By Rosemary Ogbonnaya
Strike is no doubt the major industrial tool employees are using to press home demands, to protest against bad working conditions or low pay to increase bargaining power with the employer.
It is also important to note, according to experts, that a lengthy strike has a negative effect on employment,reduces business confidence and increases the risk of economic stagflation. Such strikes have a major setback on the growth of the economy and investment opportunities.
Considering these adverse effects of a prolonged industrial action, the pertinent question one would ask is, what change the incessant strikes by ASUU has brought to the Nigerian education system?
Since 2009 till date, ASUU has been made to embark on several strike actions. In fact, it is over 16 times, thereby disrupting the much needed academic programs for students.
The current industrial action in the Nigeria’s Public Universities started on 14th February, 2022 when ASUU commenced a two-week warning strike over the non Implementation of agreements reached between Government and the Union, including the following: Funding for the revitalisation of Public Universities; Payment of earned academic allowances; Reconstitution of the FGN/ASUU 2009 Renegotiation Committee; University Transparency Accountability Solutions, UTAS;
Release of White Paper on the reports of the Visitation Panels to Universities; vi. Proliferation of State Universities, and Withheld salaries and non-remittance of check-off dues.
It was gathered that Nigeria has lost huge amount of money to the incessant strikes. Apart from economic and monetary losses, the nation has also lost a generation of graduates. It was recorded that, as a result of ASUU strike that has been a massive migration of students to foreign institutions.
While many students have complained that anytime universities are on strike, they mostly remain bored and idle at home, while waiting for when campuses will reopen for them. Such boredom, according to experts, sometimes leads to mental health challenges which include depression and anxiety, thus taking tolls on the students mental health, the Universities union, in a recent statement saw this differently, as it said the already prolonged strike is for the benefit of Nigerians.
Claiming that the lingering strike is to save Nigerian public universities, the union said, “ASUU struggles are to save Nigerian public universities irrespective of ownership – Federal or State. The Union views with all seriousness the fact that the sanctimonious behaviour of these university administrators and managers does not stop them from accessing yearly grants of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) which ASUU struggles of the 1980s and 1990s brought to life. Neither did their holier-than-thou attitude keep these invidious individuals from jumping into the next flight to come for project defence each time ASUU struggles had translated into some handsome funds for the revitalisation of their universities (hostels, laboratories, workshops, lecture theatres, etc.). ASUU shall use all legitimate means at its disposal to protect and defend the interests of our members in public universities who may be victimised on the account of the ongoing struggles.
“ASUU NEC noted with pains, its concerns for Nigerian students who are also our wards and foster children and condemned Government’s seeming indifference to their plights. The Union empathises with the students, their parents, as well as other stakeholders (including our colleagues who are undertaking their higher degrees) in the universities. ASUU reaffirms its belief in the sanctity of a stable academic system. Were it within our control, our universities would never have been shut for one day! However, ASUU was forced into taking this painful decision to prevent members of the Nigerian Children from the ruling class and their foreign collaborators from further destroying whatever is left of our public universities. We are all victims. We need the understanding, solidarity and sacrifices of all to ensure that every qualified Nigerian youth who cannot afford the cost of private university education or foreign studies has unhindered access to quality university education. ASUU strikes are aimed at saving public education, and ensuring that Governments (Federal and State) use our common patrimony to support quality public university education. This is our collective obligation.
“NEC acknowledged with appreciation past and current efforts by eminent Nigerians and groups to mediate in the lingering crisis. Our Union remains open to reasonable engagements as we have always done. However, ASUU remains focused on the full implementation of the 23rd December, 2020 Memorandum of Action for quick restoration of industrial harmony in Nigeria’s public universities.” The
The ASUU President, Comrade, Emmanuel Osodeke who said that FG has not met all the demands as it claimed resolved to transmute the rollover strike to a comprehensive, total and indefinite strike action beginning from 12:01am on Monday 29th August, 2022.
On the part of the government, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu said, ” In response to the union’s demands, the federal government reconstituted the FGN/ University- based Unions 2009 Agreement Re-negotiation Committee, with Emeritus Professor Mini Briggs as Chairman on 7th March,2022. The Committee was charged with the responsibility of concluding the ongoing federal government renegotiation efforts with the University- based Unions and producing appropriate solutions, workable and enduring agreements for the improvement of Nigerian University System,NUS.
The Minister said,” While the Briggs Committee was busy interacting with the Unions on all the issues, a Federal Government inter-ministerial Team, under the leadership of the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, was simultaneously engaging the union and other institutions’ Unions and resolving some of their minor demands, such as salary shortages and payment of arrears of the minimum wage consequential adjustments as well as payment of promotion arrears. The Ministry of Finance, Budget and National planning was able to resolve most of these issues by the end of July,2022.”
Explaining further, Adamu said, “On May 12, 2022, about three months into the strike, a high powered Tripartite Plus Conciliation Meeting was held at State House Banquet Hall, at the instance of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, with a view to finding solutions to those issues that were considered thorny and generic to both the teaching staff (ASUU) and non-teaching staff Unions (SSANU, NASU and NAAT). Two of the issues specified during the meeting were categorised under the following: “a. University Transparency and Accountability Solutions (UTAS) by ASUU and the University Peculiar Personnel and Payroll System (U3PS) b. Delay in Re-Negotiation of 2009 Agreements-conditions of service, wages and allowances
“It is important to note that this special conciliation meeting was chaired by the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari and had in attendance the Secretary to the Government of the Federation,SGF,the Ministers of Labour, Education and Finance, the Head of Service and top government officials. The meeting was also attended by the Sultan of Sokoto, the President of Christian Association of Nigeria,CAN, and all the other critical stakeholders, including the leadership of the four University-based Unions (ASUU, NASU, SSANU and NAAT).
