When you set out to avoid a location on a journey, you must do everything not to end up at that position.
The Academic Staff of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) has spent months and years of agitation only to end up where it aimed to avoid.
With public universities in Nigeria now closed for more than six months, what the university lecturers are left with is an empty hand.
The result of the strike is the direct opposite of their objectives and they have returned to the drawing board.
Teachers are asking what was wrong the original strategy, and it seems their plan is just to double down on the strike while embarking on a public relations blitz.
The walkout has become a public image disaster for university teachers.
The whole point of the strike was to force the hands of the government to finance quality education.
As with every other demand in the past decade, ASUU asked for funding to educate students better and lay the groundwork for an environment conducive to teaching, learning, research and community service.
And, to increase teachers’ salaries, I almost forgot.
Even if the strike is called off today, six months of damage has left the universities more broken and far less capable of improving the quality of education.
Each time the strike takes place, negotiations happen, promises are made, but agreements are not honoured, resulting in another round of strike and further negotiations.
It is a rotating door that has left students and parents frustrated and hopeless.
Lecturers are broke from unpaid salaries, the government is unperturbed and the system is more decadent at every cycle.
ASUU strikes have become almost like an annual festival, which must hold.
Many Nigerians are beginning to see the supposed struggle as not being in the interest of students and their parents
The rite has turned public universities into a second or third choice for those who have the means.
From the return to civilian rule in 1999, strikes have been averted only in seven of 23 years – 2000, 2004, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019.
In 2020, the universities were shut for more than 9 months.
Many Nigerians are beginning to see the supposed struggle as not being in the interest of students and their parents.
The effects are many on the students. Not only do students now graduate in slow motion, they hardly have time to properly go through the curricular before being pushed into examination halls.
They are rushed through without having the quality that the lecturers are fighting to give.
An idle hand, they say, creates a workshop for the devil.
Many of the students, instead of focusing on their studies, spend the free time on their hands doing bad things. It is not a coincidence that cultism has intensified at the rate of the frequency of university shutdowns.
We still have students being productively engaged while their universities are closed learning trading and artisan vocations, those are the kinds of skills that makes a difference for those already aiming high.
The lecturers know things are not getting better.
They take these elaborate steps to force the government to listen and comply, but they also know that any agreements reached can only last for a few months.
ASUU is not unaware that the officials they negotiate with have just a little stake in the continuity of the school session because only a few of the political elite send their own children to the local universities that are being run down.
The current President, the Vice President and most of the top officials of the administrations sent their children to foreign universities.
All the three top presidential candidates vying for the next administration provided university education to their offspring in British and American colleges.
Another reason the government is dead to ASUU’s demands is because officials just don’t see much value in education for ordinary Nigerians. There is no other way to describe how successive administrations have done exactly the same things. Politicians cannot put money where their values are thin.
Besides, the government is far too broke to pay. While ASUU may argue otherwise and point to why the government can, the extent of Nigeria’s financial distress cannot be overstated.
The country is almost using every revenue to service debt, while it continues to borrow. If not for diaspora remittances, Nigeria might have been submerged. It may as well reach the point at the rate things are going.
The elite have stopped patronizing universities that were once among the best in the world because the quality has dropped and the deadline for graduation is open-ended. They created the problem, then avoided it.
Nigerians have spent more than $29 billion on foreign education in the last 10 years, according to Central Bank data.
That is just the official figure – because Nigerians pay outside of the official financial system.
Parents who cannot afford foreign colleges patronize private universities. They know by paying, their children will follow a predictable timeline on the way to a degree. Private universities are increasing in number and making a killing through school fees.
In the face of hopelessness, what else can ASUU do?
One area in which ASUU has committed a fatal error is by hoping that the only way the university system can be funded is on the government’s purse. They ought to know better!
ASUU should include in their negotiations a request for autonomy for universities to generate additional fund, manage its own revenue sources and require reasonable tuition fees for teaching.
It should also know that as there are different levels of government, one level cannot be asked to fend for institutions that do not belong to it. ASUU branches in state universities must negotiate directly with their owners.
It is myopic for ASUU not to see that the Nigerian government is unable to fund all the universities as it was able to in the 1970s.
By seeking autonomy, the universities will be freed up to raise funds to do exactly what they want to see the universities become.
Everyone will have to be ready to pay higher taxes, parents will need to pay tuition, corporate organisations would provide generous grants, the alumni will sow endowments, universities must venture into business and invest in athletics or other sources of revenue generation
Nigerians are smart enough to know that university education cannot be free any more. They know it costs a lot to receive education in private universities, some state universities and foreign universities.
Our people will pay fees that are reasonable if there is an assurance of quality education and prudent management of funds.
They want service and ASUU is too lazy to think out of the box as it visits Abuja repeatedly to ask for its share of the national cake. The cake is too tiny to go round.
Nigerian universities have to be creative. There are so many ways to fund education. They just have to do a little bit of further studying and learning to release the creative juice in them.
In the United States and the UK, public universities only receive subsidies from their state or local governments and know they have to fund their activities through endowments, gifts, tuition and fees, athletics, and grants.
One way or the other, it is the people who pay those subsidies because state tax revenues are the primary sources of non-tuition funding.
The government hardly ever contributes more than 30 per cent to any university, and it is rarely from the Federal Government, except for historically black universities.
Other ways the Federal Government participates in funding is through grants and contracts for research to teachers and financial aid to deserving students. It is never the kind of free money that ASUU is asking for.
In the Scandinavian countries, where most university education is free, the privilege is not a free gift of the government to its people.
The universities are funded by tax revenue. In some of these countries, income tax is above 50 per cent of earnings. Just ask Nigerians to pay 50 per cent in tax!
In a sense, Nigerians also need to be ready to fund our wishes. A Yoruba adage says a tasty stew is made by money.
A good university education will require that everyone contributes.
The change will require all hands on the deck but ASUU will need a change of strategy to start with.
Everyone will have to be ready to pay higher taxes, parents will need to pay tuition, corporate organisations would provide generous grants, the alumni will sow endowments, universities must venture into business and invest in athletics or other sources of revenue generation.
Each university must appoint Vice-Chancellors who can prove they know how to make their institutions self-sustaining and viable.
No longer must the government be involved in appointments and removals if there is real autonomy.
That is the job of the board of each university.
Once universities cut themselves from the control of the government, they should go to work with programmes to make themselves self-sustaining with just a little bit of support from public funding.
The Federal Government has no business in the management of tertiary education, having shown how incompetent it can be when allowed to drive.