ASUU STRIKE: EGWU, CALL A SOLEMN ASSEMBLY
Dr R. A. Olatoye
August 23rd, 2009
Having watched with keen
interest the drama that is unfolding since ASUU strike commenced three months
ago, I, also being a stakeholder cannot but make few comments. The strike has no
doubt almost paralyzed the higher education system. I estimate about two million
students and university staff who are in active and productive stage of their
lives are at home. The already tight and narrow gate to the ivory tower with
limited space is made tighter and narrower as the queue of qualified candidates
seeking admission gets longer at the university beautiful-but-narrow gate. I
donít think posterity will forgive sycophants who benefit from such stalemate.
Many of our active youths are now probably engaging in prostitution, armed
robbery, militancy and internet scam. What a paradox for a nation that is giving
amnesty to repentant militants.
The handwriting is already on the wall for discerning souls. Those who cannot
see the heavy cloud can hear the sound of torrential rainfall and those who
cannot hear can see the cloud and feel the cold. Like a patient under excessive
influence of anesthesia, the public primary schools have fallen into a state of
unconsciousness not even responsive to the needs and taste of many illiterate
parents. As if this anesthesia has a contagious effect, public secondary schools
caught it and also fell into a state of coma. In no time, like the spread of a
wild fire at the peak of harmattan period, the anesthetic effect also caught the
most senior patient, the higher education system. Who on earth could have
administered this dose of anesthesia that makes our educational system to be in
the present state of slumber? If this long state of unconsciousness eventually
translates into death, it may be a sort of vicarious death for the survival of
the healthy brother, I mean the private universities. Perhaps some of the
doctors that administered this excessive dose have some interest in these
I am still finding it difficult to understand why a country that sells an
estimate of 2 million barrel of crude oil per day at the present rate of at
least $ 65 per barren cannot finance health and education sector more than she
is presently doing. Oil export accounts for more than 80% of our income. At the
rate of N150 per dollar, $65 is N9, 750. Now multiply N9,750 by 2 million. This
is an estimate of N19.5 billion naira every day! What do you get in a year? I
know the government is very faithful to the comparatively few political office
holders as they go home every month smiling and wishing their tenure will never
lapse. The money that should be spread out to pay millions of workers has been
raked to satisfy the privileged few. Citizens, like a helpless hen watching her
chicken being clutched under the cruel claws of a hawk in the sky earnestly wait
for their deliverance. Who is our Messiah? Who will deliver parents who cannot
afford to pay the exorbitant amount being charged in the elite private
universities? Parents watch their children every morning brush their teeth, eat
and sleep with no where to go.
I partially agree with the Federal Government position that it can not be forced
or compelled to sign agreement on behalf of the State Government. I agree
partially because when it comes to accreditation, the National University
Commission set up by the Federal Government is involved using uniform criteria
for both Federal and State universities. Federal Government does not see
anything wrong in this neither does it see anything wrong with Joint Admission
and Matriculation Examination Board conducting the same entrance examination for
candidates seeking admission into all universities. But when it comes to
responsibility, the Federal Government does not want to take a lead. What then
is the way forward? An illustration came to my mind. Signing of marriage
register in the registry shows that a couple has married legally and officially.
But strictly speaking, many marriages had ended up in divorce though, the
marriage register was signed. I now conclude, marriage is more than signing an
agreement, it requires commitment of those involved. It is better Federal
Government still refuses to sign an agreement it knows will not be honored
later. The effect of deception is incessant strikes in no distant future.
I think this problem requires holistic solution. It is better this strike still
lingers for the next few weeks if a permanent solution will be sought and found.
Of course, there is need for compromise on both sides (ASUU and FG), but there
must be sincerity and commitment to a path of progress before areas of
compromise can be negotiated. Then we have a win-win negotiation in the interest
of the nation especially our teeming youths. When five banks were in distress
about two months ago, the CBN governor took initiatives to bail them out with a
loan of N420 billion naira. The Federal Government would not mind dipping hands
into the excess crude oil account to raise money to ensure generation of 6,000
megawatts of electricity by December, 2009. The State and Local Governments were
carried along. Why canít the same thing be done for education which is the
bedrock of sustainable national development? After all, whatís sauce for the
goose is also sauce for the gander.
There is no better time than this for education minister, Dr Sam Egwu to call a
solemn assembly. Call the ASUU and FG negotiating team back for discussion.
Practically speaking, governing council members alone cannot negotiate if
governors and concerned commissioners are absent. Let all the state governors,
their finance and education commissioners be in attendance. Let representatives
of governing council from each Federal and State university be in attendance.
The ministers of labour and productivity and his counterparts in Finance
ministry are expected to be present. The members of the senate committee on
education should be invited. I will be happy if our beloved vice president will
find time out of his tight schedule to participate or at least declare the
assembly open. He should also be there with the secretary to the Federal
Government to represent the presidency. Letís also invite our experienced
fathers and mothers to advise us; eminent citizens like Professor Babs Fafunwa,
Prof. E. A. Yoloye, Prof. PAI Obanya, Yakubu Gowon, Emeka Anyaoku, Zulu Gambari
and many others. The meeting can last for two or three days. If each state
sponsors its representatives, the amount this meeting will cost the Federal
Ministry of Education to host should not be too much to bear.
What should form the agenda of the meeting? I want to give suggestions, Dr Egwu
can add or delete. Issues like funding and cost sharing, role of ETF, curriculum
reform, ICT use, brain drain syndrome, public-private sector participation in
education, staff quality, lack of space for qualified candidates seeking
university admission, infrastructure decay, integrity and accountability in the
sector and social vices in our tertiary institutions to mention a few should be
discussed. There may be provision for public hearing during the assembly.
Recognized bodies like parentsí and studentsí associations should be given
opportunity to make their inputs.
On a final note I want to appeal to ASUU and FG, letís stop grandstanding. Where
two elephants fight, the grasses do not only suffer, they may die prematurely.
Letís channel a path of progress by calling a solemn assembly. At a point during
the solemn meeting let there be compromise on both sides if possible and where
necessary. Let there be sincerity and truth during and after this solemn
Dr R. A. Olatoye wrote from Institute of Education, Olabisi Onabanjo,
University, Ago-Iwoye through