Barring a last minute intervention, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) may announce the commencement of yet another industrial action any time from now, thus paralysing academic activities in public universities across the country.
It is important to note that ASUU has embarked on no fewer than 15 industrial actions between 1999 and 2018, thereby losing more than 34 months that would have been spent on academic activities. The effects on the quality of graduates being churned out over the years are there for all to see.
An indication of another strike emerged last week when ASUU President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, disclosed that the Federal Government was yet to either respond to the ultimatum given by ASUU on July 19, which elapsed on August 31, or fulfill the agreement it reached with the body in December 2020, which brought an end to an industrial action that started in March 2020.
It is unfortunate that well over eight months after the December 2020 agreement, nothing much has been done. Osodeke, who asked Nigerians to hold the Federal Government responsible if the Union eventually declares another strike, lamented that “Nothing yet, not a single response from the government…”
Assuring that all options were still being explored, though to avert another strike, the ASUU President added, “We are meeting this weekend in Abuja. We want to see what we can do between now and Friday to see them. Despite the letter we wrote to them and the press conferences, they are not bothered because nothing is at stake for them.”
THEWILL recalls the frustration of the past president of ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, in resolving the dispute of the Union with the Federal Government and the efforts of the Senate President Ahmed Lawan to initiate the inter-ministerial process that eventually culminated in the suspension of the strike in December 2020. The same frustration, sadly, is now being extended to the present ASUU leadership under Prof Osodeke.
The 2020 strike, which incidentally coincided with the lockdown declared nationwide by the government in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, led to the loss of one academic session in most of the universities with parents and the students bearing the pains.
The contentious issues, namely inadequate funding of universities; the controversial Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) , an integral part of Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS); implementation of the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS), funding and revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowances, promotion arrears and renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU-FGN Agreement, were thereafter resolved after several meetings with the Federal Government agreeing to implement the resolutions reached promptly.
It is however sad that despite all the promise and the agreement reached, including the payment of 10-month salary arrears of the lecturers, nothing, really, has happened. More worrisome is the disclosure that the Federal Government was yet to even respond to the various press conferences and warning statements issued by ASUU at states levels.
The Lagos Zonal Coordinator of ASUU, Dr. Adelaja Odukoya, lamented what he described as the arrogance of the Federal Government, saying the failure to ensure prompt renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement had consciously “sentenced” ASUU members “to agonising poverty, encouraged brain drain and criminally promoted falling standard of education in the country.”
The defense being put forward by the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, saying the Federal Government was not shunning ASUU and its leadership, does not add up in any way as his claim that the ASUU matter was being handled by the National University Commission (NUC) amounts to buck-passing and blame game.
“No one is shunning ASUU. Ask them who they reached out to. … We have already said the NUC is working on the issues with the universities. Once they are done, they will issue a statement. There is no way ASUU will reach out and nobody will attend to them.
“The message is simple. The NUC is working on the issues raised. The moment they are done, a statement will be issued to let everybody be aware of the situation on the ground,” the minister was quoted as saying.
We consider this statement of defence by the minister as sheer arrogance. It shows that the government was only passing the buck in its bid to justify its inaction on the agreement with the lecturers. Nigerians who have been following the ASUU-Federal Government tango would remember the same arrogance displayed last year by Nwajiuba, who asked the striking lecturers to go and farm if truly they were hungry as a result of non-payment of outstanding salaries.
The same attitude was displayed by the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige, who has grandstands often when dealing with labour leaders.
We believe that Nigerian students, especially those in the public universities, who are already groaning under the harsh economic reality in the country, should not be thrown into another confusion that another strike by ASUU might bring. While condemning the frustration of the ASUU leadership by the Federal Government, we implore the lecturers to explore all peaceful avenues in resolving the issues at stake and save the students and their parents from further hardship.
We also call on the Federal Government, to, as a matter of urgency, attend to the ASUU leadership now in order to prevent the grounding of academic activities in the country’s public universities.