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Students may resist future ASUU strikes-NANS President

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Mr. Dauda Mohammed is the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). In this exclusive interview with our education correspondent, Abdullahi Yunusa, he sheds light on a number of issues relating to the state of tertiary education in the country, increased funding, brain-drain as well as the recent strike by university lecturers under the auspices of ASUU.

Disputes between ASUU and the Federal government over issues bothering on the state of university education and welfare of lecturers date back to the 1970s. Don’t you think this unhealthy development is partly responsible for the rot in the nation’s university education system?
Well, strike actions are legitimate, civil and acceptable ways of venting grievances or opposing certain policies in any part of the world. Strikes are not peculiar to Nigeria alone. Expectedly, strike actions come with their negative consequences. But to be frank with you, that of Nigeria, especially within the Ivory Towers has become too much. The rate at which university gates are abruptly shut in the country in the wake of strike actions is not in the best interest of university education. Unfortunately, university students are usually at the receiving end each time university lecturers under the auspices of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal government ruffle feathers. The situation should not be allowed to continue this way. Undoubtedly, incessant faceoffs between stakeholders in the education sector also contribute to the many problems facing the sector.
Little wonder students in tertiary institutions across the country are always scared each time news of ASUU strikes spring up. Personally, I usually become scared whenever university lecturers threaten to down tools. The consequences are very damning; in such situations undergraduates are left with nothing other than to go home. Like it has often stated, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. So, it’s very worrisome and disturbing each time lecturers vacate classrooms because the consequences are dire on them and the system generally.
I see a new era of friendly relationship between ASUU and FG. Last week’s suspension of the two months old ASUU strike was an indication of the fact that both teams have resolved to work in peace and harmony. The whole situation boils down to any of the parties honouring agreements entered into. Government is a continuous thing, if one government enters into an agreement with a union, it behoves on the new government to honour such agreement. I am happy both teams have found a common ground which eventually led to the suspension of the strike action. We hope and pray that the Federal government fulfill the agreements entered into with the union.
ASUU, in order to ensure that government doesn’t fail to implement agreement entered into, has set up a team to effectively monitor the level of implementation. Do you foresee another strike action in the event government fails to fulfill its promises?
Well, I don’t want us to sound or appear pessimistic about the issue. We should express hope that the event of the recent past doesn’t repeat itself. I believe nobody will be happy to see university students stay back at home for months oweing to strike actions. I feel pained as an undergraduate being forced to vacate my hostel because of strike actions. We pray both parties continue this way.
Should government fails to honour its agreement with the union and ASUU insist on embarking on another strike action, what would the students do?
Like I said earlier, we don’t pray to witness any strike again. We are tired of being treated like orphans, and that is why we always implore government to honour whatever agreement it has entered with university lecturers.
Well, should university lecturers insist on embarking on another strike, university students will not sit and watch them. We will get involved through various legitimate means. We are not violent people; we are very responsible, patriotic and peace-loving humans.  If it happens, we would stage a protest to ensure that the strike action is reversed with immediate effect. We cannot continue to watch both government and university lecturers for whatever reasons make us go through difficulties in our bid to acquire degree certificates. Unarguably, students and parents are usually those at the receiving end. Imagine the fate of medical students, who by the nature of their discipline have to spend years to earn their certificates. It can be very frustrating to spend more than the specified number of years in school simply because government and lecturers have found it pretty difficult to reach a compromise on very simple issues that can be amicably resolved.
It all boils down to the issue of trust. Lecturers have always argued that government has perfected the habit of not fulfilling agreement entered into with them, especially as it pertains to the recent one entered into by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua’s administration. Government all over the world is all about continuity. A new government in place is expected to continue from where the old one stops. As argued by ASUU, government has not given it reasons to believe it for once and that accounts for why trust has no place in the entire saga. Am happy both teams have resolved to end their feud for now, we do hope that nothing new, in terms of disagreement comes up again.
Brain-drain has been identified as one of the problems facing university education in the country; do you blame this development partly on incessant ASUU strikes?
Personally, I don’t see reasons why those who are in the best position of helping to fix the nation’s tertiary education system are daily leaving Nigeria for other countries within and outside the shores of Africa. For whatever reason, I condemn such move. Life is not all about personal comfort; it’s more of going out of your way to assist others in achieving their goals in life. I can’t imagine why those trained by Nigerian lecturers some years ago and have reached the stage of helping to groom others will decide to go away just because ASUU and Federal government are at loggerheads. It’s sad and very disturbing. Who do we expect to build the country for us if every one of us decides to leave the country? No matter how terrible the situation might look today, if we don’t fix it, I tell you, no one will solve the problems for us.
Almost on a daily basis, the country’s best brains are leaving the country for other countries. I think it’s high time we stopped that if at all we are expecting things to change in Nigeria. We cannot continue to contribute to the development of other countries at the expense of our own dear country. When you go to universities in the USA, India, China and some European countries, an appreciable percentage of their lecturers are Nigerians. As a matter of fact, they all schooled here before leaving for those countries.
We shouldn’t lose hope in the ability of the country to swim out of it current challenges. We should give our support to this current administration to enable it right the many wrongs in the country. The challenges are enormous and that is why we must all contribute our quota towards ensuring that government at various levels deliver dividends of democracy to the generality of all.
As students, we also have our many roles to play. Its wise government carry us along in whatever they want to do. They should take advantage of our strength, vigor, intelligence and physical abilities to achieve their positive and people-oriented objectives. We are willing to work with government in realizing its objectives for the overall benefits of all.
Increased funding for universities across the country is one of the demands pushed forward by ASUU. Do you support that, in view of failure by some university administrators to justify how previous funds given to them were spent?
Yes, funding is major component of the education system. We are working hard on our part to see that government at both state and federal levels adhere to the UNESCO 26% budget for education. Education is key in the development of any nation, so no amount spent on education should be seen as waste. I’ve always maintained that government should not just release funds to universities without monitoring how they are spent. Government should be very concerned on how funds released for the education sector are spent.

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