ASUU and FGN have been at loggerhead again. The strike holds indefinitely and this time, it promises to be very devastating. Considering past experience on strike actions embarked upon by academic staff in Nigeria, it seems palpable that strike has always been the last resort for the union to press home demands. I think the potency of ASUU version of strike actions is obsolete, weak and increasingly ineffective. A new and or corollary method is needed if it is to achieve the purpose for which it is embarked upon.
In employment relationship, the traditional purpose of industrial strike is for organised labour to continually inflict economic pain on recalcitrant employers till demands are pressed home and met. But the FGN-ASUU version of industrial actions poses reasons for scepticism. The employer no longer feels any pinch from strike action. Rather the poor man on the streets; recharge card sellers, commercial bus drivers, photographers, food sellers, and book sellers, who operate on and around campuses, are the ones receiving the resultant economic burden. Students, suffer and teeth-garnish as a result of lingering industrial strikes and acrimony in the ivory towers. They are doomed to vagabondage and crime as they soon become effective tool in the hands of rapacious and nefarious political leaders who use them for perpetrating their political violence through rigging, thuggery or other vices. The government they fight is not anyway affected and we make noise in the media just for nothing.
Another point I feel should be of concern to ASUU is that not all universities in the nation joins when strikes are declared by the union. The Chairman of Unilorin branch was recently quoted in one of the dailies that the branch union has not been interacting with its national body for more than a decade now. In Nnamdi Azikwe University, where I currently serve, ASUU seems to be nonexistence. The University of Nigeria (Nsukka) and one university in Delta also do not go on strike. There are other universities like these. Although we may claim that these nonconforming universities are infinitesimal in number to negatively affect the progress of ASUU. I tell you, loophole is loophole no matter the size. What this means is that the union is lacking some form of solidarity. The spirit and principle of “esprit de corps” is no longer there and this fundamentally undermines union strength and renders labour struggle as efforts in futility. ASUU is supposed to be the most learned among unions in Nigeria to recognise and understand this fact. I understand that we now practice “open shop” as contained in the Trade Union (amendment) Act of 2005, which forbids any union to force union member to join strike. This clause was premeditatedly included in the law by Obasanjo administration to render union less vibrant. The Nigerian government takes into cognisance all these lapses and because of that it sees ASUU as a toothless dog barking at its owner. Even if it bites, it cannot inflict pain and the owner will punish it by refusing to feed it. Government officials jokingly discuss these issues among themselves in social gatherings and in the dinning table with their family while the academic bodies and the general public languish at home.
The question is this; wouldn’t government honour the agreement it reached two years ago if the outcomes of strike really hurt it so bad? Government seem not to feel any threatened by ASUU strike. Strike action in our universities is beginning to become obsolete and less effective as tool for economic infliction on government. It rather boosts its (government) morale. Government officials often use the period of industrial strike to showcase their personal limbo and ideological balderdash on Television Stations and in national dailies. Doing this gives them a boost of ego because it makes them feel in control of national affairs. This is one of the reasons why they are recklessly insensitive to ASUU’s bluffs during agitations. It is this reason that make government toy with the source from where they got educated and empowered to attain the various positions they currently hold in the country. The result of this is a growing rot in the educational sectors and rapid knowledge declination, growing illiteracy rate and criminal inclinations among Nigerian youths.
Therefore it becomes imperative for Nigerian labour leaders, industrial relations experts and especially ASUU to fasten their belt and immediately embark on rigorous research to faction out alternative, or a corollary, to strike actions that will spare masses from being at the receiving end of the harsh outcomes of strikes. They should study the characteristics of modern day government in Nigeria and craft out or device a new instrument of economic coercion capable of bringing modern day Nigerian government to its kneel without giving us masses undeserved socio-economic torture. But another set of disheartening questions abounds; how can credible research be conducted in dilapidated academic environment where educational values are fast decaying and priorities are blurred if not in limbo? Which professor in Nigeria today can boast of living a decent life as those in politics? Which of our academicians is happy enough to voluntarily embark on research journey to proffer solutions to the aggravating labour problems in the country? Even if alternative and workable solution is designed and developed, will Nigerian government and the elite class provide environment or avenue for its successful adoption and implementation? I believe all hope is not lost.
