Sowande: But for ASUU, public universities would be history

Olusiji Sowande


• Strike, Only Viable Means Of Getting Govt To Listen
• Government Tilting Towards Privatisation Of Education

Professor of Ruminant Animal Production at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) Abeokuta, and Coordinator, Lagos Zone, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Olusiji Sowande, in this interview with UJUNWA ATUEYI, insists that embarking on strike action is the only practical way of getting the Federal Government to be attentive.

Why would ASUU always resort to strike, even when it may not yield expected results?
Our strike yields results, may be you can say it doesn’t yield 100 per cent of what we would have desired. We have found out that the only time government listens to us and is serious with us is when we go on strike, and don’t forget that ASUU does not desire going on strike. We would have done all that is within our ability, even politically and otherwise before we decide to go on strike.

But incessant strike actions affect scholarship.
I agree with you, but we can also say, what scholarship are we going to be doing in a situation where lecturers do not have comfortable offices, where students do not having comfortable environment for teaching and learning. When you don’t have facilities in your laboratory to do cutting-edge research. Many of our universities are still using equipment that developed countries used over 20 years ago.

This is the reason when some of our colleagues write papers for publication they would be told ‘sorry, your equipment is obsolete.’ So what scholarship are we encouraging. So, our position is, why should we continue to manage when we see the way government officials waste and embezzle Nigeria’s money. We have a lot of money in this country and we can fund education effectively, but our attention is not towards that. But when it comes to politics, you would be amazed at the kind of money they spend on politics. Where do they get such money from? Are those not public resources? These are some of the issues that make strike actions inevitable.

What innovative way can ASUU get government to listen other than strike?
For us, we have done our best using political means, writing letters and requesting for meetings. You can only devise innovative means when you have a listening government. Our governments are not listening governments; they only listen when you go on strike. And you know it is not only ASUU that is fighting this irresponsibility of the government; it is the only group that is being courageous.

In almost every aspect of the Nigerian system, government is not ready to do anything, and whatever they do, you must be sure that politicians have interest in it. Anything that has to do with the common man, they are not ready to do. How can you devise innovative way for people who are not listening? If you have people who are listening, committed and responsive to people’s agitations, then you have to be innovative in your dealings with them. So the only option we have for now is to go on strike, even though it is very painful.

Some believe that ASUU is one of the major problems plaguing the Nigeria University System. Do you think otherwise?
Maybe I should also ask, are we really the problem? If anybody is accusing us, he should tell us how. In fact, if not for ASUU, public universities in Nigeria would have been a thing of the past, given the rate at which private universities are being licensed. Even state governments that are creating public universities, do you know they are already doing something towards privatisation when they say they are creating universities on the basis of the Public Private Partnership (PPP)?

This is because you find out that eventually, more of the resources of the state would be used in creating those universities after which they become personal projects. So, the truth of the matter is that it is an agenda to ensure that education in Nigeria is privatised, so much so that you have enterprises where it is only the children of the rich that would go to the university, even as we have it now. In some universities where fees are as low as N25, 000, we still have students who are unable to pay, how much more when fees are in the region of N500, 000, N800, 000, N1m and above.

So the question we ask ourselves is, with the level of poverty in the country, what is the proportion of Nigerian youths that would be able to have university education. If you look at the rate at which we are creating private universities, the intention is that overtime they will overwhelm public universities. And so we may not even need public universities again, but what would become of the children of the poor? Is that not a discrimination against the poor?

If look at our constitution, education is what every Nigerian should enjoy, irrespective of ethnicity and origin. They should be able to enjoy, good and quality education. So, if government is now tilting towards privatisation, it is a breach of the constitution and I think every Nigerian should rise up and confront the government for not upholding the constitution they swore to.

There are insinuations that transparent application of resources is an issue in universities, how true is this?
We cannot accept that all through the university system in the country there is no transparency, that cannot be generalised. There could be places where there is lack of transparency, but you have to deal with those places specifically. Notwithstanding, the issue of transparency should not be the reason for not honouring agreements. Government must honour its own part of agreements and then monitor how the resources are utilised. If there are problems, single out those universities where there are problems and sanction them.

What conditions must be in place to make universities in the country financially independent?
Universities, especially in our own part of the world cannot be financially independent when you look at the way we waste resources in Nigeria. If universities are properly funded and researches are properly funded, so much so that we do cutting-edge researches, have well-equipped laboratories, patents from these researches can generate money for the universities, but that is not to say that government will still not do its part.

That is what government seems not to understand. Even if you go to Europe or other parts of the developed world, government still fulfils its part in university education. Apart from funding, they put proper policies in place to ensure that there is good environment for researches to be carried out, and also ensure that learning facilities are in place.

Out there, there is also very good relationship between universities and industries. Now, how many industries do we have in Nigeria that are really functioning and capable of partnering with universities? Even telecommunications outfits like MTN would prefer to partner with the entertainment industry, where they spend a lot of money on entertainment. But when someone excels academically, all they do is dole out a paltry sum. How many of these industries are actually ploughing back into the university system in terms of corporate social responsibility? So those are some of the things that should be in place, while government continues to do its part to fund education.

The issue of policy somersault is not helping matters either, because it ends up truncating ongoing programmes. For example, not long ago, the Federal Government said universities of agriculture and technology should not run certain programmes, whereas a previous government actually encouraged them to do so because of the large number of youths seeking university education without success. This is one case of policy somersault that is not helping education.

QUOTE
Maybe I should also ask, are we really the problem? If anybody is accusing us, he should tell us how. In fact, if not for ASUU, public universities in Nigeria would have been a thing of the past, given the rate at which private universities are being licensed. Even state governments that are creating public universities, do you know they are already doing something towards privatisation when they say they are creating universities on the basis of the Public Private Partnership (PPP)?

In this article:
ASUUOlusiji Sowande


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