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How to stop strikes in Nigerian Universities

Former vice-chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Prof Isaac Adebayo Adeyemi, has identified dialogue, understanding as well as regular interactions between various unions and relevant agencies as alternatives to strike in the nation’s tertiary institutions.

Adeyemi said apart from honesty and openness from all parties, adherence to agreed terms by both parties, including actions on achievable targets at agreed timeline is imperative.

Speaking on the ongoing strike by university teachers and how to avert such occurrences, he said for peace to reign, either of the parties must stop playing the role of a ‘big master’ who must be obeyed.

He said: “It shouldn’t be ‘master- servant’ relationship on the part of the government, while the other party should desist from using innocent students as ‘pawns.’ The Federal Government has stated its commitment to university autonomy and has been partly demonstrated in the appointment of vice-chancellors. However, full autonomy should be total, including financial autonomy but with accountability on the part of management, including governing councils.”

According to the professor of Food Science, funding, the release of funds and accountability are sine qua non for the smooth running of any institution. He added that a system must be put in place that would ensure that implementation of strategic plans of each university is tied to funding pattern. “This includes internally generated revenue (IGR) that would determine overall growth, including staff promotion, students admission, infrastructural and research facilities.

Adeyemi also urged academic staff unions to respect the ideals of each university’s autonomy, bearing in mind that the needs of each institution defer.

The former vice-chancellor noted that incessant strikes not only disrupt academic calendar, it affects the productivity of lecturers, especially in terms of external research funding and submission of reports where time is a crucial factor.

Apart from the problem of admission spillover, Prof Adeyemi said graduates of Nigeria’s university system are faced with the hurdle of meeting up with admission challenges for higher education and professional certification outside the country, especially for professional courses like medicine, dentistry, engineering, where proofs are usually demanded for the unusually long period of completion of programmes.

He said: “There is the issue of spillover admission where youths, who should be within the walls of our tertiary institutions roam the streets, become social miscreants and objects of worries for parents. Some may have their future permanently destroyed as prospects of having university education become very dim leading to unfulfilled ambition. Government could be forced to spend huge sums of money on the aftermath of allowing youths to be idle. Also, the rush to round up academic year will entail less than in-depth coverage of the curriculum, thereby putting the Nigerian graduate student at a disadvantage in-terms of in-depth knowledge of the subject matter compared to their colleagues from other climes.”

“Incessant strikes also have effects on the productivity of lecturers, especially in terms of external research funding and submission of reports. There have been instances that external funding agencies had preferred other African countries for project funding instead of Nigeria, all because of the inability to meet deadlines due to industrial unrest.

“Manpower development for tertiary institutions through postgraduate training is equally adversely affected. Trained manpower at postgraduate levels would be expected to meet increasing demands of the system due to establishments of new tertiary institutions and retirements of ageing academic personnel,” Adeyemi added.

For lasting peace in the institutions, Adeyemi said the government must be schooled on the peculiar nature of universities and why they cannot be treated like ministries or parastatals.

Citing the issue of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), which the Academic Staff Unions of Universities (ASUU) has rejected, the former vice-chancellor said the government must listen to the university teachers for peace to reign in the sub-sector.

“If the then Federal Government had not listened to the union when the Education Tax Fund (ETF) that led to the establishment of the “Education Tax Act of 1993, the advantages being derived nationally by all tertiary institutions today would not have been possible. There is no doubt, the funding for infrastructural development that both federal and state institutions are currently enjoying come mainly from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), an offshoot of ETF. Therefore, it is my submission that the issue of IPPIS should be treated the same as the ‘mother’ of TETFUND. Government should take a critical look at the University Transparency and accountability system (UTAS) and allow professionals in relevant agencies to work with ASUU to examine the merits and demerits of the proposition in reaching a consensus,” he said.

ASUU President, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke

 

The scholar warned that the implementation of IPPIS for the university system would spell further doom for tertiary institutions, as the autonomy of employing relevant and competent staff would be lost. “The consequences would not be immediate, but in the future when the entire university system would have been totally destroyed.”

Commenting on the impact of the strike on the socio-economic life of the country, a lawyer, Dr John Nwobodo, insisted that it could result in hardship, loss of jobs as well as low production capacity.

According to him, ASUU strike does not only take a toll on academic activities of teaching and learning, it also impacts negatively on the socio-economic activities within the schools and the country at large. “Strikes affect business owners operating inside schools by depriving them of patronage since the majority of their customers are students. The lack of patronage comes with consequences such as loss of income and hardship. It has the attendant effect of impacting on the ability of business owners to meet up with their immediate needs and financial obligations. Apart from the socio-economic implications at personal levels, the country’s economy is driven to the precipice and damages the micro-economics of Nigeria, which results in increased poverty rate, unemployment and inflation,” he said.

Asked whether there are alternative ways of getting government’s attention to issues other than strikes, Nwobodo said: “Strikes are becoming less effective in resolving the problem of neglect of public education; the Federal Government seems to have developed resistance to strike as a stratagem. As it is said, when two elephants fight, grasses suffer. It is indeed parents, students and businesses dependent on the hustle and bustle of the school environment that suffer.

“Actually, the striking lecturers and government have nothing personal to lose. The lecturers at the end of the day get paid without working. In contrast, parents pay fees albeit helplessly without corresponding value. Students, on their part, exceed the actual period they ought to have graduated. In all, the educational system is in a mess. Maybe ASUU should consider the option of holding a joint protest with students and occupy the ministry of education,” Nwobodo said.

But a Public Affairs Analyst, Dr Gregory Ukwa, said occupying ministries of education as alternative to strike, or getting attention of government on pertinent issues concerning its workers was not a solution.

“The truth is that some conditions under which ASUU and government agreed to operate are no longer feasible due to changing economic realities. These conditions should be renegotiated and reviewed. We should look at issues based on what is on ground, not based on what others have done or are doing. That is why we have these inconsistencies in our educational system.” he said

Ukwa lamented that the current ASUU strike was eaten deep into the pockets of the government, while in the long run, increasing the brain drain and poor outputs of universities in the country.

“You can see that at the end of the day, people who never worked will be paid salary and other allowances. It means that government will now muscle resources from other segments to do so. That is increasing government expenditure and creating poverty. On the other hand, we are creating some social issues for ourselves. Take for instance, what the universities will churn out under the emergency. These are people being looked up to to manage the resources and investments of this country in future. It is not a good development and anyhow you look at it, the entire country will continue to lose.

“ASUU strike affects various segments of the society. From production capacity to inputs, outcomes and what have you. We cannot continue to pretend that all is well when the youths, who mainly occupy this sector, are on the streets. Apart from increasing the rate of negative vices, some of them may not recover from what they are losing from this action. So, the government needs to find a sustainable solution to the crisis in the education sector for the good of the country,” Ukwa added.

Culled from the Guardian Newspaper, Nigeria

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