SUU is in the trenches again, as it embarked on a nation-wide strike that has lasted over two months and has crippled university life in most public universities in the country with no solution yet in sight. This time, ASUU is not asking for a new agreement to be entered into with the government but a full implementation by the federal government of the 2009 agreement that it willingly entered into with ASUU.
Has anyone ever wondered why there are very few or no expatriate lecturers employed in Nigeria public universities, even with the so-called peculiar academic salary structure? The answer is simply that the so-called peculiar academic salary structure and the academic environment are not good enough to attract new expatriate lecturers into the country's university system. Needless to say that most of the expatriate lecturers we had have long left for universities in their respective countries because of the abysmal environment and conditions of service. These expatriate lectures will not even venture or contemplate to come to Nigeria for collaborative research in the universities because there are no well-equipped libraries and/or laboratories. Again, why do we have very few foreign students in Nigeria public universities? The answer is simply that the environment is not conducive to learning and research.
Right-thinking countries and leaders know that education is the bedrock of sound and lasting development. For this reason, a lot of financial and material resources are pumped into the educational sector for the economy to be productive and self-sustaining. It is a pity that many of those who are supposed to know this are completely ignorant of the benefits of a sound educational system or they do not care at all.
ASUU has been in what appears to be an endless struggle over the years for better working conditions, which include an environment that is conducive to teaching, learning, research, administration and community service. The union has made its position on these matters unequivocally clear times without number. Unfortunately, our leaders in government at all levels, and even a large section of the population, including parents, students and onlookers, have not given serious thought to or shown genuine interest in the points that ASUU has been making. Our leaders and a large section of the population think it is all about money that ASUU is asking for to be put into the pockets of its members. To them ASUU is made up of a bunch of irrational and inconsiderate people who should not complain no matter the working conditions. As far as they are concerned, ASUU is wasting the time of students and the resources of parents. Our leaders and a large section of the population are not even bothered about the colossal, negative and multiplier effect of their action or inaction on the overall well-being of the educational system that is supposed to be the bedrock of development and sound knowledge transfer.
A number of times I have wondered whether a lot of what we call universities in Nigeria are truly worthy of the name “university”, given the conditions of service of teaching and non-teaching staff and the working environment, and given that there are very few or no expatriate staff and students in these so-called universities. Even small countries that are not one tenth as rich as Nigeria are making good progress in every sector of their economies, including the educational sector, and are committed to ensuring that, like other sectors, the educational sector also works well. In many of these countries, the governments know that lecturers should be paid and indeed pay them paid living wages, and that their working environment should be conducive to teaching, research, administration and community service, and indeed efforts have been made and are being made to put the necessary systems and structures in place for them. The governments of these countries also know that students should have access to quality education and are committed to ensuring that this is so by providing them with decent, spacious, multimedia classrooms, well-equipped libraries and laboratories, and all that the students need to be successful in their respective academic pursuits.
It is sad to note that Nigeria is among the very few countries where a labourer is not worthy of his wages. It is also sad to note that Nigeria is among the very few countries where lecturers and students are expected to make the best bricks without straw, which indeed they have been making over the years, most times with their personal resources. This unfortunate scenario has been going on for decades. Those who insist that lecturers and students must make the best bricks without straw have their children and wards in private universities in the country or in universities abroad, and support them with public funds.
The current ASUU struggle, once more, calls for sacrifice on the part of lecturers, students, parents, government, leaders, cynics and onlookers to ensure that the struggle achieves its purpose to making public universities and indeed all universities in the country true citadels of learning so that Nigeria can occupy its rightful position in the academic space in the comity of nations.