I have no problem with Unionism. Perhaps I should say that any right thinking person should and ought not to be exasperated by an active and fair unionism. If anything, it demands our collective support as citizens and most especially among the citizens of the ‘fourth estate of the realm’.
With all their faults and imperfections, trade unions have done more than exceedingly for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the human race, for the development of character in man than any other association of men.
In a democratic dispensation like ours, the roles of trade unions cannot be overemphasized. Apart from acting as a tool by which the labor rights of employees are not carelessly violated at the hands of their employers, they have also served as a watch-dog on the activities of government, playing oversight functions and being a constant check on the excesses of the government as a result of the too-many powers reposed in their hands which they are in the continuous pattern of flouting. In this regard, a particular incident that comes to mind, is the January 2011 Fuel subsidy saga where we saw the Abdulwaheed Omar’s led Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC), ‘force’ the government into reducing the price of the Petroleum Motor Spirit (PMS) which had been pecked at an alarming 155 naira down to the considerable 97 naira -that is the beauty of a well focused, unbiased and objectivity-based unionism/activism.
However when members of certain unions, ceasing the avalanche of the powers conferred on them, ride on the high horse of democracy and end up causing more problem in the course of seeking to effect a change, such a union deserve not the least modicum of sympathy from a well-informed citizenry.
When Labor unions choose to act on the psychology of unsuspecting and quite a good number of illiterate and few educated illiterates, to sabotage the national peace, we should give no heed to their tantrums as their actions to me, speaks of a people who fail to understand that the growth and development we all crave as a people, is a journey where we do not all get to the destination the same way we had embarked upon them. While some live to tell the story, others become part of the story but there will be no story to tell when the vehicle is completely grinded to a halt.
And when university lecturers under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), threw spanners to the work and downed tools on the 2nd of July 2013, little did we know as students that we will be met with this level of harrowing experience in the name of some unsigned documents between the union and the Federal government (FG). And so we left for our various homes in the illusion that our various classrooms and hostels will be re-opened after a month or at most after sixty working days as has been the case in the last two occurrences but look where we are today. It’s been a whopping 105 days since our tertiary institutions became deserted with academic and administrative structures under lock and key; to compound woes, there seems to be no inkling of hope in sight even as the yuletide season comes hurrying quickly.
I will not waste space recanting whatever may have led to the strike as I presume even the least interested man on the streets knows at least if not in details, but quite haphazardly why Nigerian students have flooded the streets when they are supposed to be in their respective institutions. I am more concerned here with showing why ASUU ought to have called-off this particular strike or why there couldn’t have been another time to call-off this particular strike but now as I am not naïve enough to think that this will be the last strike to be embarked upon by the union as to them, strike actions have become something close to a hobby.
Call it a ‘blame-game’, and you would be just apt but it is also, yet another effort into letting anybody who cares to know, why ASUU should call-off this protracted strike as a matter of urgency. In any trouble-shooting mechanism, when parties are not willing and open to make concessions irrespective of whatever transpired between them in the past, then the party who fails to shift grounds naturally must be seen as the one who takes joy in the whole feud and wouldn’t like to see to its end; such party therefore, should not be deserving of our collective sympathy as a people still strapped and guided by our consciences-ASUU, is that such party in the current FG/ASUU impasse. I will tell you why.
True, some documents were signed in the past between ASUU/FG, but where is that agreement in the whole of human history that would not be subject to modifications and amendments? It is both naturally and legally true that agreements are meant to be kept. Of course we were told in the Good Book that God kept his covenant with Abraham but then, not an agreement where the party who is to enforce the agreement suddenly lacks the wherewithal to do so. ASUU has always told us how the federal government freely entered into some agreement in 2009, but let it be said that president Umar Musa Yar’Adua must have put pen to paper not ‘freely’ as ASUU is quick to tell us, but rather, the leadership of the union back then, ‘arm-twisted’ the government into biting more than they can chew just for peace to reign. We all know the late Yar’Adua as a man so civil to a fault. No other president could have granted amnesty to the Niger-Delta militants, but his kind nature moved him to doing that. And today, has oil-bunkering stopped in the creeks?
Howbeit, those may have been in the past, but had the Suswam led Committee (Now Namadi Sambo) on Needs assessment of Nigerian universities not approved the immediate disbursement of 130 billion which the striking lecturers haven’t come out openly to dismiss or rubbish, then we all will hold the government to ransom and shout to the top of our voices to force them into action. But since such amount has been approved even though it begs for consolidation to at least, half of the 400 billion naira demanded by ASUU, I see it as a commitment on the part of government however ‘little’ it may be. Even more, is the truth that ASUU could call-off and allow negotiation to continue and if need be, seek for the presence of certain distinguished individuals outside of government and prominent civil society organization to act as a privy to the would-be signed agreement. That is the way a union who claim to be fighting for the cause of students should act and not this current tone of greed which ASUU have chosen to devise which has only aggravated the problem and everyday rob them of the public sympathy they before now, enjoyed enormously.
Can ASUU ever quantify their so-called academic Earned Allowance(AEA) which it is now very clear they are after under the veneer of infrastructural development with the level of damage that has been suffered by the Nigerian students who have been idling away at home in the last 105 days? While theirs is only but a partial crevice in their pockets (as we all know many of them have taken jobs at the numerous private universities coupled with the fact that they will be paid arrears of their salary immediately after the strike is called off), those of the student population is financial, academic, physical, and psychological and otherwise-is that what unionism is or should be about?
