By Prof. Boniface Egboka
Disruptions in Academic Calendar and incessant strikes harm Nigerian Universities and the society. University Academic Calendar that usually-runs in semesters comprises three-tiers of four months duration in each semester, namely, Ist semester for September to December; 2nd semester of January to April; 3rd semester of May to August for each academic year. Full academic/administrative work that involves teaching, research and administrative duties is carried out in first and second semesters while holidays, research, students’ admissions, seminars/symposia/workshops, travels etc. are carried out in the third semester.
Planning, designs and execution of infrastructural projects go on all the year round. In each semester, students are kept busy with academic and socioeconomic case studies and intellectual search for knowledge. These activities make life/work in anyUniversity a busy experience where lives of staff and students run a full annual cycle of academic-cum-socioeconomic activities. These envisage no disruption(s), no matter how minute. The normal University Academic Calendar, with little variations or adjustments from one institution to another, is usually-religiously-followed worldwide through well-scripted-out course systems in world-class Universities. A stable Academic Calendar is a hallmark of any reputable/solid academe. But unfortunately such widely-accepted norm of universal Academic Calendar is not observed in Nigerian Universities. Instead it is continuously-disrupted through strikes in the system with wanton indiscretion and indescribable impunity.
Disruptions in academic life of any academic system cause untold academic and socioeconomic destructions within Universities and the polity. Students are always very busy in well-programmed academic and social activities on a day-to-day basis such that any disruption becomes catastrophic in nature; students, staff and parents are put in a quandary. Unfortunately, these strikes repeatedly-occur annually as a result of premeditated actions by government officials and University staff-organizations. The academic and administrative staff and their associations, Federal Government authorities, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour and Productivity, National Universities Commission etc. would usually sense or know apriori that Academic Calendar of any year would be disrupted by strikes if certain remedial actions are not taken when problems arise. No one seems to care a tuppence to do something ameliorative to stop disruptionsfrom occurring. The leaderships of each of these groups, be it of governments or Universities, would sit and stare while nothing serious is done to abort any evil disruption by strikes on University life.
The major disruptive causes of problems are pernicious trade disputes and internecine strikes which are endemic in Nigerian Universities almost on a yearly basis. Government-owned Universities, with exception of privately-owned Universities, are victims that are usually-involved in this macabre dance of reactionary exercise. Academic Calendar is programmed on a day-to-day basis for every semester wherein all students, academic and administrative staff will encounter for the entire session of an academic year. There are no short-cuts or omission or commission. It is developed further as Time Table of Events that must be followed holistically and religiously by all concerned in terms of: admission exercise, clearance of students, registration, matriculation, lectures, workshops, laboratory work, research, seminars, examinations, marking and evaluation of scripts, release of results, assessment of students, students welfare etc.; staff academic functions of teaching and research, welfare, assessment for promotion of staff etc.
Travels and visitations within and outside the country by staff and students planned/scheduled in earlier years; special live or sensitive research using humans or laboratory animals that may be destroyed if project is suddenly-aborted or abandoned. A University is like a government of its own where there are myriad continuous activities, academic and administrative. These activities are disconnected whenever disruption of Academic Calendar occurs which would hurt staff, students, parents and the public-at-large. Sometimes staff salaries may be cut resulting in anger/angst, sudden poverty/penury. Staff become depressed and begin to lack their intellectual fibre for teaching and research. Some staff abandon their Universities for greener pastures within or outside Nigeria. This results in annual brain-drain of expertstaff from Nigerian Universities to Europe, the Americas or even to African countries where better conditions of service and commensurate salary payments. Some staff surrender themselves to doing menial jobs and driving their cars as taxis in urban centres during strikes in order to make ends meet.
Innocent students and parents are worst victims. Some strikes last for over three months;many students refuse to return to Universities. They may decide to travel to Europe through Sahara desert and Mediterranean sea for journey of no return. Weird holidaysforce students to go home to parents and disturb them. Some students may die on the way through motor accidents on bad roads; join criminal gangs or throw away their academic lives to the winds. When strike is called off after quasi or partial-settlements withgovernments, the Academic Calendar is disrupted and distorted such that things would fall apart. Attempts are hurriedly-made to readjust Time Table of Events to cover lost grounds in teaching; hurry through lectures, conduct of examinations and release of results. There would follow complaints and queries whether the year’s syllabus was adequately-coveredor completed; whether students got enough learning/knowledge as required from lecturers.
Meanwhile, the lecturers and administrative staff would have got some of their demands as well as their full salaries during period of strike. Who then really loses? Of course, students, parents and governments as well as most staff. In short, everyone loses during disruption of Academic Calendar during strikes in Universities. Strikes should not be allowed to happen at all! Recently, the country came out from painful ASUU strike that lasted for months. It should not have happened if the Federal government took pre-emptive actions to pay staff what had been agreed upon after duly-concluded negotiations betweengovernment and ASUU. It took many months of ASUU strike for government to pay. As Universities were recovering from throes of this strike, another debilitating strike hascaught up with Universities. It is being carried out by administrative staff of Nigerian Universities by JAC of NASU, SSANU, NAAT etc. It is unfortunate that the Federal authorities seem to have created the problem for this JAC strike to last till now.
According to reports, some billions of Naira were released to University staff over Earned Allowance claims by the ASUU. This money is supposed to be shared by academic and administrative staff. It seems the government did not specify properly the sharing ratio/formula for the money between the concerned parties. Now JAC is blaming the Federal government and ASUU for not sharing the money well. As a result of this financial imbroglio, administrative staff of JAC, have gone into a full-blown national strike that has now lasted for over one month with no end in sight. It is better seen than imagined what sufferings the academic/administrative staff and students are going through now in Nigerian Universities.Is it reasonable that ASUU, JAC and the Federal government should be unable to settle this financial discord and save the Nigerian University system from further depression and destruction?
Governments should be more pre-emptive in taking decisions and should not allow events to deteriorate before taking actions. Government officials and intellectuals should stop their present disappointing mannerisms/idiosyncrasies bedeviling our Universities by disruptions of academic/administrative work resulting through incessant strikes caused by them. This brings down international stature and image of our Universities.