Last Tuesday, the National Executive Council of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) announced a four-week extension of the ongoing strike in public universities. It declared: “Following extensive deliberations and taking cognisance of government’s past failures to abide by its own timelines in addressing issues raised in the 2020 FGN/ ASUU Memorandum of Action (MoA), NEC resolved that the strike be rolled over for four weeks to give Government more time to satisfactorily resolve all the outstanding issues.”
That was the bad news from ASUU. For me, whatever the university lecturers are fighting for (no matter how good) resulting in this current six-month old strike, it amounts to nonsense, if the interest of students is not paramount. It should ultimately be about the students. This is what these teachers have failed to recognise. They are permanently on strike, leaving the students they are engaged to teach in tatters and quandary. A four-year course is turned into six years by these unending strikes. Some students will never return after the strike. So, persisting with this current strike is unjustifiable.
Yes, protesting against the federal government’s refusal to fulfill its agreements with the union since 2009 is fair. Yes, the demand for revitalization funds for public universities, promotion arrears, improved salaries and earned academic allowances is just. But the demand can continue without these endless strikes. ASUU members are earning salaries to teach students, So, they must teach. I am not sorry to say that ASUU members care less about the disruption of the future of our youths through the interruption of their academic life because most of them don’t have their children in these public universities.
Then, there is this demand for the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution by the government for payment of university lecturers. ASUU must look for another tool for this selfish part of their agitations. These guys want to dictate to their employers how to pay them. I don’t know where that is done anywhere in the world. They are telling the government to throw away its platform and pay them with another platform. Their colleagues in the private universities must be shocked.
ASUU members are also demanding for withheld salaries during previous strikes. Haba! The no-work no-pay labour law is very clear as contained in Section 43 of trade Dispute Act. These university teachers are experienced enough to know that strikes come with implications.
Now, to the way forward. University autonomy must happen for all this endless drivel called “ASUU strike” to end. Public universities must exercise independent control over their day-to-day operations. Administratively, they should constitute their governing councils. Federal and state governments must hands off these public universities so that they can be managed as non-profit businesses. They should no longer be funded from budgets. This is the meaning of autonomy. With this, the governing councils will be able to act clearly as defined i.e. the ultimate power. The governing councils will appoint the vice chancellors and other management staff. The employers of the academic and non-academic staff will be the governing councils and they will remunerate according to their abilities.
With autonomy, the universities will also charge fees that will enable them cover expenses and a little bit more for further development. This will end their funding crisis. Government can then provide scholarships and student loans. Autonomy also means public universities will be able to attract reasonable endowments. Donors are more comfortable with universities enjoying autonomy. There will be no bureaucratic bottlenecks. Endowments provide important financial stability for universities in sound climes.
Autonomy implies operative freedom. It implies academic and managerial freedom which should result in higher quality of education and academic excellence. I’m happy that ASUU is not against autonomy for universities. So, the federal and state governments must do the needful. This is the only way forward for our public universities and all other public higher institutions of learning.