Misconception about ASUU

If not because of the dogged determination and perseverance by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in defence of education over the years, public universities in the country would have since been in dilapidated condition with poor infrastructure, and poor remuneration of staff. Moreso, universities would have been stocked with unqualified teachers, just like in primary and secondary schools or perhaps worse. Those who misconcieve ASUU for its struggles, are being selfish and know nothing about what education takes to be efficient. 

It’s common knowledge that people who had the luxury of attending private primary and secondary schools in Nigeria earn more prestige than those who attended public ones. This is so, because the quality of education in public schools at the basic level has since been diminished. But reverse is the case at the university level; products of public universities in Nigeria can show a trick or two to their counterparts from private institutions. This is explicitly to the credit of ASUU. The union, despite the meager resources it receives and the poor funding universities suffer, is able to produce professionals who are rising and  shining globally. Notwithstanding this feat worthy of motivation by the government, the union is pushed over the years to go on industrial action at the detriment of students and the action by the ASUU is always greeted with criticisms by the public.
As a university student, the fact that our academic career is being elongated, owing to strikes, is paining and so, I agree that strike embarked upon by ASUU almost annually is not the best solution and not the best way to put pressure on the government to meet its demands but, to crucify the union for its doggedness is not fair. If we ever dig deep to understand the cost of education in countries across the globe compared to the demands of the striking ASUU members that are yet to be met for over a decade, for which they have always protested, we would discover that education in Nigeria is as worthless as waste dump.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommendation,  any nation that wants to adequately meet the empirical demands of education, 15  to 20 per cent of its annual budget be earmarked for the sector.  Unfortunately, Nigeria’s budget for education has always fallen below the recommended benchmark. 
Despite the daunting tasks and the challenges of the sector and the need for additional funding, President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2021 budget for education is the lowest in 10 years. Out of N13.08 trillion budgeted for next year, only N742.5 billion, which is equivalent to 5.6 per cent is allocated to education, the lowest  allocation since 2011. This is about half of what former President Goodluck Jonathan earmarked for education in 2015.

In 2011, Jonathan allocated 9.3 per cent of the total budget to education. It was further increased to 9.86 per cent in the 2012 budget; elevated to 10.1 per cent of the total 2013 budget. It was 10.5 per cent in the 2014 budget and the same PresidentJonathan earmarked 10.7 per cent of the 2015 budget, which happened to be the highest, since the last decade. However, when Buhari came on board, in his first budget in 2016, the education was cut-short drastically to 7.9 per cent of the budget, in 2017, it was reduced to 7.4 per cent; in 2018  it was 7.04 per cent while 7.05 per cent of the 2019 budget was allocated to the sector and in 2020 it was 6.7 per cent. 

While President Jonathan had every year increased the budget for education throughout his stay as president from 9.3 per cent in 2011 to the highest 10. 7 in 2015, President Buhari has been drastically reducing the budget from 7.9 in 2016 to the lowest 5.6 in the proposed 2021 budget. Who knows how much he will allocate next year? In any case, the Buhari/APC led administration’s lackadaisical approach towards education is, indisputably, disasterous to the lofty dreams of young Nigerians to attain global recognition academically. How could a serious government that values education give only 5 per cent of its annual budget to this most sensitive sector? This is beside the series of outstanding memoranda of understanding the government signed with ASUU in 2009, 2013 and 2017 as well as the Memorandum of Action  (MoA) of 2019, and yet to implement. How on Earth could you expect ASUU not to be aggrieved?

In my view, education is a treasure, however huge amount of money is invested in it, definitely it will pay-off eventually. A senator, whether or not they raise a motion, whether or not they contribute to a debate, they earn  N30 million a month. In comparison to academics, a professor who spends his life, sacrifices his time and pleasure doing research to contribute to  knowledge does not earn N1 million a month. I don’t want to dwell much on making comparison with the fortune allocated the National Assembly. But, if such amount of naira notes beyond my imagination would be given to the National Assembly, why can’t the federal government meet all the demands of ASUU to end this lingering strike that is jeopardising the future of the Nigerian youth, wreaking havoc on the economy and threatening the fabric of our social structure.

This is evident during the recent #EndSARS protest that the current eight months strike was a contributing factor that fueled the agitation which later turned tragic. Had the youth who were mostly at the forefront of the demonstration were in campuses, busy with their academic activities, the move would not have been accepted to that extent, therefore, the government would have easily controlled it. As the saying goes, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. The youth are bored, doing nothing and, therefore, indulging in anything that comes their way.  Who knows what could possibly be the next trend if the youth remain idle? 
The federal government must  understand and appreciate the value and power of education, respect all agreements reached with ASUU and invest more resources in the sector in order to save the future of young Nigerians, because without education man is an animal. ASUU, on the other hand, needs to understand that strike is nothing but a calamity to education, adopt amicable and deplomatic ways of engaging the government. “When two elephants fight, the grass suffer the most”.

Maijama’a writes from the Faculty of Communication, Bayero University, Kano via [email protected]