Evolving Issues In The Public Education Sector In Nigeria: ASUU strike

The most deeply dividing and political debate on and about education in Nigeria recently has not been the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike but the lowering of JAMB’s minimum cut off mark for admission into higher institutions in Nigeria from 180 to 120. Surprisingly at a time that the ASUU strike is happening for the umpteenth time, as the strike has been off and on at least on a regular basis since l988 and to put that in perspective – in 1989 the Berlin wall came down and the present day Germany was formed by the re-unification of the old West and East Germany, the biggest currency denomination in naira was 20 naira and 50 kobo notes were last issued, and Nigeria was still operating the structural adjustment program (SAP) as its economic model.

Since that period, the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics disintegrated into 15 countries including present day Russia. Nigeria as a country was still very much under military rule and the national population was estimated at 88 million. That period marks the beginning of the massive socioeconomic, political and infrastructural decline of public institutions in the country and the rise and growth of the private sector, particularly in areas like banking, media and telecommunication.

The incessant ASUU strike has witnessed the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, with late president Nelson Mandela gaining freedom after 27 years of imprisonment and becoming the first black president of in post-apartheid South Africa. Beyond that, the incessant strike has also witnessed three (3) military regimes, an interim civilian government in Nigeria. Furthermore, ASUU related issues in higher education in Nigeria has witnessed the Zairian, Burundian and Rwandan civil wars in Central and East Africa, the Bosnian and Kosovo wars in Europe. The splitting of Czechoslovakia to Czech and Slovakia, and also Yugoslavia into multiple ethnic states.

It has witnessed the expansion of states in Nigeria from 21 to 36, the establishment of The Federal Capital Territory; the physical and administrative relocation of the seat of power, headquarters of ministries and parastatal from Lagos to Abuja by the central government. The evolution of the Nigerian education system from public driven at all levels to the dominance of private schools. The growth of the private telecom sector in becoming a major source of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in the country and the splitting of Ethiopia into Ethiopia and Eritrea. In more recent times the strike has witnessed the spread of access to ICT, round the clock access to electronic media and the spread of access to mobile telecommunication, internet and digital media in the country.

To imagine that between that time and now Nigeria as a nation  has been directly involved in the ending of two major civil wars in neighbouring West African countries – Liberia and Sierra Leone, whilst the country has experienced an annulled national election that once put the country on the precipice of civil war with deep rooted ethnic colouration, and the country was still able to come out of those major events in its recent history intact as one nation, albeit with a lot of disenfranchised and unsatisfied various interest groups to experience almost two decades of uninterrupted democratic rule coupled with the loss of political seats by incumbents across political parties and at all levels of government in the country up to the presidency; all these show the resilience and great spirit of the people, however, it remains a mystery to me how the same country cannot fathom a solution out of the big ASUU conundrum.

It is even more baffling that people are more interested in the JAMB cut-off marks for new intakes, particularly the media, while the main body (ASUU) whose existence is key to the operations of universities in the country is on strike. It is obvious that without ASUU there won’t be lecturers that will teach, lecture or educate the potential new students whose admission has led to the politically charged debate in the country.

Although ASUU as a body has come out to make its position known on the issue of the cut-off mark, however, it is worrying that ASUU as a body seems not to have been involved in the whole decision making process of how the new cut-off marks were determined by both JAMB (as the admission regulating body in the country) and the managements of the higher institutions of learning in the country. This situation is worrisome because in as much as the academic and administrative decisions in higher institutions are determined and made by  the management teams in those institutions, ASUU as a major stakeholder in the Nigerian higher education sector should have been actively engaged in the whole process – after all ASUU members are usually the first and most important point of contact between the direction in which the national educational plan and policy on university education in the country is geared towards and the other major stakeholders in the process, that is – students, parents, school authorities, employers of labour, and other relevant interest groups.

The demands by ASUU from the federal government are well documented and the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, has accepted that the government has not fulfilled its own part of the deal. The acceptance by the minister of the government’s failure to fulfil its own part of the deal is a great act that hopefully would help in resolving the ASUU issue in a lesser amount of time than if the minister had been in denial.⁠⁠⁠⁠ However, there is the need to move away from mere appeals and be more constructive and progressive in providing a solution that’s not just long lasting but a solution that will help in repositioning Nigerian universities as institutions of learning that are 21st century compliant and globally competitive.

It is important that ASUU as a body rescues the nation in areas like designing and publishing a national research agenda for the country. The organisation needs to invest more resources into issues like:

  • research ethics
  • academic publishing
  • identifying aspects of skills shortage in the country’s academia

Putting a very robust legal framework in place in addressing issues that relate to abuse of authority by some erring lecturers in aspects like:

  • plagiarism
  • sexual harassments
  • victimisation of students
  • selling of course hand-outs
  • not turning up on time for lectures (punctuality)
  • withholding of students’ results

Also, the body should look into addressing issues that relate to:

  • outdated course materials
  • too many lecturers specialising in the same area within a particular department
  • lack of inter departmental and faculty collaboration and supervision of courses and programs
  • the opening up and encouraging more collaborations with other academics abroad, particularly the Nigerian academic communities in diaspora
  • engaging more with students in critical academic engagements without any negative consequence/s
  • making the provision of reading list mandatory and integral to course or program preparation and delivery
  • providing students with constructive and well documented feedbacks
  • encouraging the writing of textbooks and books by academics in the country by holding regular seminars, workshops, conferences and other related events on developing creative and academic writing skills
  • more collaboration between Nigerian universities and foreign institutions
  • engaging with industries
  • engaging proactively with the compulsory education sector
  • engaging more with the media
  • organising events to showcase their research

While it is obvious that some of the suggestions above might be beyond the jurisdiction of ASUU, however, ASUU as a body is in a powerful position to influence and accelerate the process of establishing and implementing policies that will help to attend to a lot of them. Hopefully, the big elephant in the room – ASUU’s incessant strike – will come to a logical and win-win end in a not too distant future and the country’s ivory towers will be on their way back to academic and intellectual prosperity.       ⁠⁠

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