On Monday, frustrated students under the umbrella of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) blocked all entrances into the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Ikeja, Lagos State, causing untold delays for hundreds of would-be travellers and loss of revenue for airlines.
The students have taken a stand against the prolonged strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). While the lecturers and the government are engulfed in an endless game of cat and mouse, thousands of Nigerian students have been idling away at home since the past seven months the strike started.
In many videos and pictures, travellers who in a bid not to miss their flights resorted to trekking with their luggage to the departure hall of the airport. Nevertheless, many of the travellers claimed they were forced to cancel their flights as a result of the gridlock caused by the protesting students.
But the President stepping in would give some assurances to every party that there is a solution in sight
Six days before the airport protest, the NANS had led hundreds of students in the southwestern region to blockade the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Shagamu Interchange, and the Gbongan-Ibadan expressway, causing vehicular movement to grind to a halt for several hours.
While the students have threatened to shut down movement at roads going into Apapa ports, we believe it is a national embarrassment that the ASUU situation has degenerated to the point where students who are direct victims of the disagreement had to take laws into their own hands.
But the street protests do not just expose the lack of initiative on the part of the government and its negotiators, businesses will suffer more. In 2019, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency put the cost in man-hours loss due to bad roads and traffic delays at N1.02 trillion per annum.
In 2021, the Danne Institute for Research put the cost of traffic in Lagos State at N4 trillion. In the same year, experts noted that the economy lost N140 billion weekly on account of Apapa traffic.
Although the court on Wednesday told ASUU to call off the strike action, which the NANS said was a win-win situation for both the Federal Government and ASUU, no one is certain when the strike would be called off.
The Nigerian economy cannot afford to continue bleeding from different points. The stand-off between ASUU and the government does not bode well for the economy. Every thriving economy requires a stable and functional education system. The Human Capital Theory notes that investing in education has a payoff in terms of higher wages.
The World Bank describes education as one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and it sets the foundation for sustained economic growth. It, therefore, means there is a correlation between the current state of the Nigerian economy and the downgrade of the education system in the country.
While ASUU may bear some responsibility for how it has handled the negotiation and the low output in the tertiary system, the government cannot continue to play ping-pong with a critical aspect of the economy. We therefore urge President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to as a matter of urgency declare a state of emergency in the education sector.
We agree with ASUU that there has to be an upward review in funding the education system. If we must attract and retain the best talents as lecturers the wages and remunerations have to conform with current realities.
A system where a professor earns a little above N400,000 ($950) a month whereas their counterparts in Uganda and South Africa earn $4,054 per month cannot attract the best hands.
We also believe that the President himself needs to take over the negotiation. Adamu Adamu, the minister of education, and Chris Ngige, the labour minister, have already looked out of their depths in handling the crisis.
But the President stepping in would give some assurances to every party that there is a solution in sight. It would put an end to the back-and-forth and behind-curtains politics that undermined the implementation of the agreements reached in 2009. It is the next step that could prevent the education system from total collapse.