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Before our universities die

IT  is sad that lecturers in  Nigerian universities are once again on a strike, a warning one that will last for one week. The trouble now is that members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) after their meeting in Abuja some days ago reached an agreement to proceed on one week warning strike to protest government’s failure to implement the agreements it entered with the union in 2009 and 2013. ASUU’s new posture is truly right and just. ASUU needs the support of all Nigerians in this crusade to make our universities better. ASUU needs the support of all lovers of education.
ASUU said that government has not been fair in implementing all the reached agreements. It said that government has implemented some and adamantly refused to implement others, including the most crucial ones. ASUU said that all previous meetings with officials of government to resolve this matter did not yield any positive result. The university teachers also wanted to be excluded from the Treasury Single Account (TSA). The TSA, according to them, does not allow for ease of access of budgeted funds. ASUU is not alone over the TSA problem. ASUU said that the TSA does not allow them get money to attend international conferences and other shortcomings. Its operation is against the principles of university autonomy. Government should look into the implementation of the TSA and remove ASUU and other bodies that want exclusion from the fiscal policy. If a policy is not working, it should be jettisoned.
They accused the government of underfunding of the universities. All the money they agreed that federal and state governments must bring to the table to fund their universities are yet to come. The attitude of state governments to university funding, it must be stated, has not helped matters. ASUU said that if government did not do anything positive within the one week period of grace, they will then proceed on an indefinite strike that no one knows when it will end.
Since Wednesday when the warning strike has started, our university campuses are no longer lively. The classrooms are empty. The students roam about like sheep without shepherds. It means that no teaching and learning is going on in most of the federal and state universities because of the warning strike.
However, the senate has intervened and pleaded with ASUU not to go on strike. It promised to do everything humanly possible to ensure that the looming strike is averted. The Senate has done well on the matter. Let other stakeholders, especially the government do something urgently to honour some of the agreements it reached with ASUU. But don’t say it is not President Muhammadu Buhari’s government that signed the agreement with ASUU.
Government, we are told, is a continuum. The only worry now is that Nigeria is in a recession. The government is aware of it. It is doing something to get all of us out of economic recession. But its effort is yet to yield the desired result.  Pardon the needful asides and back to ASUU demands, the subject of this article. And the implementation of ASUU demands will translate into trillions of naira. Where will the government get the money to solve all these problems in one fell swoop?
Government can select the most crucial ones and implement them. Let it start doing something. The university teachers are intellectuals. If the government is serious in implementing the agreements, even if half, the lecturers will definitely show understanding. They know that the times are tough.
We have economists, financial gurus and philosophers among them. They will surely understand when government proves sincerity of purpose and determination to fund the universities. If the government has no money now to solve this problem, it can borrow.
It can even factor the ASUU money in the almost $30 billion borrowing plan which it is planning to resend to the senate after the first one was rejected for lack of details and other reasons. Some say for excluding constituency projects of the lawmakers.
After all, ASUU wants all earned allowances to be paid to their members. That is also legitimate. They want university autonomy and adequate funding of the universities so that teaching and research can go on in the universities. They need it so that our universities will rank among the best in the world.
Our universities need facelift so that our students should stop going to Togo, Benin Republic and Ghana for university education. If the government can do the needful, our students would stop going to Turkey, Russia, India and some others for university education. The number that will go to US, Canada, Britain and France for university education will also decrease.
If the government attends to ASUU’s demands, our universities will be better but if not, believe it or leave it, our universities will die quickly. And if they die, it will not augur well for the country’s development. This is why our politicians should not allow our universities to die.
Good enough, ASUU is very magnanimous this time around in giving the government a week’s notice before the mother of all strikes will take place. ASUU wants to exhaust all avenues of dialogue and negotiation. Let government use this golden opportunity to resolve this contentious matter once and for all.
University teachers are human beings. They buy in the same market that our rich politicians buy from. They deserve their wages, including all allowances.  Our university teachers must start having their rewards here on earth. After all, our politicians collect their own even upfront.
Let government engage ASUU leadership productively and resolve the lingering matter. It should not be the usual promise and fail. Government must talk and do now and save the coming strike. Our university system has not recovered from the ugly scars of past industrial actions.
Adding another one to them in a time of recession will be disastrous. The Federal and State governments must act now and save our universities from imminent death. They should work in concert to save them from extinction.

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Editor, Online: Ikenna Emewu