Sometimes in 2020, I tried to get a copy of the 2009 ASUU/FG agreement to refresh my brain on the issue. After searching my ASUU file and could not find a copy, I remembered that I was not in the country in 2009 and as such had no copy of the document. I searched the net but could not get comprehensive information on the agreement except the summary published by newspapers. I then had two options left. It is either I get hold of a colleague who was at the congress meeting when copies of the agreement were shared or walk to the branch secretariat to request a copy.
This is the point. If the copy of the agreement is not readily accessible to me because I was away on a study fellowship, how will non-ASUU members, students, and other stakeholders have access to it? You keep getting the question: what do ASUU really want? And you keep explaining it over and over again if you have the patience since we do not have a platform to direct them to.
In a genuine concern, my favourite Human rights activist, Ahmed Isah, popularly known as the ‘Ordinary President’ of the Brekete family wanted to intervene in the ASUU/FG crisis. Somewhere along the line, he got information that all that is required to end the ASUU strike is N18bn. He took a bold step and initiated a crowdfunding exercise to raise the “N18bn for ASUU to go back to class”. An invitation of the ASUU president to his radio program clarified the issue at stake and that it’s way behind an N18bn issue and that it’s about ” funding the public universities” and “not ASUU”. Atiku’s tweet “let’s fund ASUU” generated serious reactions from ASUU members including myself.
The other day, Festus Keyamo was talking about N1.2trn on Channels TV that none of us seem to be aware of. I hope the educationist will still educate us on the said N1.2trn. There is also this trending news that a Lawyer in Abuja is begging Dangote, Otedola, and the banks’ CEOs to raise N1.1trn to end the ASUU strike. This is how different figures will keep coming out if there is no accessible platform to educate the public.
But why the misinformation? Who is responsible for the misinformation? Is it deliberate? Are we aiding the spread of misinformation as a union?
Universities in the UK were on strike sometime last year and this year and I wanted to find out about the strike action. I google it and the webpage of the UK University and College Union (UCU) came up. I got comprehensive information on the strike from the website within a very short time.
Unfortunately, there is no space to get information on ASUU struggles. If you are lucky to be at home while the ASUU president is on Channels TV’s Politics Today or any other TV station, you will get some information on the strike. If you are lucky to be following a passionate ASUU member on Facebook, you may get some information on ASUU struggles from him. Personal efforts.
But if you missed all these and you want to know about ASUU struggles, there is no central information system. You may have to look for an ASUU member to talk to. If the ASUU member is not regular at ASUU meetings, he may not be able to help you as he may not be in possession of copies of the agreements and information on the strike. Our communications are in hard copies.
The last option is to go to the nearest university and visit the ASUU branch office for information. Whoever cannot do that will rely on the information he finds on the street and work with it. Such information may be half true or outright lies. But how do they verify it? New Media is the fastest route to share information but we have no presence on the net: the union has no website and no official social media handles.
While I was able to get UCU online, in the 21st century, information on ASUU struggles, the agreements with FGN, the MoUs and MoAs signed with Buhari’s government, and the extent of their implementation are not readily available. So, how do we expect the public to follow the trend of events that led to the rollover strike when the information is not readily accessible? Several people have asked how TETFund is the brainchild of ASUU. Even some colleagues don’t know the difference between TETFund and the revitalization (NEEDS Assessment) funds.
Media is very important in any fight. It’s a tool to share the truth and lies. If the truth is not readily accessible, the available lies will be picked. Then, the misinformation will be spread and people will buy it. Ahmed Isah’s genuine intention is an example of the power of misinformation. ASUU is a union of intellectuals. Among them are journalists, mass communication experts, media consultants, image makers, IT experts, web designers, etc, but the union has no website that anyone can visit and get educated on the history of ASUU struggles and how we got to where we are today.
Dear respected colleagues, If we must win this battle, we need to revisit our communication strategy. The appearance of the President and some chairmen on air and the efforts of some individuals have made some impact but they are not enough. I recently realized that the union has no position for Publicity Secretary in the executive. We need to have another look at our public engagement strategy. We need to put up a media team and develop a robust and secured webpage that can tell our story without our presence.
To the general public, the strike will be 6 months by the end of tomorrow. In one news we were told that President Buhari gave the Minister, Mal. Adamu Adamu, 2 weeks to solve the problem that has kept students at home for over 5 months. In another news, they said it was the minister that said he will sort the issue in 2 to 3 weeks. Whichever one is the case, it is over 2 weeks and everyone is quiet and ASUU has rolled over the strike. A government that cares about the education of the people will not be so comfortable keeping university students at home for 6 months. We hope that the issue is resolved soon so that the lecturers, students and the university community can get back to their normal life.
The fight for the survival of public education is a collective one. We must save our universities from total collapse. Happy 6 months anniversary of the 2022 ASUU strike in advance.
- Abdelghaffar Amoka is a Professor in Department of Physics, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.