It was the longest strike in the history of ASUU that lasted for eight months between February 14 and October 14, 2022. The strike was forced to a temporary stop by the court, therefore the struggle is yet to be over. When the 4-weeks warning strike was declared on the 14th of February 2022, nobody thought the strike will last for that long. The declaration of the strike met the usual lukewarm attitude of the government. They did not have the intention of addressing the demands of the Union and were therefore looking for ways to frustrate the University Lecturers. Several techniques were deployed to blackmail the Union and destroy ASUU. It started with the rejection of the report the of Prof Munzali’s led renegotiation committee and the inauguration of Prof Nimi-Briggs’ led renegotiation committee. Then, the attempt to inject an argument that since a renegotiation committee has been set up, ASUU should suspend the strike while the renegotiation continued. That did not work.

As ASUU was seen to be stubborn and uncompromising, there was the need for a technique to break them. So, the starvation strategy was deployed and salaries payment was stopped despite dispatching March 2022 salary payslip. After the Nimi Briggs’ committee completed their work, the report was submitted but was equally rejected by the government that set it up. When the strategies failed, blackmail started and the government renegotiation team was not spared. The committee had to do an advertorial in national dailies to debunk the lies from the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Education. The Education Minister presented a take-it-or-leave-it offer that he called an “award” which was rejected by ASUU. There was another committee of Pro-Chancellors and Vice Chancellors brought up to look at the renegotiated documents without a result. The committee never met after its inauguration. Later New unions were registered to challenge ASUU’s hegemony of the academic space which lasted only for two days. The last option was to use the courts to force the Union, as a law abiding group, to suspend the strike.
The Labour minister claimed that he went to court because the negotiation between ASUU and the FG had broken down. The claim was found to be amazing and full of lies. The government was in the possession of two separate renegotiated documents from two different committees that it sets up but refused to implement any of them. How could that have translated to a broken negotiation is what many observers could not figure out. The case is now in court, the government in collaboration with the judiciary has used the court to “hector” lecturers back to class, and the lecturers are expected to resume class immediately. So, what next for the lecturers, the government, and the universities?

Public universities are supposed to draw their funding from public funds. That is why they are called “public universities”. It is the core responsibility of the government to fully fund education at all levels, including public universities. It is most likely on this basis that ASUU is struggling to make successive governments live up to their responsibilities of proper funding of public universities. However, the President during the budget presentation at the National Assembly said: “It is instructive to note that today the Government alone cannot provide the resources required for funding tertiary education. In most countries, the cost of education is jointly shared between the government and the people, especially at the tertiary level. It is imperative therefore that we introduce a more sustainable model of funding tertiary education”. After seven years of no significant plan for education and seven months to the end of the administration, there is yet to be any sustainable funding model from the government for public universities.

University education is surely not free anywhere in the world. It is either fully funded by the government, the parents, or both. If the government is not willing and the people agree with that, then the parents will have to get ready to fund the education of their kids if university education must continue. If the president’s message is to be taken serious, then, with the current poor funding status, the universities will be left with no option but to take the tough but painful decision of inroducing tuition fees from the next academic calendar. The federal government by the way is also interested in the 25% of the revenue that will be generated by the universities that will be remitted to it. But whether converting our public universities meant for knowledge creation to revenue-generating centres in a matter for discussion another day. The revenue is expected from impoverished Nigerians and how will that improve the quality of the system and make our universities world-class is also a matter of concern.
The court case has not started yet, and the case can take ages. It will be difficult to comment on that for now. However, the universities are announcing the dates for the resumption of lectures, and the lecturers are expected to commence lectures with unpaid 7 months’ withheld salaries irrespective of the state of mind of the lecturers. An academic job is an intellectual one and that is the reason why the job is not meant for everyone, but those with the intellectual capability. How Nigerians expect the best from these traumatized lecturers to engage in intellectual work with their present state of minds is startling. That is not surprising to some of us as quality education does not seem to matter any longer in Nigeria but just the certificate.
However, what is the future impact of the 8-month strike on the university system? As narrated by Ernest Chukwusoro Igwe in The Guardian, October 17, 2022, a similar scenario occurred in the past in 1977-1978 with secondary education in the old Imo State of Nigeria. That was when the then Dr. Agom Eze was the Commissioner for Education in the old Imo State. The teachers’ strike lasted for over six months without payment. By the time the salaries were paid and the strike was called-off, virtually all the secondary school teachers had become involved in one form of business or the other to make ends meet when the salaries were stopped. The tragedy was that none of the teachers abandoned their rescue-trading-subsistence occupation to concentrate on their primary teaching job. Since that time, secondary school education has suffered negative deprivation in standards and quality.

The deliberate prolonging of the 8 months strike by the government and the withholding of salaries for seven months has imposed untold hardship on the university community and the lecturers have to survive somehow. Some have ventured into other stuff for survival. It has also made some to discover some new skills that they are now surviving on. No one should surely expect them to abandon their new found side occupation for the full-time lecturing job that has just resumed. If that alternative trade or activity brings in good returns, the job may take primary attention while the lecturing job becomes secondary. That is not healthy for the system and will lead to negative deprivation in the standards and quality of the already bad situation. Similar to the secondary schools, the withheld salaries will be paid but the consequence of the strike will be with us for a long time. The fate of university education in Nigeria will be worse-off after this avoidable eight-month-long strike.

The decision-makers on university education from the center are unfortunately either those that have not University degree at all; those that have lost touch with the university system or those whose understanding of the university was as university students and have got no idea how the university system operates. We have to set aside the political approach to resolving the education crisis. We need an honest round table discussion on the sort of university education that we want for a developing country like Nigeria to thrive.
The parents and students hate lecturers going on strike, the only tool that has been used to force successive governments to inject some funds into public universities. But on the other hand the students and their parents do not want to hear the word “tuition fee” in the public universities. That is a double standards. The political office holders need to understand that they are temporary occupants of their offices and that our institutions will outlive them.
If the current government is sincere, they should bring together the stakeholders in the education sector to sit a
If the current government is sincere, they should bring together the stakeholders in the education sector to sit and agree on a sustainable funding model for public tertiary institutions that will put an end to these avoidable strikes.

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