GUEST COLUMNIST by Gbolahan Gbadamosi and Akintokunbo A.Adejumo
This piece arose from a conversation we had that dragged on and on. We have a combined experience of and exposure to university education in Nigeria and an active interest, including one of us being previously an academic staff of a federal university for a substantial time and active ASUU activism. The discussion started with a view that we do nottake ASUU seriously anymore. That they have lost the essence of the struggle and that much of ASUU’s problems are self-inflicted. Many of the university leadership in Nigeria are stealing their universities blind, thus not different from thepoliticians they condemn. We are presently in that season of yet another ASUU strike will may shortly be called off, so it is timely to revisit this malady.
Government incompetence seems to fuel the inglorious system that we currently have in place. Yet, there is a solution to the current ASUU’s inveterate that can make the Nigerian university system stable for at least the next decade, but the government lacks the will to impose this simple and indeed democratic solution. There is need to play the game of union memberships and strikes as it is played in Europe and many other Western countries. It also requires the will to enforce our own extant laws on unions and strikes.
Presently, Nigerian government indulge ASUU by allowing academic staff to be automatically registered as members of ASUU. Let us make membership voluntary and see how it helps. Contract in, rather than contract out. So ASUU will only have people who willingly register with them and pay membership fees directly to them as members. ASUU would need to convince academic staff that there is value in their membership and the membership dues will be transparently used.
Furthermore, there must be a membership vote before any strike and majority must support the strike before it can take place. In addition, universities should not collect union dues on behalf of ASUU. ASUU must collect their own dues directly from their members. That is the standard practice worldwide. We cannot want democracy and freedom of association publicly and practice something else privately.
Once this is done, only academics convinced of the value of membership will remain members and the union will strictly be negotiating with their employers. ASUU will become restricted to the issues that affect the welfare of their members, going back to strictly trade union matters and becoming less political. Presently, ASUU seems trying to run the university systemthrough the back door so to say. That is not their job.
Unfortunately, the government is often irresponsible. They freely enter into an agreement and often fail in their duty to comply with or implement same agreement. Government does this with impunity and often without any consultation with ASUU. If as an employer you perceive a problem with an existing freely negotiated agreement or some problems with its implementation, the fair and sensible thing to do is call a meeting to update the other partner – in this case ASUU. This would result in a modified timeline and ASUU will be well informed and would be less agitated and clearly have much less grievance. They would brief their members and would feel like serious partners in the business of higher education. When government deliberately ignore ASUU and renege on signed agreements, a fair description of their action is arrogant and irresponsible. This has been the practice since 1992 from the Babangida years when the very first serious long-term agreement to improving higher education was signed between ASUU and government.
Gbadamosi and Adejumo are of the AfricanExaminer.com