NIGERIA: Campuses reopen after six-month strikes

Academic activities are set to resume, amid student jubilation, at Nigerian universities where staff unions have been striking for the past six months in protest over living and working conditions. The strikes, at some of the country's state universities, had led education regulatory bodies to prohibit them from admitting students for the 2011-12 academic session.

Both the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, or JAMB, and the National Universities Commission have accepted the Nigerian education ministry's order to lift the restriction on the universities. And JAMB has met with university authorities to strategise how they will make up the lost academic sessions.

Universities financed by central government and those owned by private investors moved last year to implement a nationally-agreed memorandum of agreement (MoU) to improve staff pay and working conditions. But the majority of state governments, particularly in southern Nigeria, declared they could not honour the MoU due to financial constraints.

As a result, academic and non-teaching staff alike at those universities embarked on collective action and campuses remained closed for six months. Various state governments attempted to suppress the strikes by pitting student unions against those striking, but were unsuccessful.

"We cannot live in the same federation and create two different conditions of service for universities. This federation relies essentially on the sale of crude oil and the allocation of revenues from the central government. If the federal government can finance the agreement, there is no basis for the state governors to renege on the same agreement," declared Segun Akin, spokesperson for the Academic Staff Union of Universities.

Students had threatened to disrupt the forthcoming local, regional and presidential elections if the restrictions on the strike-hit universities were not lifted. The affected universities were not allowed to admit students for the 2011-12 academic session, because they had not concluded their previous-year academic activities.

According to reliable sources, President Goodluck Jonathan stepped into the increasingly volatile political fray and, after a series of discussions between Jonathan and the 36 executive governors of the federation, the latter agreed to increase funds allocated for their various universities with a view to implementing the agreement.

The chairs of the governing councils of state universities met with leaders of the staff unions and signed a pledge that the 'controversial' MOU would be implemented immediately. This agreement paves the way for the gradual resumption of campus timetables.

Professor Dibu Ojerinde, the registrar and executive director of JAMB, met with university authorities to discuss a 17-month road map aimed at recovering the time already lost - a period of three academic sessions. He said he hoped the affected universities would be able to adhere to the amended academic programme.

Vice-chancellors, chairs of governing councils and representatives of the state governors expressed their gratitude to Ojerinde and his team for their readiness to assist them in overcoming the restrictions.

Similarly, there was rejoicing among students on many of the closed state university campuses when it was announced that academic activities would resume immediately.

It is unfortunate that Nigerian academes have been tainted by a series of protracted strikes that will expose the entire Nigerian society to dangers of poor-quality education. Nigerian governments at all levels should note that Nigeria will make appreciable progress in socio-economic development if they give education priority treatment. There is no alternative to education in attempts to promote development in Nigeria.

Dr Akeem Ayofe Akinwale