What therefore is the way forward? I will suggest that First, ASUU needs to go back to the drawing board to re-strategise ways through which its members will have unquenchable confident in it and identify with it at every point in time regardless of law. When the national body of the union declares strike actions, it should be in the interest of all members or in accordance with what union members consented to. A situation when some members opt out of national industrial struggle declared by the national body is uncalled-for and indicates union weakness. It constitutes blacklegs and undermines the potency of strike action. A union that cannot successfully integrate and harmonise members’ diverse interests cannot build an undefeatable army for national battle; at least not with Nigerian government. ASUU should immediately do something about this.
Second, I think gone are the days when government reached collective agreement with labour and implemented it without much delay. Today, government only signs agreement just for the sake of pressure and because it is legally bounded to bargain with union to negotiate terms and condition of service in line with the trend of economic or inflationary situation in the country. Since this is the case, it means that reaching agreement in this country is one and implementing is another. There is need for a new mechanism for timely implementation just as collective bargaining is for reaching collective agreement. This “implementation mechanism” or you may call it “enforcement procedure” should be consciously designed and should be legally bounding so that once agreement is reached; the next phase is for union to quickly activate the enforcement mechanism in place. This enforcement mechanism is best sought in the legal institutions. To do this the educational institutions spearheaded by ASUU can form a synergy with legal institutions in the creation of some form of pact where laws will be formulated. Since the struggle for educational resuscitation in Nigeria is a concern for all, a synergy of lecturers and law makers and enforcers will make meaningful impact in the struggle. Certain conditions will contain in the law or you may call it a “bill”. These conditions include;
That all and intending public office holder be prevented by the law from enrolling their wards in either private schools or universities abroad. The rationale for this is simple. A caretaker or someone shepherding a group of people will exhibit high protective and progress-oriented attributes, on the group, if he has a stake in it than when he has nothing to loose. In democracy, government is elected to represent the interest of the masses and provide for them, through the wealth of the nation, the basic necessities of life including education. There is no reason why government cannot enrol their children in the educational institutions it funds and manages. If there is, why? I do not think this particular condition will amount to infringement on the right of the children in anyway because it is temporary and it is by virtue of the crucial position that the parents hold in the country.
Again, the period of time within which agreement reached can be implemented should be well stipulated in the bill/law; conditions for further extension of such stipulated period should also be well stated out. The reason for this is evident in the current FG/ASUU saga. In the real sense, the agreement reached two years ago ought to have been under new consideration of being reviewed and renewed with the current trend of economic situation in the country. This is because the amount of fuel per litter in 2009 is not the same in 2011 and can never be in 2012. Undoubtedly, the country’s economic conditions under which the 2009 agreement was reached must have changed, if not deteriorated in 2012. Apart from this, concerted efforts were exerted and series of industrial bluffs took place before the 2009 agreement was reached. Yet two years after the agreement nothing fruitful surface. This renders all efforts; time, money and energy spent in reaching the 2009 agreement useless and unproductive. It ultimately brings us back to square one. This explains why this section should be emphasised in the bill.
If these two conditions and others as may be considered necessary by both FG and ASUU, are included in the bill and passed in to law, it will form a very effective corollary to ASUU strike. With this new law, ASUU can go on strike and simultaneously drag FG to court for breach of law. And if truly no one is above the law, the two parties will be compelled to treat each other with respect by honouring agreement they both voluntary reached. While litigation is on along with strike action, the wives and children of the government, whose university is affected by ASUU strike, will also mount more pressure on government to speed up in resolving issues with academic staff. This will force government to rise up to the demands of education in the country.
Very certainly, my opinion on the lingering industrial actions in our educational institutions which leaves turbulent outcomes on the masses may be considered uneasily achievable. It is however a way towards ensuring radical changes in Nigeria. It is therefore worth trying. Law was one of the tools used by government to weaken the potency of industrial strike and I think it is not bad if Labour uses the same tool against government. Besides, if same sex bill can be passed into law without much ado, I believe education should enjoy more priority than same sex issues. A bill aiming for educational resuscitation is therefore worth trying. May God help us!