26 Dec 2013

REPOST: Beyond The ASUU Strike By Modiu Olaguro

                “Its high time ASUU starts being the change it wants to see in the nation.”

I’m writing this piece in anticipation of the call-off to the industrial action by the academic staff union of universities which is evident due to the memorandum of understanding that was signed between the union and the federal government on the 11th of December 2013.

The several months’ old strike like any other that has plagued the country was met with diverse reaction from stakeholders across the country. The lecturers on their part reaffirmed their position on the rationale for the strike as one that was needed to revitalize the ailing education sector. The government was quick to point out that the demands of ASUU if met would only signal the end of the country’s economy.

The interesting aspect of the strike was that the students who have been the direct victim of the “chalk-down” were divided in opinions as a number of us supported ASUU while others, probably due to the extension of stay in school or the presumed benefit they get from it especially the leadership of the National association of Nigerian students (NANS) decided to take sides with the reneged party that signed an agreement, but failed to honor it.

The students that were in support of the strike took that position out of the conviction that in a land filled with abundant human, material and mineral resources such as ours, there should not be a reason why our ivory towers should remain at the very bottom of the Webometrics- below several universities, colleges and polytechnics of other African countries.

This development brings to fore some burning issues that have been a source of concern, worry and apprehension for undergraduates across the country.

First is the fear of rushing students in order to close-in on the lost weeks to accommodate students who take other satellite, part-time and distance learning programs offered by the Universities. Rumors are rife among students that if the strike is called off in December, examinations might be held before the end of the year leaving the students with less than two weeks for lectures and tests though a number of school calendars had at least five weeks to examinations before the strike commenced.

It is pertinent to point out that the aim of education far exceeds the “four-walls, teaching-learning process”, it transcends a rigid, hasty completion of an academic calendar; on the contrary, education should aim to focus on those policies and decisions that are geared towards enabling the students achieve both their innate and manifested potentials as against the old ways of letting them be a victim of not only the strike action but also a rushed examination.

It would do the students and management of the respective universities much good if the councils sit on a round table to make an in-depth assessment and analysis on the best way to go about adjusting the school calendar in order to ensure that the students are not short-changed by making them the grass in the tussle between two elephants. Such criteria that ought to be considered include but are not limited to the number of weeks to examinations before the strike and the psychological effect of the months old strike on the students and lecturers.

It is also imperative for ASUU and the federal government to devise other means to settle their scores because though it appears that the leadership of ASUU is in haste to see that the education sector is revamped (which is a laudable development), the result to incessant strikes do leave a devastating scar on the system. A step in the positive direction was the decision that was reported to have been made that the new agreement be signed by a host of government institutions including the central bank in order not to have a repeat of the 2009 agreement that was not implemented.

There is also a need for ASUU to look inward and get its house in order by not compromising standards as regards the unethical conducts of some university teachers. As a way of justifying the financial and intellectual trust put in its care, the university managers should as a matter of necessity ensure that only qualified lecturers not only in terms of certification but also character remain in the system.

As an undergraduate, I have been involved in discussions with colleagues from the faculty of engineering and environmental sciences who complain bitterly that a handful of their lecturers do not have an iota of practical experience in the construction industry and field work. They give instance where first class students were retained to teach immediately after their undergraduate or graduate studies which according to them, has been inimical to the passing across of practical concepts to them.

The leadership of ASUU while fighting the government on the adequate funding of the sector should not also wait to let others point it out to them that there is an urgent need to put the culture of waste to check by prudent management of scarce resources; the issue of sexual harassment on the part of their colleagues and students still steers right on our faces; there is a need to work with the management of the respective universities in order to provide a clear-cut template for the dos and don’ts binding the conduct of both the lecturers and students.

ASUU and the university managements would also do well by providing and sustaining an atmosphere where meritocracy thrives and its members are checked by the students and supervisory bodies and feedback provided to the appropriate authorities on such yardsticks such as attendance to lectures, knowledge of subject matter, discipline and character. Rewards should be handed out to deserving ones while punishment ranging from query, suspension or termination of appointments should be meted out to erring ones irrespective of status.

The forced selling of handouts and textbooks is also a bane in our higher institutions as some lecturers do take down names of the students that purchase their materials- this is in contrast to what operates in other neighboring and western nations where lecturers produce course notes for the students to download at no fee at all.

It has widely been reported that one of the reasons why cultism remain pervasive in our citadels is because some lecturers and even university managers who were cultists during their undergraduate days still remain apologetic to their secret groups; ASUU would write its name in gold if it sees this as a blemish on its part and fishes out culprits in other to solve this social problem.

The issue of leakage of examination papers ought to be seriously looked into as it as widespread and pervasive as a cholera outbreak. There is a need to put in place stringent measures in order to nail this academic disgrace in the bud. There had been allegations that personal assistants to lecturers and secretary to departments are mostly culpable.

The voices of some stakeholders who called for the proscription of ASUU were loud but the call was not allowed to hold substance because as a trade union with several members, they have every right to agitate and struggle especially in a democratic setting; it is thus unfortunate that though ASUU remains a viable and formidable union in Nigeria, most of her members including professors, PhD holders and even graduate students occupying various position in our citadels have in one way or another contributed to the weakening, dismantling and even the proscription of student unionism across the country.

A good example is the University of Lagos who prides itself as the University of First Choice and nation’s pride but has denied her students the right to participate in a democracy for eight years since the student union government was banned. I wonder what the administrators of UNILAG are afraid of to warrant this abuse of civil rights.

The students cannot be absolved from this malice as most of us stay in the university as though we are strangers begging for favors; on the contrary, the university in all its entirety- the buildings, books and members of staff would not have been in place were it not for the students hence, a need to start cultivating the right attitudes of demanding for a better service and quality education from the government and lecturers.

I've been a university student for two years, and since then, I have had cause to remain at home for almost a year: two months on the subsidy protests, a month was wasted during the change of the university’s name, five months and still counting on the ASUU strike which totals nine months.

This is really not a good time to be a Nigerian.

 (Reposted from sahara reporters.com)

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