Making Sense of the Regular Strike Action By Nigerian Workers. – Ebuka Onyekwelu

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The news of the latest Academic Staff Union of Universities-ASUU strike was received in many quarters with a straight up blame on ASUU for always going on strike. Many other people blamed the government for failing to manage the needs of it workers thereby forcing them to go on strike. In fact, one of these positions was well represented by no other than the Minister of Education himself who maintained that ASUU could not have embarked on an indefinite strike while the negotiation was still on and therefore has to call off the strike so that they can go back to the negotiation table. On the part of ASUU, the Union Chairman has maintained that the government has continued to shift the goal post in the middle of the game by attempting to renegotiate an agreement it signed with the Union in 2013. Worst still, the agreement in which the government pledged to release about two hundred and twenty billion for improvement on the infrastructural needs of Nigerian universities’ in 2017, was completely ignored and altogether abandoned. Instead, more than one year later, the Federal Government is now pledging to release a total of twenty billion, instead of the agreed two hundred and twenty billion.

A Case for ASUU/Labor Union Strike Action

Nigerian public universities are heavily understaffed and sometimes have three times more students for each course of study, than approved by the Universities Commission annually. On average, the approved number of students per department for each academic year is usually less than 50 students in a class for regular academic program. But in reality, on average, each department in any Nigerian public university admits well over 100 students, some have as much as over 200 or 300 students; sharing facilities meant for less than 50 students! These universities also run part-time programs among many other academic programs, as well as Postgraduate programs. These programs are being taught by the few, overused academic staff of these public universities.

The lecture halls are often filled to overflow because most of these lecture halls were built with far less people in view, hence for the most part, there is only so little a lecturer can do to help most of the students really learn. He simply cannot afford to impact such large crowd, most of who just hide in the crowd and are lost in the crowd, I mean class. This also makes it possible for all kinds of fraud and impersonation that is characteristic of Nigerian public universities, during examinations. If we have inadequate classrooms, how much adequate will our public universities’ library be? How much more up to date will our laboratories be? These are very disturbing trend that have become the pattern in our public universities; the exact reasons why Nigerian public universities are in the class of their own in terms of failure to meet minimum world standard of tertiary education. Nigeria has some of the very worst education ranking in the world. It is also for these same reasons that the quality of graduates produced yearly has continued to depreciate in quality.

There is also the case of de-motivation of lecturers through poor remuneration by government. Although in truth, one cannot say for sure if increase in lecturers’ salary will stop some of them from collecting money for mark, but for sure; it will go a long way to encourage them to put in more than they are putting in now.

Generally therefore, what ASUU is demanding will definitely improve the quality of education currently obtainable in the country’s public universities. There may be no doubt about this at all.

Why Strike is Upon Us Again

The Nigerian government willingly entered into an agreement with ASUU to fund Nigerian public universities with over 1 trillion naira, which will be paid in installments. Till date, the government is yet to comply with that agreement. Nigerian government has shown shocking level of irresponsibility that is second to none. As of now, almost all labor unions in Nigeria are about going on strike over argument on minimum wage. Now, this is the major concern; the Nigerian worker so poorly remunerated need money to pay for his food which inflation has taken beyond his purchasing power, he pays for his own transportation fares which cost of fuel has astronomically increased. Nigerian workers still pay for their water, they pay for their light; they pay for everything! How will they not demand for more money? How will they not always agitate for salary increase? If not, how will they meet their basic needs, much less live a decent life without basic amenities being provided and also with the money to buy same not given them in form of salary? The obvious failure of Nigerian government is manifest in the fact that today, even paltry sum paid workers are owed them for long months by some state governments, while others who manage to pay earns bragging right for paying workers’ salary and count such as part of their achievements, something that ordinarily is and ought to be considered the right of the workers. Even the minimum wage of N30, 000, which the union agreed to, what exactly can that amount buy for workers in one month? In this same country where workers’ pensions are out rightly embezzled by its managers with impunity and reckless abandon, while the government offers pat on the back of those embezzlers. Under this very atrociously harsh and unfriendly Nigeria reality, what other possible option could ASUU and other striking unions have used if not to hold the country to ransom at any provocation by frequent strike? If the government cannot even be trusted to pay regular salary and cannot be trusted to fulfill an agreement it entered with a critical part of its work force, what else can the government be trusted for?

Who Are the Victims?  

However, on the part of ASUU, has the union shown that with a better working condition in an improved working environment, it can be better? Its members will not continue to feast on young undergraduate girls for marks? Its members will not continue to exchange money for marks? Can the other striking unions also be trusted to ensure a vibrant public sector work force and not some time wasters who treat government work as a pastime engagement not deserving of devotion, creativity or intellectual input?

So these are the concerns. But in all, the students, the innocent members of the public, are the victims. ASUU and the Federal Government may later sort out their differences but the time lost by students waiting for that to happen, will never be sorted. These students and many others who pay for this crass governmental irresponsibility are the real victims.        

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