It is no longer news that members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have embarked on yet another avoidable strike to press home their demands reached in an agreement with the Federal Government in 2009 and which is due for renewal. ASUU has always being the most audible voice drawing attention to the decay in the universities and has succeeded in raising the standards that hitherto existed to where we are today. What least concerned members of the public about the plight of the universities have always been asserting is that all that the union is pressing for is their own share of the national cake. Far from it, ASUU demands are very modest by all standards and are in pursuit of service par excellence at the minimum standards which are pointers to a life of self contentment devoid of ostentatious inclination as seen in academia from other climes. By the way ASUU members as diligent contributors to national development also deserve a conducive work environment with requisite infrastructure and a competitive remunerative package comparable to their colleagues globally or at least on the continent. It is not as if the resources are not there ,they are in fact in abundance as several indicators too many to be mentioned have shown and need not be appropriated through contrivance. Although Nigeria is ranked as the second economy on the continent, the same cannot be said about infrastructure and condition of service in the universities and that is why brain drain even to other African countries has ever been on the increase.
It is no doubt that the ASUU strike is a sacrifice that university teachers, students and parents must make towards uplifting the system. Many concerned citizens may not realize that most ASUU members are also parents and guardians of many students in various universities in the country while others especially of the junior cadre are themselves students pursuing higher degrees and eager to graduate like any other regular student. With avoidable strikes, some ASUU members are rendered helpless about taking up appointments as Visiting Lecturers in private universities locally and universities abroad due to the disjointed nature of the school calendar year. Sabbaticals are wasted without utilization and student exchange programmes are destroyed irredeemably. This is very harmful to inter-university relations and partnerships. With strikes, university lecturers are usually caught up psychologically between the devil and the sea as to whether the archaic ''no-work-no-pay '' rule will be applied on them, mind you ASUU members are also family men and women with daily nay monthly financial responsibilities. This is to show that ASUU members are themselves victims of the proverbial fight between two elephants in which the grass suffers. ASUU members cannot therefore be said to be insensitive to the plight of the students, parents and guardians as they are themselves the first victims to be reckoned with. As a matter of fact, the strike is student-centred. The argument that our degrees are no longer respected in other parts of the world due to strikes is not tenable because year in year out foreign universities send their admission teams to various parts of the country, here in Nigeria, to attract graduate students to their institutions with offers of scholarships and other forms of support. Last year, the Kano State Government sponsored over five hundred indigenous students for post graduate studies overseas.
Were those students imported by the Kano State Government? Or is it not the same foreign universities in need of Nigerian graduates? Or do they mean that after ASUU strike, the school curriculum is jettisoned and degrees are thereafter awarded without studies; no university does this at all, every single aspect of the curriculum that was left behind is covered and assessed. If such students are rejected or not offered admission, it may be for other reasons ranging from poor articulation of research proposals or study plan, unclearly defined funding sources for the intended program of study, low grades, immigration issues, even discrimination at that for their Nigerian citizenship for obvious security reasons and a host of other reasons but definitely not about strikes because Nigerian graduates with the means and right immigration papers have continued to excel abroad in the foreign universities who originally had first degrees from Nigeria. Even in top foreign universities strikes are called for in industrial disputes, the only difference is that they respond to it with positive dispatch and as a form of emergency in the sector. The questions everyone should be asking are: '' why is it that strikes in other climes don't take the toll that it usually does in Nigeria'' ,''why must government always renege on agreements with ASUU or other trade unions for that matter after they are painstakingly reached?'', ''what makes it possible for universities in other parts of the world to have regular uninterrupted school calendar year that is so elusive to us here?'' and ''why do government always fail to act swiftly to restore normalcy whenever there is ASUU strike?''.
In this digital age, teaching and research has been revolutionized and ASUU members have not being left out nor waited for anybody to invest in new ways of imparting knowledge and that is why acquisition of computers by them is hardly funded anywhere save for units and departments who are in dire need of them . There is no visible plan to neither support nor offset the cost of the acquisition of this vital tool of knowledge even though these privately owned PCs are used in carrying out several duties of the university. Perhaps if such vital equipment is requested to be supported or offset by government, the excuse lecturers would definitely get would be that the money is too much. Some university lecturers who can afford it and are high flyers have taken the extra step of buying their personal digital projectors just to ease their teaching and presentations. This is ostensibly not a show of affluence but a demonstration of investing in what you like doing for posterity and the system, where government has failed to do so. I wonder whether some stakeholders in the university system ever consider these significant investments of ASUU members in the future of their students. These are just few examples of private acquisitions by university lecturers that uplift various departments daily across the country. Elsewhere, these supporting equipments are well supported through grants from national funding agencies. ASUU members have single-handedly improved the global webometric ranking of their home universities by increasing the online visibility and quality of research they are doing by publishing in leading journals with high impact factors even with the paucity of funds through collaborations with top foreign universities. These are exceptional cases that show the quality of scholars ASUU is made of and that really they are still at the cutting edge of many disciplines globally. Webometric ranking determines funding flow, student enrolment, helps decision makers decide about the status of various universities, amongst other parameters. Needless to say that there is no incentive, point system nor allowance for increasing the online visibility of your university through popular educational portals like Google Scholar, various online indexing and abstracting systems that are the norm.
