THEWILL Editorial: Ending The Strikes Crippling Activities In Public Universities Once And For All

BEVERLY HILLS, September 16, (THEWILL) – Notwithstanding the truce reportedly reached between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, at a recent closed-door meeting, all is yet to be well with Nigeria’s public universities.

While declaring the strike, ASUU’s National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, explained that the Federal Government’s failure to implement earlier agreements reached with it, necessitated the action which he said would be “immediate, total and indefinite”.

Although Ogunyemi did not disclose the details, he did tell journalists that the union would declare its position after discussing government’s offer at a consultative forum with branches nationwide. But the decision by the non-teaching staff of public universities to embark on strike has compounded the already bad situation.

While the stakeholders await the outcome of their meetings, it is imperative that the Federal Government takes holistic steps to meet ASUU’s demand at the re-negotiation meeting, which THEWILL considers pivotal to improved learning environment.

Even as the detail is being awaited, we caution that it would be counter-productive if government again reneges on its agreement when the strike is finally called off, as had obtained in the past.

Specifically, the union had asked the Federal Government to implement the agreement it reached with it in 2009, which at that time led to the suspension of its six-month strike in 2013.

It is worrisome that the Federal Government had characteristically failed to honour previous agreements with the organized labour, even in a sector as critical as education.

This systemic failure had over the years caused untold setbacks culminating in the rot, which today has reduced the quality of learning in the country, so much so that no Nigerian university is ranked among the top 100 in the world.

If the government is sincere about repositioning the education sector, it must demonstrate it by showing genuine commitment that would make Nigeria become choice destination for foreigners seeking quality education, and not the other way round.

Among ASUU’s demands are the payment of lecturers’ Earned Academic Allowances, EAAs, and the nod to run university staff schools. The union is also seeking approval to operate the Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company, NUPEMCO, to enable them manage the pensions of their members.

ASUU’s demand, which also includes the payment of N200 billion to public universities for six consecutive years is justified, especially if they must fulfill their primary purposes of teaching and research.

While THEWILL is opposed to the resort to strike every time there are issues to be trashed out, the Federal Government is well advised to use this opportunity to re-position the country’s tertiary institutions. Coming at a time when the academic calendar has been stable in the last two years, any tactless approach by government can stymie whatever achievements may have been recorded over the period.

THEWILL urges a quick solution to the recurring industrial dispute in the nation’s public institutions of learning, to save the education sector from further decline.

As the non-teaching workers, under the auspices of Joint Action Committee, JAC, have joined in the strike, it is feared that all activities in the universities would be further paralised, unless the Federal Government agrees to implement their demands.

The unions, comprising the None Academic Staff Union of Universities, NASU, National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, said the failure of the Federal Government to implement the agreement it reached with them in 2009, necessitated the strike, which they said would be “total, comprehensive and indefinite.”

THEWILL urges the Federal Government to take matters affecting the education sector very seriously and not wait till a strike is declared.

In the interest of the students and parents who are more at the receiving end of the strike, THEWILL urges the Federal Government to demonstrate genuine concerns for the growth of education by meeting most if not all the demands of the striking unions.

It is only when the universities are properly funded and made conducive for learning that they can breed the quality manpower that is needed to build the nation and drive its economy. At this time when the country is experiencing diverse social upheavals, researches from the universities are highly required.

Only a practical commitment to these agreements reached with the four unions would stop the strike from continuing, especially as the Federal Government had agreed to release N1.3 trillion in six years, based on a yearly disbursement of N220 billion for the revitalization of the university system.

THEWILL supports the union’s demand for universities’ autonomy, but we caution against granting them full autonomy until they are adjudged to be mature in prudent management of resources. This is because universities’ management have really not shown accountability with regard to their internally generated revenue.

We are aware that the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Abdulrasheed Abubakar, had, at a meeting with bursars of universities established financial recklessness against them. Regrettably, local ASUU and the other unions in the universities have been turning a blind eye to this.

THEWILL believes that if only the striking unions paid more attention to how the vice-chancellors and other principal officers utilise funds at their disposal, they would not have reason to always hold the Federal Government accountable for their financial woes and in the process cripple activities at the universities.