By Gabriel Chy Alonta
The rising agitations from all sectors in Nigeria is a clear indication that the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari may have failed to deliver its campaign promise to Nigerians on education, no matter how we may pretend about it.
The myriad of issues cropping up from all sectors is currently responsible for the over two-month industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to get the federal government to lift the face of university education in the country.
This is why education, as the bedrock of society, is given prominent attention by governments of advanced countries. In Nigeria, funding of education has become an endless tussle between the government and unions/stakeholders in the education sector.
The effect of the poor funding is the falling standard of the public school system across the country.
The anticipated call-off of the strike may have been dashed, following the rejection of offers made to the union by Federal Government, last week, thus, generating a fresh chain of reactions.
Recall that at the seventh meeting with the leadership of ASUU, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said the labour dispute with the university teachers was on the verge of being resolved, while highlighting the fresh concessions made by the administration to the striking lecturers.
According to the minister, the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Ministry of Finance presented evidence that N15.4 billion had been released to public universities.
On earned academic allowances, he said President Muhammadu Buhari approved N20 billion to offset arrears of the 2009 to 2012 verified earnings by university teachers.
However, in an interview, the President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said upon reviewing the offers made by the government, members of the union across various campuses and zones rejected it.
Ogunyemi, who described government’s offer on the outstanding revitalisation fund of N1.1 trillion as tokenism, said members are insisting that government should release at least a tranche of N220 billion spread over four quarters of 2019.
He added that on earned allowances, government’s proposal should not be lesser than the total amount released ‘the last time’ out of the verified balance.
Reacting to the lingering industrial action to our reporter, to Orient Education, a final year student of Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo, Ebonyi state, Ifeoma Maduka said she feels very sad about the lingering strike especially as a final year student, noting that it has distorted her academic plan.
According to her, “As far as this coming election is concerned, most students registered in their school residential addresses with the hope to cast their vote during electioneering process. The government should also know that most students were yet to collect their Permanent Voters Card (PVCs), meaning that many persons will not be participating in the election unless if it is called off. I am also sure that over 70 per cent of students will not vote should the election linger.
“Again, most students have forgotten the little they have learnt over this idle period. We need to get back to the classroom, we need to go learn, there is great advantage in investing our time our time wisely.
“We therefore, ASUU should call off the strike to enable the students exercise their franchise and also resume learning. We also urge the government and the leadership of ASUU to soft-pedal so that the already crippled education sector can start working again”, she opined.
Another final year student of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam, Anambra state, Happiness Chidume, said she wants the striking lecturers to put back their matchet to the sheath.
“ASUU should should call off this strike to enable us graduate in 2020 because the more the strike go on, the more delay in our supposed graduation year. Remember also that if we are at home, there is no way we will vote during the election”, she added.
A prospective university student, Chinaza Ifedi, expressed displeasure over the industrial showdown, while fingering the Federal Government for not taking education serious in Nigeria.
“You cannot blame them because many of they children study outside maybe that why they don’t care but even so, they need to do some thing about it. They are really playing with our education. Nigeria education cannot be compared to any around the world. The government need to do something urgently”, she said.
A post-graduate student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Patricia Nedum-Ogbede, said the strike has destabilised her plans, bewailing that faculty examination defence was halted by the strike in November, 2018.
“Honestly, I am not happy with the situation because the students suffer most. Inasmuch as the lecturers deserve better treatment from the government, they should also have sympathy on the students by suspending the ongoing strike. Idle mind they say, is devil’s workshop. Many students have engaged in so many social vices during this period”, she stated.
Another master student, Onyido Ezeneche, argued that education, which is the transmission of worthwhile virtues from one generation to another, stressing that the ongoing ASUU strike was not healthy for students, especially the postgraduates.
Ezeneche regretted that the government play politics with future of many Nigerian students, while choosing to send their own children outside the abroad, pointing out that the lingering showdown adversely affects postgraduate students, whose developmental fees and levies kept increasing whether they are in session or not.
“It is pertinent that Federal government should address the issues that birthed the ASUU strike, as no nation progresses with stagnant or unworkable education system. In the coming years, reviving the educational sector will be so hard a task that its cost will multiply with rate at which the sector rot”, he said.
Franklin Onwubiko, a staff of UNIZIK, said, “the ongoing impasse between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government is one that has continued to give goosebumps to well meaning Nigerians most especially the students.
“Education has continued to enjoy background relegation in this country and it’s about time the powers that be press the red button to get the system working again, as education has unarguably remain the bedrock of development of any nation”, he said.
“The FG should as a matter of urgency show some level of sincerity in resolving the already prolonged industrial action. Students are wallowing at home doing nothing. It’s election period and many would be lured into all manner of election thuggery especially the new form of it ‘E-thuggery’”, he said.
Kenechukwu Ikedimma, a PG student of Business Administration, UNIZIK, said the ongoing ASUU strike has crippled academic activities in the country and has cast bad light on the present administration, citing the government’s insensitivity to the plight of Nigerian students.
“It will be necessary for government to listen to the cries of students and meet the demands of ASUU, since it is for the quality improvement in education”, he said.
Chibiko Ngozi said she used to blame ASUU for embarking on strike until recently when she had a little chat with a lecturer at Imo State University (IMSU).
According to her, “What he told me made me understand that if drastic measures such as this strike is not taking by ASUU, the government of this country will water down the education sector and you know the consequences.
“It is better that we suffer now to get education sector strong than to enjoy lectures now and allow the Federal Government to destroy our educational system. Myself in particular, who wishes to be a lecturer will not want to suffer such”, she said.
Chinenye Ochamgba of Mass Communication Department, COOU, Igbariam, Anambra state, reiterated that the ASUU strike has done more harm than good to the students.
“For instance, our institution started a fresh semester in September, 2018. We have studied for two months before the strike and have spent over two months without even an idea about when the strike will be called off. If the strike lingers on, I fear that the students will be rushed and none of them will like to repeat what they have taught already”, she lamented.
Raphael Okafor, a prospective National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) candidate, the ongoing strike is holding them back and preventing them from joining their mates for national service, regretting that it may probably cause them extra one year.
“The strike has also prevented us from getting job opportunities to work in any organisation due to the fact that you must have your NYSC discharge certificate before you can get any government appointment”, he said.
Recall that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had on November 4, declared an indefinite strike to force the Federal Government to improve the funding of the universities, as well as fulfill the 2009 agreement signed with the union.