The raging battle between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities is one that has generated mixed reactions. Some Nigerians are of the view that the underlying aim of intransigent ASUU in view of the strike is a selfish one; that is, it is tied to pecuniary considerations, and not out of magnanimity or genuine interest in seeing the development of Nigerian universities. Conversely, some see the strike and the obduracy of ASUU as positive; a sturdy posture that will give a great form to Nigerian universities at the end of the day. A renowned lecturer of International Relations at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra state, Barrister Samuel Okeke weighs in with answers to salient and anticipatory questions regarding the hugger-mugger in this interview with Fredrick Nwabufo. The interview follows a linear sequence with questions by the interviewer first, and then answers by the interviewee-Barrister Samuel Okeke. It dwells on the essentials and not marginalia. Here it goes.
What is the major demand of ASUU in this impasse that has left universities on lock down?
Basically, ASUU is an organisation that defends the interests of not only lecturers but also that of the university system. It ensures the sustainability of education and its development, so that it measures up to world standards based on UNESCO stipulations. What we are fighting for now is an improvement in all spheres of university education and even beyond that. It is the resolve of the union that 26 per cent of the budget be devoted to education. The government must give priority to education. The 2009 agreement contains viable stipulations for the development of education in Nigeria. And on it we stand.
Many Nigerians believe that ASUU is fighting primarily for an increase in the salaries of university lecturers, what is your take on this?
Unfortunately, that is a misconception that has been spreading. The demand of ASUU is genuine. We must give special attention to education. A situation in which a Nigerian engineer cannot communicate effectively with an American, Albanian or German engineer is bad. We must say enough is enough. Concerning the issue of salaries, there should be motivation for lecturers to work. A situation in which a chief judge receives a salary three times more than that of a professor is not only bad but shameful. This is not what is obtained in advanced countries. If we must develop, we should be ready to do the right thing. Can you imagine university lecturers here cater for the educational needs over three hundred students instead of thirty? The earned allowances of lecturers owing to this anomaly should be paid, that is one of the demands of ASUU. ASUU is not demanding salary increment.
Don’t you think if the demands of ASUU are completely met, it may decide to go on strike again in the future?
I do not think so. If the demands of ASUU are met now, what will precipitate another strike? This fight is for education, and if we win this fight, there may be no need for another strike because this strike is at the core of the educational needs and imperatives of Nigerian universities.
Don’t you think there is a point to which university students may turn against their teachers if the strike is prolonged further?
I do not think so, they are our children. We are doing what is best for them even if they do not know it. Children will always go back to their parents. Even when they turn against us, they will still come back to us. Many of our students have been misinformed to believe that the strike is for an increase in our salaries. I reiterate, it is not true. That is what I have to say in this case.
What will happen to university calendars that have been distorted?
University calendar distortion is not a novelty. It has always been rectified. It happened before and it was rectified. It can be rectified again. At UNZIK in 2003 the calendar was rectified. That is not a problem. The problem is that government agrees to the demands of ASUU soon, so that students can go back to school. The situation is not helping anybody.
What is your suggestion concerning averting future strikes?
The fundamental thing is for governments at all levels to pay special attention to education. Education should be accorded its rightful place. There cannot be meaningful development without education. Again, there should be transparency in the implementation of policies on education. These I believe will stave off future strikes.
Finally, is there an end to the strike?
Yes, there is an end, because for everything there is always an end. And that end is when the government honours the 2009 agreement it had with ASUU. ASUU is not demanding salary increment for university lecturers, please take note.
Ironically, this interview was conducted at his office. It shows that the struggle does not take away the patriotism of some lecturers, and that in the face of government stampede that they are lecturers first devoted to the principles of excellence and service.
Fredrick Nwabufo. Email:email@example.com. 08167992075.