With very large classes numbering in their hundreds and thousands to teach and assess, without a smooth compensation package for the excess work load and incentives, the task becomes more daunting and makes one to leave the shell of contentment to take a cursory look at what obtains in other sectors of government. Although no one is not in the least interested in whether some fix their emoluments themselves or not, ASUU members, by the very nature of their calling deserve a better deal that is sealed and completed as at when due, no more. Government should blame itself for allowing ASUU members to look in the direction of the National Assembly.
Giving take- home assignments that enrich the understanding of the students these days is like meting out a punishment to them because existing libraries are paradoxically well stocked with very old books with the literature in most disciplines near irrelevant to current understanding of the subject matter. At most, universities stocking these very old books are at a loss about what to do with them, giving that the reward for recycling these vast volumes of paper and restocking are still daunting challenges. In this regard, school authorities have often encouraged ASUU members who have written books and retiring members to donate same to the library, to which there has been a positive response locally and internationally. But this is a drop in the ocean and moreover books and reading culture have been revolutionized with electronic books or e-books. Despite this, there is no plan to acquire e-books and the reading platforms for lecturers in the public universities. Little wonder, we are in a country where only very few policy makers want to learn from others for fear of being labelled as incompetent and inferior. Otherwise what stops the Education Ministry or its agencies from including in the budget a plan for e-books in various disciplines and the reading platforms for lecturers in the first instance as a development strategy. Students can then be included in the second phase, or it can be done at once. After all, the contractors and their sponsors will be the ones to benefit most from the initiative. It is possible and is being done in Osun State at the secondary level.
Again, in academics there is a saying that ''you either publish or you perish'' as promotion points are based on your publications as well as attendance at conferences, workshops and seminars. Some journals require you to pay publication fees and this is usually paid for through the nose of the lecturer-cum-author. Nobody compensates the lecturer for this feat even though journals with online versions increase the visibility of the institution the author is affiliated to, apart from the indexing and abstracting databases where the articles are sent for archiving in perpetuity. Most top journals do not require any payment as they rely on their subscriptions for sustenance and are highly critical of research coming from climes globally renowned for underfunding educational infrastructure, and so herein ASUU members are once again victims of circumstance. Again, most reviewers of these journals look out for the type of equipment or methodology used in the research to enable them decide whether to accept or reject an article. In the sciences for instance some pieces of equipment produce particular results, wherein older versions cannot and this is a problem to get published in leading journals like Science, Nature and others if you are from Nigeria and without a collaboration knowing so well by them that our government does not invest up to 26% of her budget in Education according to UNESCO recommendation and standards. For instance, some reviewers in biological and physical sciences would prefer to accept research results from an Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS) to an Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer (AAS) as the former is capable of multielement analyses, works independently for hours, is precise and accurate while the later analyzes one element at a time and is therefore cumbersome and bound to be fraught with some errors. Acquiring an ICP-MS is not a small feat for any lab or a university and the same applies for other pieces of equipment in other disciplines. These and many other essential teaching and research tools are lacking in the universities. Yet despite all this hurdles, some ASUU members struggle to put their institutions and country on the global map of serious academic discourse and an old agreement that is supposed to put on ground the minimum standards is yet to be honoured. Hopefully, this is implemented in order to return Nigerian Universities to their past glory.
High flyers amongst ASUU members that attract international grants to the home institution are a source of infrastructural watershed, student development, linkage and collaborative hub yet there is no extra allowance for such feats since it is usually assumed that most grants come with an honorarium even though most funding agencies do not provide allowances for salaried researchers. Such exceptional cases ought to be adequately rewarded in order to encourage others who may be aloof and self-contended with academic inbreeding as local champions. In the absence of a National Science Foundation or National Humanities Foundation that grants funding for research, the Senate of various universities have often provided succour which in most cases is grossly inadequate and cannot even procure a single bottle of some reagents, due largely to the poor funding of the sector in general. Elsewhere, such national funding agencies support research and infrastructure; arguably existing agencies are overburdened with financial obligations to carry out this mandate. These are some of the grey areas that the new agreement must address.
ASUU has never had it so bad, for at least everyone would have thought that President Jonathan being once from that constituency would have gone the extra mile to leave a lasting legacy for his ''colleagues'', the university system and educational sector in general. But it is never too late to go on hoping for the best .Remembering one's constituency is commendable and many have done so in the past including alumni and other benefactors to the university system. In the past, it had been as if once a university graduate leads the country, the problems of the universities and indeed the educational sector would be over. It remains to be seen or it may be that he left the system and the system left him too, hopefully not so.
In conclusion, for far too long have ASUU members being victims of circumstances beyond their control and yet still managing to stay afloat to deliver on their mandate as modern teachers in the 21st century. This can only continue at the detriment of the university system. Students and parents whether of regular or ASUU extraction must see the avoidable strike as a personal sacrifice for national development in the long run and hope for things to turn around for the better. The government should act swiftly by implementing the agreement it willingly entered into with ASUU and initiate a process for renegotiation to meet up with challenges of the universities.