Public universities have been closed down for the past eight months across Nigeria – not due to the current covid-19 pandemic, but because university lecturers under the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are on strike again.
ASUU has been on strike a combined 25 months in the last 10 years between 2010 and 2020.
The current round of strikes by the lecturers’ union is connected with a dispute over Integrated Payroll and Personnel System (IPPIS), a salary payment platform that ASUU claims the government wants to use to control university autonomy.
At the center of every ASUU strike, is always an issue connected with money – allowances that were not paid, and the demand for improved teaching and learning environments in Nigerian universities.
In 2009, lecturers in public universities across the country embarked on an industrial action that was only called off after the government agreed to revitalize public universities in the country and properly remunerate lecturers. The 2009 ASUU/FG agreement would later become the reason for subsequent strikes.
By July 2010, ASUU accused the government of not honoring their 2009 agreement and proceeded on a five months long industrial action.
Then again in 2011, that strike lasted for 59 days, and again in 2013 for another 5 months, in 2017 and 2018 for a month and three months respectively.
The latest round of strikes has been ongoing since March 2020, with no end in sight.
ASUU has always claimed that all these disruptions to the academic calendar are for the good of the students and the country at large.
In October, ASUU Chairman, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi said
“I believe our students and their parents would understand. If we have lecturers that have not been paid for eight, nine months, how can we have that person putting in their best in the system?”
The fact of the matter is it is the students who suffer the most. A four-year degree could take between 6-7 years to complete. Most students in Nigeria’s public universities graduate with an almost worthless degree which further starves the economy of much-needed skills to improve productivity.
An alternative source of funding Nigeria’s public universities
To understand a possible solution to the incessant strikes by ASUU, it is important to understand the root causes of the problem.
Nigeria is a poor country! And that means the government does not have enough money to properly fund education, health, build roads, and at the same time fight off an Islamist insurgency that is ravaging the country’s North-East.
The GDP of Nigeria was worth 448.10 billion US dollars in 2019, according to official data from the World Bank. A single American company – Apple is worth more than two trillion dollars!
The government heavily subsidizes public education in Nigeria, making essentially free.
A four-year degree costs on average less than one hundred dollars in tuition fees and accommodation per year.
These subsidies have allowed millions of poor Nigerians to get an education, and now alternative sources of funding are needed to keep the universities going.
In 2010, the University of Ilorin (Unilorin) started a jatropha plantation with the aim of one-day producing biofuel. Around the same time, the university also started other investment projects like building an event center, a zoological garden, and a water treatment plant.
All these investments were started with the vision of someday augmenting the revenue that the university gets from the federal government.
Another source of revenue and perhaps the most popular source of revenue for universities around the world is endowment funds.
University endowments are comprised of money or other financial assets that are donated to academic institutions. Charitable donations are the primary source of funds for endowments.
But for Nigerian universities to benefit from endowment funds, there needs to be accountability and transparency – two of the biggest issues every aspect of the Nigerian society has struggled with.