Let me start with some background and a couple of confessions. I started as an extreme ASUU supporter. In my world, ASUU can do no wrong. After all, here are a group of knowledgeable citizens with an intense passion for their country. The fact that they remain in Nigeria instead of eloping (an option available to many) to other climes. Other citizens do it every day. If ASUU members wanted to be rich and well paid, they would be in the industry since the private sector pays more, or they could be entrepreneurs making money for themselves. Instead, they stayed faithful to their calling, exchanging ideas and knowledge, and impacting the same on the younger generations selflessly.
I have argued elsewhere how part of their wisdom led to the establishment of today’s TETFUND, which is doling out billions for extra funding for education which ASUU recommended. The government implemented this a couple of decades ago. So, it is difficult to argue that ASUU members are unpatriotic and lack wisdom. If you make that argument, you will not be doing so with a straight face.
From my extreme ASUU support, I started to re-examine my position. ASUU was established in 1978 (44 years ago). The strikes began in 1979/80 and have remained to date. Some recognise ASUU only by its strikes, not today’s relatively successful TETFUND. The more I examined the facts, the more I realised that we are not making any progress and that we have significantly retrogressed from where we were 40 years ago. With ASUU’s brainstorming and the regularity of strikes, we will mostly agree that our universities have become less competitive globally and worse off than they were 40 years ago. So gradually, I moved my position away from extreme ASUU support, and I did not realise how I found myself in fierce ASUU opposition. For clarity, I remain focused on all my positives about ASUU’s demands and ideals. What changed was that I no longer agreed that ASUU’s method was working; thus, I wanted a change of strategy.
In my gradual journey from one extreme to the other, I have never been on the side of government. I have written many opinion pieces on ASUU, and not in one have I supported the government, but I have been vocal against ASUU’s strategy in many ways. As a result, many friends became lukewarm toward me, and perhaps a few have drawn me away from me. In Nigeria, there is no middle-of-the-road when you are involved in any discourse. Either you are with me or against me – that is how most Nigerians flow. If you do not stay strong with one side, you are immediately categorised as belonging to the other camp.
I have been having my reflection and introspection and engaging myself with nearly every single opinion piece written in the popular press and social media. I have recently realised that perhaps we have been unable to resolve the ASUU lingering crisis because of our inability to compromise. The two sides of the debate and debacle want victory. Nigeria should be victorious, not the opposing parties and their supporters. Neither ASUU nor its supporters or indeed government and her apologists should seek or claim victory. What we miss is that the success should be for Nigeria.
Between 1999 and 2015, most citizens who queued up behind ASUU are today’s APC supporters. Then, they were vocally pro-ASUU, blaming the previous government as clueless where it concerns ASUU’s demands. The PDP supporters at the time called for compromise and peace on the part of ASUU. They labelled extreme ASUU supporters as saboteurs of Nigeria. That role has swapped. The most ardent supporters of ASUU today are the converted adversaries of ASUU and today’s PDP supporters. The APC supporters are the ones calling ASUU names today. Some APC/PDP adherents are confused about where they should stand as far as ASUU goes. I have realised that we can make sustainable, sustained, and shared progress only if all parties compromise. Both ASUU and government must yield some ground and save face. Those who argue for less are probably self-righteous people who are more interested in shame for one party and not the other.
I recently reached out to my friends and contacts to share one or two points (not a long list) of how we can best resolve the ASUU-FG imbroglio. My interest is not in merely calling off the ongoing six-month strike that will happen again but in how we can potentially make the current strike the last one ever. How can universities, parents, students, and other tertiary education stakeholders begin to have long-term plans for their involvement and put time into it? I am not seeking any glory nor claiming to have any visionary solution to the ongoing crisis in the universities. Instead, I desire and thus seek a collective solution for which we all can take credit. I have a few ideas of my own. In addition, I intend to put together suggested solutions that have been sent my way. Potentially, a list of rational solutions to the lingering crisis.
A simple argument against my proposal is to call it lazy. Why? There are abundant government reports gathering dust and a barrage of articles (academic and public opinion pieces) that have made recommendations over the last 40 years. Why can’t we engage a collective to read all these and create a shortlist of solutions available?
One primary reason we have all not considered a compromise an option is that we have allowed our anger to becloud our judgement. Reasonable citizens have become too angry. When you ask for a solution, many spend most of their time boiling over and expressing anger and disgust. This anger is mainly at the government and, in some cases, at ASUU. This sentiment and state of mind make it impossible to seek solutions in any compromising way.
As I argued elsewhere, there is enough blame to go around. If you prefer, that blame may be apportioned to only one party. My argument is that we have read enough of those blames, yet we are not out of the doldrum. So, specific to the lingering crisis, why not let us stop the blame game, swallow our anger a bit and propose solutions in one or two bullet points, probably not more than 100 words?
I look forward to reading your short views, and in my follow-up piece, I will provide the points you all share with me.