priority even though nobody has bothered to find out how many of the products of these institutions are needed to drive the nation’s economy in the desired direction. Everyone of these specialists that is not adsorbed into the economy represents a monumental waste of resources. Our economy is not so developed that doctors can be utilised as tailors or pharmacists decide to become photographers in the absence of a job that matches their expertise. That any of these trained professional actually leave the country in search of so called greener pastures must be regarded as a tragedy because each of them represents a severe loss on the investment which the country has made in training them. The loss of each and every one of them represents very expensive foreign aid to countries which because of their advanced status should be giving us development aid. This is an unacceptable drain on our resources since the education of these specialists did not come cheap.
There was a great deal of wailing in respect of students who had been sent out of school during the prolonged ASUU strike because as prevailing wisdom had it, the students were sat at home twiddling their thumbs and doing nothing thereby opening them to all kinds of mischief. This was a great challenge to the government which was visibky uncomfortable with that situation. Everyone wanted the students to go back to school although not at all cost. The irony of this situation which was lost on virtually everybody was that even if the students went back to school to complete their studies, they were going to be confronted with a long period of idleness and frustration as they searched endlessly for work after the completion of their studies. After all, nobody had thought of a plan through which they were to be given the opportunity of landing a job which was commensurate with their hard earned expertise. The point to be made here is that we have been producing graduates for several decades without a thought as to how they could be made useful to themselves and to the society which somehow managed to produce them in the face of all manner of challenges. This is what all the interested parties; students, lecturers, university administrators, governments, professionals, artisans, parents should be talking about whilst the universities were closed. All that was on the minds of everyone was to get back to school to complete the academic requirements for whatever semester they were on before the commencement of the strike so thst they can be deemed worthy of the award of a degree.
One which in the end may only be useful as an irem of decoration of a conveniently placed wall or in the best case scenario, a passport to greener pastures. The conversation which we should be having is about how to build a viable academic structure has not even begun and this being the case, it is only a matter of time before the lecturers declare another strike and we are right back to square one, to begin again with another government which following the example of all the governments before it, will fail to bring any fundamental change to our beleaguered university system.