How can ASUU, justify their strike action In the long run when it is clear that they will at the end of the day, still do what even the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea have always pleaded with them to do-which is accepting what the government has offered and returning back to the classroom for the sake of the students and posterity?
As it stands, the year is already spent. How will ASUU, justify not to man but to their consciences the reason for sabotaging or dealing a blow to the entire second half of the year which the strike has gulped as even if they call-off the strike tomorrow, academic activities will barely kick start until the end of the X-mass season? Would they see it as an end which has justified the means?
Before the strike action, Professor Dibu Ojerinde of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), had admonished universities to wind up their admission processes by October-but as it stands, that vision is already dead. How can ASUU answer to this? JAMB will be ready to flag-off another UTME exam by March next year, what then will be the fate of the students who sat for the same exam this years only for the current strike to put paid to their lean chances of securing admission in to the universities by October this year?
How will they answer to the level of disruption of academic calendars of the various universities which have been under lock and key since the commencement of this latest strike? Do they even think about that? The Nigerian University Games (NUGA) which was scheduled for this month has been either postponed or cancelled due to the strike. Does the striking lecturers even understand the level of integration such sporting event allow students of its opportunity? I do not think so.
They are more interested in profiting Naira and pushing career aside. They are more concerned in wearing the same grade of ‘agbada’ with the fools many call senators and drive in the same posh cars with the executive class, hence any means could be taken to achieve this aim, it is not a cause for any alarm.
This years Law School intake has suffered a shortfall of candidates because of the inability of the faculties of Law in the different campuses to shortlist students for the annual program. What then becomes of the fate of these students affected by this action? Would they ever find a place in their hearts to forgive ASUU? Is their future an article so trifle enough, to be sacrificed on the altar of unionism? Are they so cocooned in their own affairs and interest alone but merely wear the garb of fighting for the course of students?
How can they answer to God for the students who have died in one ugly circumstance or the other since the commencement of this strike? What about the young men and women whose future dreams and aspirations now hang in the balance since the strike became an anemia? Can they present a reasonable case apart from asking us to blame the government and listing the government’s recklessness with funds and the deluxe lifestyles of politicians? Many people have often said that, “if they want to become politicians, they should quit their jobs and register with political parties to test their popularity in elections”. While I have never fancied such statement in the past, I cannot help but subscribe to it. Being in the academia is a whole different thing from being in the political class and as far as I am concerned, I consider the academic a more prestigious place to be than to be in the political class. Isn’t there more prosperity in the word than in the world? But the materialistic nature of the men and women who parade themselves as the occupants of our ivory towers, have thrown that philosophy to the birds and are more than ever, eager to be as rich if not even richer than the politicians. I am not condoning the reckless lifestyle of politicians and the way a good percentage of our national budget has been apportioned to the political class, it is despicable everyone knows but if ASUU wants to go on strike, they should make that the subject of their strike some other time and not prevaricating into the matter whenever they are on strike, it amounts to steering a middle course in dispute resolution.
ASUU must understand that Nigerians are already sick and tired of their protracted strike as even the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) under its leadership comrade Isaac Gbadebo has come out openly to condemn their obstinacy in the whole trouble-shooting steps. Even though many have labeled him as an ant-unionist, I do not think in the name of unionism, the truth should be crucified all in the name of Aluta. Nothing has been achieved in an atmosphere of obstinacy, dialogue and continuous dialogue has always been the hallmark of civility.
In the last three months, there is no organization that hasn’t come out openly to plead with the striking lecturers to accept what has been offered by the government, devise other means of funding, while negotiation continues, but all have fallen on deaf ears. Yesterday it was our mothers, the other day it was the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji sa’ad Abubakar 111, the clergy have taken their turn, various elder statesmen have done too, the Ohaneze Ndigbo, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Conference of Nigerian Political parties, the council of traditional rulers and even the opposition APC, have all at one time or the other, pleaded with the striking lecturers to shift some ground and call off this protracted strike but it seems the union is bent on holding the nation to ransom and have allowed their ego to get the best of them as though in a war of attrition with the Federal government. These voices are respected ones in the affairs of this country and ordinarily should have moved ASUU into allowing logic to take the place of emotion in their faculties, but that is not the case. This no doubt, made the president to reach the hypothetical conclusion that the strike has become a political issue, I cannot agree less.
Finally, ASUU should know that there is not and there will not be a better time to call-off this strike than now when the ovation is still loud than to do so subsequently in shame. Every voice that once blamed the government has now taken a volt face, and instead has blamed the lingering strike on ASUU, that should ring a bell to them. They should understand that the support they have received so far from the masses has been monstrous and must as well, pay back to them by heeding the voices of Nigerians and accepting the 130 billion naira tendered by the government and call-off the strike so that the youth population roaming the streets like itinerants could go back to the classes and find a way of salvaging their future and the future of our country at large.
The object of any strike action should consist of two major goals. One for the betterment of the system and the other and most importantly, should be for a progressive Nigeria and not otherwise. ASUU “biko” ‘ronu’.
The writer is on twitter as @yung_silky