There is a sense in which the two ‘wars’ are very similar, at least in terms of the destructiveness and the length of time. None of the two is less than 30 years. Although it is now a contested fact that Europe’s own 30 – year war ended with the Peace of Westphalia, that does not detract from the point about Europe (not all of it) having been at war from 1618 to 1648. There is no knowing if a truce would be signed in 2023, that being when Nigeria’s ASUU – FG war would have clocked 30 years. It has been no less destructive.
Every president of Nigeria, military or civilian, since 1993 has had to fight the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) which found in strike actions the unfailing weapon for asserting its rights within the context of industrial relations. Starting with the Babangida administration which it overwhelmed after series of outings, ASUU has won considerable concessions from subsequent leaders, from the short lived Ernest Shonekan Interim administration to that of General Sani Abacha, then General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; Alhaji Shehu Umaru Yar’Adua; Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and even the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari.
Of course, each successive president, elected or selected, responded differently and victory was either minimal or much. In all cases, there was always value added, except this latest phase which has been on since February 2022.
The Buhari Government appears to believe that it can predominate by wearing out the union. No academics have been paid salaries since February, for instance. As unclear as many citizens on what exactly ASUU wants and as manifests in people asking how employees can aspire to determine their pay), ASUU is gaining in the court of public opinion. The trade union movement is with it. It is unclear whether the fault is with ASUU or outside of it that some citizens see their action as a case of employees dictating their paypacket. Such a statement shows that popular understanding of the industrial relations context of the strike remains week although a large segment of the society does connect the bits and pieces.
An instance of this might be found in the picture being circulated massively now of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State who had said a few days ago that the Federal Government could not be expected to borrow to pay academics. But only for his picture to surface attending his son’s graduation ceremony at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom. Surrey, a suburb of London is known to be a costly locale. And, as ASUU ideologues and militants have been pointing out, all President Buhari’s children schooled outside the country.
If Aliko Dangote or Mike Adenuga were to send their children to foreign universities, nobody would be justified to raise an eyebrow. This is not the same thing when elected leaders who have been unable to sustain functional university system opt to educate their own children outside the country. Yet, that is what Nigerian leaders have all done.
Completely thus lacking in moral high ground, the FG collapses at every turn against ASUU’s higher moral credentials. Observers are saying this phase will be no different.