By Chukwudumebi Norbert ATTA, PhD
The wellbeing of the child or children is ordinarily a great priority for families and States. Thus, parents (and guardians), communities and states make positive effort in diverse forms to safeguard the children, and to provide needed necessities for them. This motive, has for example, resulted or seen cities and States making laws and drawing up policies that are children-friendly and (child) protective, for the advancement of the good of children. The 1989 ratification of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which remains one of the world’s most ‘widely ratified human rights treaty in history’, is one strong instance of concerted effort by humanity to highlight the value of the child in the world, the society, and principally to the family. It is, therefore, not for nothing that the child is seen or referred to as the ‘future’ of the society.
Unfortunately, the protection and promotion of the rights of the child is not given attention and urgency equally, by countries and individuals. Nigeria, for example, remains a good example of the countries that have continued to treat the issue of the holistic protection and provision-for its child(ren) and their future, with levity. Continuing cases of increasing out of school children, children hawkers on major roads and markets, and the likes, evidence the unseriousness of Nigeria in providing adequately for its children. Also, while many Nigerian parents and guardians make sincere and great efforts to protect and provide for their children the Nigerian State, particularly government at various levels, have not lived up to expectation (in pursuing actions necessary for the advancement or good of the Nigerian child). This is most true in the area of formal education, where Nigeria continues to fail in its responsibilities towards its ‘future’, its children.
It is indubitable that many Nigerian parents and guardians invest time, energy, and monies for the formal education of their children, with some literally going without basic necessities – like clothing and food, just to see that their child or children get basic standard education. Yet, successive government have been appallingly shambolic-on-education, and done little if at all, to advance the nation’s education sector, and (that way) complement or give a sense of fulfillment to many sacrificing parents and guardians. It is lamentable that vital areas in the Nigerian education sector, including the implementation (of policies and programs), provision of educational materials, and addressing other pressing issues in the sector, only show strong evidence of the failure of successive governments in the country to advance the (nation’s education) sector.
The present strike action by the academic staff of Nigerian public tertiary institutions goes to show the apparent lack of will and interest on the part of the government, for the wellbeing of the Nigerian child. This essay bemoans the horrid situation and makes recommendations towards addressing it (the ASUU strike).
STRIKE-ACTIONS IN NIGERIA’S EDUCATION SECTOR: A RECURRING DECIMAL
Strike or industrial actions is a global phenomenon. They occur in other countries too, though not with the same regularity that they happen in Nigeria, especially in the education sector. The history of strike-actions, including education-related ones, has never been uniform across the world. Nonetheless, industrial actions by various bodies have become commonplace in Nigeria as Nigerians are always inundated with news about one group or the other – at different levels, threatening or involved in one strike-action or the other.
Strike-actions in the nation’s educational sector, including the present ASUU strike, is their peculiar nature. One distinguishing fact about education-related strikes is the terrible and negative impact that they have on generations of Nigerians, and by extension, on the country. It is certainly for its overall impact on the Nigeria and its future, that the current strike actions by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which has just entered its fifth month, is worrisome and wearying.
In discussing the current ASUU strike, or even the past ones, there is no doubting or denying the genuine concern of university academic staff on the overall state of education, especially on tertiary education in Nigeria – including on the quality of education, access, salary structures, and indeed, the general misery of the education sector in Nigeria. Yet, the plight of many Nigerian children, parents and guardians who are at the receiving end of persistent strike-actions in Nigeria, and the harsh economic situation it further engenders for them, should not be overlooked in considering strike-actions in Nigeria.
Besides its regularity of strike-actions in Nigeria, the consequences of the current strike by the nation’s public university teachers, are enormous. They touch on the different strata of the society – individual, family, community, and national. It is unarguable that nothing but putting an end to the strike, would bring relief to Nigerians and Nigeria, given especially the irreparable damage already done by the five months of closure of public universities. Ending the strike would no doubt avert more woes for Nigeria and its citizens.
The preponderance of teachers-strikes in our recent history – including primary, secondary and university teachers – are disturbing, if not disgusting, enough. But the current ASUU strike is most unfortunate, as it comes at a time when Nigeria is lagging behind in many areas, including in the area of academic achievements. Today Nigerians are known to move out in droves to neighbouring, sometimes-poorer countries, in search of steady schools and quality education. Hence, the current strike only adds to the woes of the country’s education sector, including on the ‘weight of’ or how diplomas from Nigeria, is viewed outside the shores of the country.
The current ASUU strike comes at a time of grave economic distress in Nigeria. The country is observably tottering on its seams – economically, security-wise, socio-culturally etc., making the strike quite worrying. For instance, instead of employing and reaping from education helpful means to give the country economic and otherwise leaps, Nigeria has its schools closed, its school-based academic workforce unused, and its children at home now for more than five good months. The unpleasant situation rubs off on parents and guardians too, as they contend with the uncertainty in planning towards their wards educational future. In all, the recurrence of strike actions in the nation’s education sector is inexcusable, as it affects different aspects of the country’s life.
