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The marching order from the Federal Government compelling University lecturers currently engaged in the ongoing strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to immediately resume duty by December 4, 2013, or be sacked, is a provocative act of brinkmanship that demonstrates the haughty nonchalance and glaring lack of sincerity of purpose that has characterized the administration’s reaction to the crisis. Not only does it undermine efforts to end the impasse, it further aggravates the already distrustful ambience between government and ASUU and portends to a national tragedy of great magnitude, should the striking dons call off the bluff. Whatever justifications exists for the action, the sentiment behind the ultimatum is devoid of the cultivated intonation for which the academia as an enclave of civility is noted and cast the government as callous, insensitive and irresponsible. Admittedly, the ridiculous fiat raises fundamental questions of judgment and character on the part of President Goodluck Jonathan, on whose desk the buck stops!

 

Issuing the strongly-worded ultimatum, the Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike warned that any lecturer, who fails to resume by the deadline, automatically ceases to be a staff of the institution. Consequently, vice-chancellors will then be allowed to advertise vacancies for their positions. “As a responsible government, it cannot allow the continuous closure of public institutions as this poses danger to the education system and the future of Nigerian youths”, Wike said, adding that the protracted industrial action is certainly part of a grand strategy of sabotage by ASUU, against the Jonathan administration. He ordered all vice-chancellors to ensure that members of staff who resume for work are provided with the enabling environment for academic activities, and also mandated the National Universities Commission (NUC) to ensure compliance with the directive.

 

Indeed, there is an urgent need to end the strike that has kept Nigerian students out of class for over five months and brought to the front burner, the deepening crisis of public universities, like other public institutions in Nigeria. The Minister’s observation that “the continuous closure of public institutions as this poses a danger to the education system and the future of Nigerian youths” is therefore, a forthright assessment of the situation. However, the Education Minister overstepped his bounds when he declaredthat any staff who has not resumed by next Wednesday, December 4, 2013 will automatically be sacked. This threat is an act of lawlessness or arbitrariness on the part of Wike that cannot and must not be condoned. An Education Minister who seeks to run and regulate universities like a military administrator should be viewed with suspicion. A certain sense of urgency or desperation by the government to end the strike may be what Wike is out to convey, his ultimatum is still unacceptable, irrespective of the intention. There are finer and more decorous ways of passing a message to one’s constituency, especially the academia.

 

Coming amidst plans by ASUU to end the strike within 24 hours, should President Jonathan accept the new resolutions suggested at a November 4, 2013 meeting, the public posturing and tough talking was unnecessary. It certainly is no surprise that Minister Wike’s claims that ASUU has been making fresh outrageous demands have been discounted by ASUU as untrue. It is also no comforting news that, besides the N30bn earned allowances released for university staff, the government is yet to disburse the much-publicized N100bn for infrastructural development. ASUU is also miffed that certain resolutions reached at the meeting with the president were absent in the final letter sent to the union. The main grouse remains government’s failure to honor a Memorandum of Understanding it signed on January 24, 2012 with ASUU and to comprehensively implement the 2009 Agreement signed by both parties.

 

To which end, the union is urging President Jonathan to facilitate the endorsement of resolutions reached with him and that the agreement be signed by a high-ranking government official, preferably the Attorney-General of the Federation, rather than by a permanent secretary. The union’s stated desire is to have the N200bn 2013 revitalization fund for public universities to be warehoused with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and disbursed to the benefiting universities directly. ASUU also wants the President of Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), to be a signatory witness to any future agreement. This begs the question: is this too much to ask? Ever since the strike began, the government has sought, without conviction, to exculpate itself of any bad faith in the negotiations with the striking dons. Now is the time to match their publicly stated commitments with concrete action that will end what has been unarguably one of the darkest pages in the history of higher education in Nigeria.

 

The problems confronting Nigerian universities show that all is not well with the system. A recent Federal Ministry of Education Needs Assessment Report to the effect that the Nigerian academy has been grossly engulfed in a deepening crisis of immense proportion is saddening; but is no exaggeration. Nigerian universities have ignominiously transited from prominence to obscurity in the global ranking of universities. Indeed, the situation is so bad that many reputable universities no longer accept Nigerian universities’ certificates for post-graduate studies. Even at home, reputable employers now raise critical eyebrows when dealing with Nigerian graduates. The quality of postgraduate training and research has plummeted and can hardly drive the process of national development.

 

Nigerian universities hardly attract international students, as was the case in the good old days. As the Exam Ethics International, a non-governmental organization, recently revealed, annually, Ghana gets N160bn of Nigerian students’ funds, while Nigerians spend over N80bn on education in England. These unglamorous statistics represent failure of political leaders in the country generally; and policy makers in the education sector, especially the Federal Ministry of Education and the NUC. If there is any indication that Wike is worried by the rot in Education under his watch, the Minister’s actions are yet to reflect it. Official reaction to the situation only shows that Wike, though not solely responsible, is part of the problem. The Education Minister, especially when it comes to state-owned universities does not see himself as part of a universal culture; and so refuses to abide by the same rules.

 

Nonetheless, Wike should not forget that though he is in a superintending position, he too operates within certain rules and regulations. It is delusory and dangerous for him to think that he has the power to sack university lecturers and Vice Chancellors as if he appointed them. Ministers and their agents in departments, agencies and commissions should not see themselves as overlords. They are appointees who hold their position in trust for the people, and their success will depend on how well they discharge their duties within the limits of the rules, not beyond them.

 

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From the point of an angry student who wants to get back to school ASAP, this is a welcome development.
By the way, which ministry is in charge of appointing public university staff??? Isn't it the Ministry of Education??? So I don't think Wike is 100% out of line in his action. Besides, he wasn't appointed by an election process as a Minister. He was appointed by the present government and is therefore their spokesperson in such matters.
I also think the writer of this article is not objective but biased towards the government.

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