The Academic Staff Union of Universities: The Price of Success
Toyin Falola, Part 3
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is a labour union that emerged from government workers’ interaction to improve Nigeria’s educational system. The body came into existence in 1978 to succeed a union of similar philosophical mandates, the Nigerian Association of University Teachers, which aimed to install a viable culture that would effectively transform the country. The conception of the union is traceable to examining the country’s academic condition, which was heading towards a crisis. The Nigerian political system was in its fledgeling state and was exposed to every kind of manipulation by those in power, a situation that was threatening the moral and professional career of teachers. The alternating transition between democratic and military government cemented the reason for the initiation of a group that would be saddled to speak out the members’ minds and do this without any form of betrayal. In essence, ASUU’s emergence has tackled and addressed the aspirations of professional teachers within its socio-historical timeframe in the country by taking measures that would ensure that a fair working condition is complemented by up-to-date infrastructural facilities in the country’s tertiary academic institutions.
Going by the motivations of the eggheads that ushered the group into existence, the fundamental objective of ASUU is to negotiate with the federal government based on the need for the provision of desirable welfare for the Nigerian teachers at the tertiary level, especially the universities. The union’s mission is to ensure that the country does not experience massive brain drain in the intellectual sector, where people in whom the country has invested quality academic resources migrate en masse to areas where they believe have better working conditions. It is the tenacious belief of the union that losing individuals to those places, due to the challenges of lack of access to quality life resulting from the poor welfare package accorded to them by the country, would ultimately retrograde or proportionally regress the nation’s knowledge production and inevitably render academics unfit for international competition. Meanwhile, the provision of good welfare befitting of the individuals working at the tertiary level goes beyond salary increment alone. In situations where there is a significant infrastructural deficit in the education system of the country, meeting up with the emerging trends in the global educational society would be largely impossible, and this would have foreboding consequences on the academic conditions of the country as those within the sector are likely to become frustrated.
To be candid, the union has recorded several successes to its credit because of some rigorous, persistent, and dedicated efforts put in place by the group’s governing body at different times. In fact, despite some areas of excessive obstinacy of the union resulting in its outright refusal of compromise, the union has made impressive landmarks in the facilitation of better academic working conditions for the members since its inception. Some individuals are usually judgmental of the union because of the information gap between them and the union. Not many outsiders understand that the high reduction in the degree of migration of these lecturers comes from the body’s persistent and continuous assurance of a better working environment that would inevitably fast-track their career development. To convince a people to continue to work for a government, despite continuous deplorable conditions of intellectualism and competence and the unceasing undermining of their social contributions, demands more than a mere verbal innuendo. It requires actively engaging the government as evidence of the commitment to their collective yearnings. Through thick and thin, ASUU has remained steadfast in its pursuit of better work conditions for its members and installing a suitable environment where academic competence is possible.
It remains etched in the public memory and the Nigerian archive of history too that the outstanding efforts of the ASUU as a labour or trade union for the implementation of a functional academic structure, especially during the period of military leadership, cannot be overemphasized. Military governments, by their designs, did not usually consider the investment in the education sector and the system as the primary objective of leadership. Their neophyte disposition about the significance of education to the advancement of a people’s collective dreams and goals accounts for their indifference to the system when they found themselves in power. The 1970s and 1980s, in the sociopolitical experience of the country, was largely dominated by military leadership, which invariably meant that the country’s educational sector suffered a callous abandonment from the government. In 1988, when the country was under the siege of military dictatorship, the union had to organize a nationwide industrial action to obtain fair wages for the academic members. As the only language understood by the military leadership is force, the language of persuasion by the union was misconstrued, and this led to its proscription in the same year. After a series of this experience, ASUU was vindicated in 1992 for its achievements. In recent times, ASUU has declined the government’s intrusion in overseeing the running of Nigerian universities.
Fair to say that ASUU has won commendable feats through its successful agitations; it is equally incontestable that it has won fierce criticisms by different groups in the Nigerian society. ASUU has been considered notorious for its uncompromising stance when negotiating with the federal government. It is a built-in operational method for the union to threaten and then implement strike actions whenever the government refuses to accede to its requests. However, when this is done, the resulting consequences are usually overwhelming and unpredictable. A society is considered a working system prone to breaking down when it is not primarily functioning. The country is also more exposed to danger when the academic sector is stagnant and not making significant progress. Therefore, strike actions open the country to several consuming challenges that threaten its stability. When the youths are condemned to their homes without engaging in profitable enterprises, apart from them being prone to temptations of unimaginable standards, they are equally available to be used as instruments of moral degeneration in some extreme situations. As such, by its intransigent dispositions, the union has inadvertently short-circuited the future of many students.
Consequently, the union has different images depending on those evaluating it. Parents, for example, consider ASUU as agents of frustration that impede the growth of their children as they understand that the confinement of their wards to their different homes brings imposing pressure on them, to which they have no absorbing mechanism. On the students’ part, ASUU is conceived as an insanely ambitious group that places its interests above other things, using the innocent students as leverage to get access to its share of the “national cake.” However, for the government, the body is considered a sellout whose masked ambition is to portray successive governments as unwilling to give the necessary financial attention to the country’s education system. These various critical appraisals have revealed that a body seeking the welfare of the people would always be confronted by several challenges, especially when they have an information gap about the internal issues they have to contend with. In one of its recent industrial actions, the group protested the deplorable conditions of the country’s education system and expressed their desire for a school environment that is adequately equipped with necessary facilities. The union dragged the government to a protracted negotiation period, during which tertiary education in the country stood still for almost a year. As usual, this attracted ASUU to severe criticisms from stakeholders.
My questions to Mr. President are ready:
Can there be an ASUU that will not use strike actions as a weapon?
Is there a strategy without its risk?
Should internal cleansing not be the sole focus: to fight members who engage in malpractices and corrupt management?
A university must not be an island of privilege without responsibility!
To hear him speak and answer your questions, do please join Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi on:
Sunday, Apr 25, 2021
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