EFFECTS OF STRIKE ACTION IN NIGERIA’S PUBLIC UNIVERSITY
There is no denying the monumental effects of strike or industrial action, in the education sector, on different aspects of life and the society. Notable among the nagging negative impact are that it rubs off on the education sector, on individual students, on parents and guardians, on the teaching staff, on the country and at large, and even on humanity. For instance, the persisting situation would no doubt hamper the individual students’ academic and overall development, including seeing students spend longer time than anticipated in school with the danger of some students dropping out of school completely. The parents and guardian are also affected by the continued strike-actions in the education sector, as it leaves them uncertain and even disturbed about the future of their children or wards.
Naturally, strike-actions in its educational sector undermines Nigeria’s educational goals and national development plans. With strike actions in the public schools systems, like the current one involving academic staff of the nation’s public universities, educational programs are truncated, and the national education objectives negatively impacted. The truth is thus that the first casualty of the lingering strike action (and past ones too!), and shockingly so, is academic outcomes. The industrial actions leave Nigerian public universities’ students, and the country, worse than it already is, educationally, for which the present scary situation calls for urgent action.
Furthermore, parents and guardians bear a great part of the brunt of the effects of industrial actions in the education sector. As already noted elsewhere, they beside other issues, have to contend with the unanticipated presence of their wards, the uncertainties about when schools would resume, inability to plan for the future of their children, doubts about the quality of education that their wards receive, and the financial expenses involved by the extension of school programs occasioned by strike actions.
The university teachers are also not left out of the negative effects of strike-actions on the education sector, including the current ASUU strike-action. Strike action in the educational sector brings to the fore such issues that bears on the academic staff as job satisfaction and productivity (of university teachers), and remunerations. Industrial actions naturally hamper teachers job-satisfaction and productivity, in spite of their (job-satisfaction, productivity) being essential to the work of the university teachers/lecturers. In all, the employer cost of strike-action on university lecturers are simply enormous. The losses no doubt include (losses) in academic output, loss of remuneration (as sometimes happen in Nigeria where striking teachers’ salaries are withheld or denied), loss of confidence, and even loss of students (who may drop out). Thus, teachers are greatly impacted negatively or affected by strike actions in the education sector, including the ongoing already-five-month ASUU strike.
Overall, strike-actions in the public universities in Nigeria has a far-ranging upshots or consequences on the different strata of the society: individual, familial, educational, social, and national levels, and as such demands exigent attention.
CURRENT ASUU STRIKE: WHO IS TO BLAME?
The now-five-month ASUU strike obviously have serious implications for the country and its populace. Yet, instead of addressing the strike issue and its associated conundrum headlong, both the government and the striking teachers have continued to trade blames on who is responsible for the lingering contemptible situation in the education sector, while leaving Nigerian children at home for five months and counting.
Remarkably, the agitations by university teachers for such factors as better pay, quality, and standard teaching environment, and for the survival of the university system in general, is laudable. It supports concerns about the education sector and calls that the federal government do more than it currently is doing, to fund higher education in the country. Nevertheless, the country’s dire and dwindling economy, coupled with the growing insecurity and criminality in the country and the toll they are on the country and public fund, could ordinarily make one to excuse the government from giving a blank check to all of ASUU’s demand. So, who is to blame for the haunting strike-action in the Nigerian public education sector? We would rather refuse to take side on who is guilty or not on the prevailing disturbing public university situation for understandable reasons. Our concern is that the universities be re-opened to advance the future of Nigerian children and the country at large.
We argue, therefore, that neither the government nor the academic staff of the nation’s university is to be held squarely culpable for the current situation. Yet, neither of them should be completely excused from the ugly, disturbing, and parlous state of Nigeria’s public university. Both are guilty and innocent to extents. Thus, while successive governments have been comprehensively instrumental, and contributed immensely to the decay in the education sector – including not dedicating enough resources to the sector, appointing cronies to run the system, reneging on contracts and promises among others; the continuing decline in government’s revenue continues, and other allied issues facing the country, impact the government’s ability to meet fully its obligation to the public university education in the country.
CONCLUSION: RESOLVING THE CURRENT ASUU STRIKE IS CRITICAL!
The foregoing are enough reasons for the stakeholders in the education sector to address the current incidence of strike-action by public university teachers in Nigeria. It is simply shameful that while other countries, including smaller African and less-richer countries, are dedicating time and wealth to the furtherance of quality or standard education, Nigeria – the famed giant of Africa – has watched its children in Nigeria’s public tertiary schools spend more than five months at home, over teachers-related strike action. It is harrowing, if not unfortunate, that it has taken more than five months for the FG and the striking workers to reach a compromise for the good, and future of the Nigerian child. What has obtained is a case of two uncaring elephants fighting and harming and hampering the future of Nigeria’s ‘future’, the Nigerian child.
Nigerian students – undergraduates and postgraduates, their parents and guardians; and public tertiary school lecturers, and the country suffer in the face of the persisting ASUU strike, and nothing short of resolving the logjam between the government and the universities’ academic staff is beneficial to the country, and its teeming population. The imperative of fruitful dialogue by interested stakeholders and well-meaning Nigerians, built especially on sincerity on the part of the government (including cutting down on government spending on frivolities like the humonguous and truly unnecessary emoluments and allowances of office-holders) and genuine patriotic consideration by the public university lectures (both for the plight of the students and the economic woes of the country), cannot be gainsaid. It is time to do away with the insincerity and consequent suspicion, that had characterized the discussion between the governments and the university teachers, in the interest of Nigerian children whose future is being endangered by the continuing situation.