Opinion

Shutting down our universities!

By Gbemiga Ogunleye

If Federal Government officials who have demonstrated absolute incompetence and insensitivity by keeping our children at home when they should be in school studying, deserve to be tied to the stakes, then officials of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, too, deserve to be flogged publicly at the market square!

For, as they say, two wrongs don’t make a right! The cause of the strike is too well known to be stated here. Besides, this article does not seek to apportion blame.

My concern is the plight of the students and to explore whether ASUU could have done things differently, especially, when dealing with people who are either stone deaf or genuinely unreasonable!

To be sure, without the struggles of ASUU, public universities would have probably collapsed. Thanks to ASUU, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND, was set up to provide the needed infrastructure and other ancillary facilities to the universities. But in my view, after going on strike for three months, without the government meeting its demands, it should be clear to the union that another option, other than strike ought to be explored.

By extending the strike by another three months, ASUU is unconsciously aiding the government officials to destroy the future of the younger generation. The implications of keeping young children at home when they should be in school are probably lost on both ASUU and the government. The idle mind, they say, is the playground for the devil.

For a country still reeling from the disastrous effects of over 10 million out-of-school children, it beggars belief that it could afford to close down public universities for three months and officials of state are not bothered. To add insult to the proverbial injury, those who are charged with the responsibility of resolving the ASUU crisis are busy campaigning and preparing for next year’s general election.

As a social critic, Tunde Fagbenle would say: What a country? On the part of the university lecturers, they are sold on the idea that the only language government understands, is the language of strike. But now that the government has turned a deaf ear to their grievances, shouldn’t they adopt another strategy? Couldn’t ASUU, for instance, have taken a cue from our women, who after the bills on women empowerment were rejected by the National Assembly, staged a series of protests at the National Assembly until the lawmakers promised to revisit the bills.

Couldn’t ASUU have embarked on advocacy campaigns to our leading traditional rulers and elder statesmen (and women) on the need for them to make the government see reason. There is also the issue of the wisdom in embarking on a strike when political office holders are all busy, seeking reelection or reappointment.

Wouldn’t it be a better option for ASUU to table its grievances before the presidential aspirants of the political parties and invite them to an ASUU forum for them to discuss their plans for the education sector if elected next year.

As the intellectual powerhouse of the country, wouldn’t it have been more beneficial to us all, if ASUU took interest in the ongoing process to amend the Constitution by proferring far-reaching constitutional amends like scrapping one arm of the National Assembly; making the legislature a part-time business, with members-only being paid sitting allowances; limiting the number of ministers and commissioners to a manageable number, etc.

These actions will free up resources to be used to fund education. Rather, without blinking an eye, the union announced with glee that it was extending the three-month-old strike by another three months, without considering the effect on not only the future of the students but also the interest of their poor parents who have laboured to send them to school. Perhaps the union took this step, confident that even if it went on strike for a year, nothing spoil, to borrow a street lingo. Their salaries and allowances would still be paid.

Now that university undergraduates have begun a series of protests over the continued closure of their campuses, ASUU should be ready to share part of the blame, should anything untoward happens to these students. Prolonging this strike is an ill wind that will do the country no good.

ASUU should be courageous enough to announce to the country, that following calls from well-meaning Nigerians and in consideration of the interests of the students and their parents, it has suspended the ongoing strike.

That, in my view, is the path of honour.

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