The recent outburst by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over unpaid salaries of its members was neither surprising nor unexpected from the university teachers who have borne more than a fair share of disappointment from successive governments.
While ASUU has the legitimate right to demand the payment of the salaries of its members, however, it ought to be more circumspect and, being an umbrella body of a critical member of the elite class, should demonstrate a better appreciation of the current economic state of affairs in the country.
That bleak economic situation must be taken into consideration by all Nigerians and a body like ASUU should help proffer solutions in addition to pressing for its rights.
ASUU may be justifiably distraught over its members’ unpaid salaries, but the primary and secondary school teachers who are in more precarious conditions, are equally justified to cry out and an understanding must be reached that Nigeria is in an unusual situation. That situation in the country, afterall, is so bad that as many as 28 states can no longer pay salaries.
So, all crying voices must be heard but all hands must also be on the plough.
ASUU, had at its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in the premises of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, the other day criticised the federal and state governments for the poor handling of its members’ welfare.
The union justifiably complained that the budgetary allocation to education has drastically dropped from 11 per cent in 2015 to eight per cent in 2016. This situation, it added, has scuttled the smooth process of revitalisation of the universities, which started in 2013, and has led to abandoned projects in the nation’s tertiary institutions.
ASUU correctly lamented that of the 36 states of the federation, 28 owed worker’s salaries of between six and 12 months while noting that many of the state governors were arrogantly unapologetic. It then accused the governors of being insensitive to the sufferings of the workers and bemoaned the fact that several families have been torn apart as a result.
The ASUU, either rightly or wrongly, said the Treasury Single Account (TSA), introduced by the Federal Government, has been inimical to the wellbeing of the universities and appeals for government to exempt the universities from TSA regime, a call, which has fallen on deaf ears, and to which the union would go to any length to resist the continued implementation.
ASUU’s concerns, no doubt, are understandable. University teachers, like all workers, are entitled to their pay. Besides, as the institution for research and nation the universities ought to be properly equipped with needed facilities. The absence of such facilities and incentive could demoralise teachers hinder research and development, which is not in the national interest.
Truth, however, is that the present economic hardship affects all Nigerians, including ASUU members. Companies are folding up due to lack of power and raw materials. The Federal Government is borrowing to pay salaries and the country’s future is being mortgaged. Government certainly needs to be creative in order to steer the country out of the economic mess.
There is need for a nexus between ASUU, government and other critical stakeholders just as all have to put heads together for solutions. A time like this calls for better universities and research, which is a crusade that should engage all members of ASUU, a body made up of intellectuals who should be part of the solution to Nigeria’s problems.
It is certainly sad that Nigeria has found itself in such a precarious situation as this in which an oil-based or single product economy has collapsed and there is little to fall back on.
The call to diversify the economy is now strident but should be backed with action. Legal strictures that deny states the right to utilise the mineral resources in their domain should be removed. Agriculture should be a veritable means of diversifying the economy but the capacity for it should be painstakingly built.
The entrepreneurial drive that should help create jobs should be nurtured and encouraged while lack of electricity, which frustrates artisanal enterprise development should be solved.
Nigeria’s various universities, therefore, have a job to do. They should challenge the lecturers to do more research with more funding and better incentives while the government finds a meeting point between the town and the gown.
The plan by ASUU to embark on another strike at this time should, however, be shelved. ASUU should meet with the government to iron out the disagreements with the best interest of Nigeria at heart.