By Olamide Adabale
ERC Member National Executive Committee
Education Rights Campaign (ERC) strongly backs the strike action declared by the Joint Action Committee of the three non-academic unions in the public university system - Senior Staff Association of Nigeria University (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).
We urge the Federal government to immediately meet their demands. We note that whilst members of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have returned to work after their 36-day strike, this would not result into full resumption of administrative and academic activities in the individual public universities in a situation where the members of the three non-academic unions who are critical to the running of the University system remain on strike. This is why we think that the government must do everything in its powers to meet the demands of the unions so that they can resume work.
All the strikes rocking the public university system are directly linked to the crisis of underfunding. This is one of the reasons we of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) consistently demand adequate funding of public education and democratic management of schools.
As far as we are concerned, Nigeria has enough resources not only to fund public education adequately but also to provide free education at all levels. The obstacle however is neo-liberal capitalism and the rabid corruption of the thieving ruling elite who prefer to enrich themselves rather than using the country’s wealth to fund education and other vital social services. This is why the struggle to salvage public education can only be victorious when linked with a movement of the working people to put an end to the profit-first capitalist system and enthrone a workers and poor people’s government armed with socialist programmes.
Just like the now suspended ASUU strike, this strike action was provoked by the Federal Government’s failure to honour the 2009 agreement reached with the unions. In the statement issued by the committee, the government has failed on its part to implement or even exhibit any serious commitment to meet the agreements thus making the strike action inevitable. It will be recalled that some of the demands are based on the payment of the earned allowance, proper funding of education in line with the recommendation of 26% budgetary allocation, provision of adequate infrastructure, improvement in the teaching and learning facilities amongst others. Unarguably, some of the demands if not implemented will continue to place the university system on the precipice. Without gainsaying the fact, the facilities in universities have continued to deteriorate contributing to the retarded development of teaching and learning in the universities.
Contrary to the idea of 21st century and the “change” mantra of the Buhari government, public higher institutions still operate on the antiquated and sub-standard teaching and learning facilities. The welfare condition of the students is nothing to write home about. There is also the crisis of dilapidation and insufficient hostels and lecture theatres, laboratories, epileptic light and water supply, invasion of bed-bugs, all subjecting both the students and lecturers to poor learning and teaching condition. In this kind of situation, it is crystal clear that the graduates that will be produced as products of this system will likely be half baked. The denial of the workers their earned allowance is criminal. It is saddening that with the vast resources of Nigeria economy, Nigeria in the recent period has not even met half of the UNESCO benchmark of 26%.
We hereby denounce this attitude of the government an act of callousness and insensitivity which is apparently detrimental to the education sector and the general welfare of the university workers. The hardship these workers have faced as a result of the non-payment of the earned allowance is beyond measures, while the political office holders continue receiving their salaries and jumbo allowances uninterruptedly. We urge the unions to be consistent and resilient in the struggle since this struggle is not in the first instance restricted solely to the payment of the earned allowance which of course is the right of the workers but likewise on the need to revitalize the education sector and to combat corruption and impunity which has served as a clog in the wheel of sanity restoration within the university system with monumental embezzlement and mismanagement of funds necessary for the development of the universities among other corrupt practices.
Suffice to recall, that universities in the recent period has become havens of corruption, consequently we reiterate that upon the disbursement of the fund meant for development of the university by the government, democratic monitoring by all the stake holders in the university must be immediately put in place. This is a major way that this could guarantee the avoidance of mismanagement of funds by the university management. Therefore placing at the front burner the demand for the democratization of the decision making organ of the university by the unions as a panacea to solving the menace of corruption in the university system is of utmost significance.
We hold that the striking unions instead of the sit-at-home approach should rather link the strike action with public activities like distribution of leaflets, organization of rallies, demonstrations and symposia to practically press home their demands. Furthermore, we enjoin the mass of students to give solidarity support to the unions towards proper functioning of the university system. On this very note, we strongly advise the Federal Government to immediately accede to the demands of the striking unions and be sincerely committed to the revitalization of the education sector.