There were two major outcomes of the meeting. The first was the decision to test the two proposed salary payment solutions, developed by the Unions namely, the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) proposed by ASUU, and the University Peculiar Personnel and Payroll system (U3PS), jointly proposed by SSANU and NASU, The two solutions were to be tested alongside the existing Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System (IPPIS) by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). The report of the Presidential Committee that was charged with the responsibility of harmonizing the three payment platforms for effective deployment in the system, would be made public as soon as the process is concluded.
The second outcome of the meeting was an agreement on the need to speedily conclude the renegotiation process in a manner that would be in tune with the realities of the national economy. This would require the Government to carefully and critically examine and review any draft agreement emanating from the Renegotiation Committee to ensure that the financial implications contained therein are sustainable by the current realities of the national economy.
He revealed that in spite the present economic state of the country, federal government has made following offers to the striking lecturers: That the Federal Government can only afford a 23.5% salary increase for all category of the workforce in Federal Universities, except for the professorial cadre which will enjoy a 35% upward review; That henceforth allowances that pertain to ad-hoc duties of the academic and non-academic staff shall be paid as at when due by the Governing Councils of Universities to which such services are rendered and to the staff who perform them;
That a sum of 150 billion Naira shall be provided for in the 2023 Budget as funds for the revitalisation of Federal Universities, to be disbursed to the Institutions in the First Quarter of the year, and that a sum of 50 billion Naira shall be provided for in the 2023 Budget for the payment of outstanding areas of earned academic allowances, to be paid in the First Quarter of the year.
The four University-based Unions, in separate letters addressed to the Chairman of the Government Re-negotiating Team, rejected Government’s offer which they described as inadequate to meet their respective demands needed to tackle the challenges confronting the university system.
The major issue over which Government and the Unions could not reach amicable agreement, according to the Minister, was the issue of the law on “No work, No pay”.
Adamu while decrying the dwindling resources available to address all the demands and to pay lecturers for six months of no work, urged Pro Chancellors to work to restore Nigerian public universities to where they were in the 60s and 70s.
“As the most important officers in our university system, Pro Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors, must demonstrate more commitment to ending the ongoing strike. As Chairmen of Councils and Senates – the highest policy and academic bodies in the system – you must consider it your paramount duty to promote policies and actions that will discourage industrial disputes in our campuses.
“Government will continue to support the physical and academic development of its universities. Government will continue to reasonably enhance the working conditions of all university staff, academic and non-teaching staff.”
But the refusal of ASUU to accept government offer and the policy of ‘No work no pay’ has continued to make the two elephants fight( FG and ASUU) while deepening the suffering of students who are the major victims. And in it struggle to put an end to the strive, FG, however has dragged the university based Unions to court for quick hearing and intervention to allow students return to school.
Meanwhile, FG’s involvement of court has stirred mixed reactions as parents no longer found it easy. Mrs. Njideka Dominic said,” Taking ASUU to court was a waste of time at this point the industrial court had been there, why didn’t they think of it since the beginning of the strike which had lingered for seven months. The issues that needed to be addressed are well spelt out by the striking lecturers before they can call off their strike, then why take them to court.
“ I do not think the industrial court will address those issues, except the Federal Government will comply with the agreement entered with ASUU.
In his own contribution, Prof. Kighir A.Emmanuel Federal University Dutsin-Ma, Katsina State urged Pro-chancellors and Nigerian erudite Vice-Chancellors to prove to Nigerians that they are the people Nigeria Tertiary Education look forward to salvage it from the present predicaments of incessant strikes.
Emmanuel said financial autonomy to Nigerian Universities through TUITION AND SOFT STUDENTS LOANS to indigent students is the only antidote against strikes in tertiary institutions.
“There is no free tertiary education anywhere, someone must foot the bills. Nigerian Economy is currently at crossroad and we must tell ourselves the naked truth! Government can no longer do it alone! This is more sustainable as repayments will add up to TETFUND current revenue to support generations yet unborn instead of current practice where our commonwealth is used to train people who have nothing to contribute to new generation of Nigerian.
“If a student fails to pay due to his/her inability to secure a job after 25 years of unemployment, the loan is is written off after strict investigation and confirmation. At least we would have trained a citizen who cannot be an easy tool to bandits.
This is practiced in many advanced economies,” he said.Also, Prof. Godspower Ekuobase, PhD, MCPN. Professor of Services Computing Department of Computer Science University of Benin, Benin City Edo State, Nigeria, said the reason why ASUU ignorantly persecutes Nigerians is that they are lost in ecstasy against the Nigerian state. They have abdicated their role of clamouring for members’ welfare and have constituted themselves into a quasi-political party and self-made opposition to any government in power.
He said ASUU should apologise to FGN and Nigerians for negligence, misdirection, and disruption of university calendar at least in the last two to three decades; and put a final stop to the incessant strikes in the public universities in Nigeria.
Ekuobase said ASUU should accept that other public or civil servants are equally important.
“ASUU should come out straight with their unique welfare nature; with respect for constituted authorities as enshrined in our holy books.
“ASUU should henceforth, “call a spade, a spade” and do their job with fairness, professionalism and integrity without any fear or favour.
“ASUU should device ethical means of enforcing professionalism, integrity and standards in Nigerian Academics commensurate with global norm. It is hoped that this divine ambush on ASUU on his way to “Damascus” will redirect ASUU’s focus from its misplaced intention to a genuine course of Nation building and promotion of Academics in Nigeria,” he said.