There is no special need to justify the reasons for the strike because the public agrees, at the minimal, that it is dishonourable for government to break any agreement it reaches with any party. Nevertheless, some members of the public have advocated that ASUU should call off the strike, go back to work and negotiate with the government. What a fascinating hope!
Although it is true that shutting universities has grave social consequences, but reopening it – without resolution of its crises – portends more severe social, economic and even political doom. Universities and every other educational institution are not merely places designed to keep youths off the street, rather it is a place where their intellects are cultivated, equipped and prepared for the major task of national development. Unfortunately, the state of learning and welfare facilities in tertiary institutions nullify that single, major objective. A gloomy future awaits a nation like Nigeria whose medical doctors and scientists are trained in “dry” laboratories where kerosene stoves have replaced Bunsen burners! This is a future that can be averted with a sincere, practical commitment of government towards the proper funding of education and democratic monitoring of these funds by elected representatives of stakeholders (a case of school authorities diverting fund meant for laboratory for car park can be prevented). Asking ASUU to go back to work without government resolving the crisis of underfunding is invariably demanding that students, parents and staff should continue to adapt to the woes bedeviling the education sector.
However, while I support that ASUU strike should continue until government implements the 2009 agreement, the method ASUU has employed in prosecuting the strike – sitting at home method – is not enough. You cannot fight your freedom with a gagged mouth and bound hands!
Since the beginning of the strike, the government has always, especially through print media, erroneously reduced the demands of ASUU to a mere disagreement on ‘Earned Allowances’. On the other hand, ASUU will come out the next day to disprove government’s statistics and arguments. While this is essential in educating the general public and preventing poisonous message of government, the reality is that government is not ignorant of facts and figures. The reason why government focuses attention on trivialities is to shift public attention away from the crucial issues. Governments at all levels know that their deliberate under funding of education and mismanagement of allocated resources to education are the underlining cause of the rot in the sector. However, their class interests forbid them to own up to their irresponsibility. But, if politicians can stoop so low to wage the war of calumny against truth and just cause, then, on the part of ASUU, where is the capacity to educate the public and convince them of this common cause?
The condition of our social and economic sectors bears no witness to the stupendous wealth bestowed on us as a nation. Instead, public funds that should have been allocated to these sectors are held up for looting, laundering and squandering by the ruling class. The mystery of their wealth – their livelihood – is our misery; they fatten only as long as we remain skinny. Every demand from the organised labour for better working or living conditions necessarily threatens this exploitative arrangement. This also explains why government employs every tactics possible to resist every attempt by the working people which poses a threat to this anti-poor arrangement – including entering agreements without any intention of fulfilling them. In the case of the education sector, a non-sectarian front of the workers in this sector, students and parents, with programmatic mass actions, can force an anti-poor government like Nigeria’s to meet the demands of all the education workers.
More so, the current situation in the education sector where virtually all its sections – ASUU, ASUP, SSANIP, NUT etc. – calls separate strike actions on the same issue confirms the point that all these bodies, including the student movement, can and must form a common alliance to save public education.
There is also the need for students to mount pressure on their union leaders to join forces with ASUU and other unions to demand: better funding of education, reversal of fee hike and end to regime of education commercialization, democratic management of schools and its funds (no to diversion of school funds for procurement of cars for school officials) etc. This idea of some student leaders of sitting on the fence is ridiculous and, is also injurious to future of students. Students must take side with those defending their future. Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has taken a lead in this direction by organizing two protest rallies in support of ASUU demands, while calling for united action.
By Olubanji, the Secretary, Education Rights Campaign, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Branch