Parents: It’s unfair for ASUU to embark on strike
NANS: FG treats education as less priority
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is threatening to declare a nationwide indefinite strike over the failure of the Federal Government to implement the agreements reached with the union in 2020
Again, a fresh crisis that will disrupt academic and research activities, truncate the peace and stability in the nation’s public universities, and return the system to the trenches, is about to loom, if the threat by the university lecturers is anything to go by.
This is as the university lecturers, under their umbrella union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), six months after the suspension of its nine months’ strike, is again gearing up to declare a stride in public universities across the federation over the Federal Government failure to implement agreements reached with the union in 2021.
ASUU had on March 23, last year, declared a nationwide industrial action, which was suspended in January with the country yet to recover from its negative impact.
According to the union, the looming industrial strike is to press home the demands of its members based on the Memorandum of Action (MoA) reached with the Federal Government in 2020, but which had not been fulfilled as pledged.
The union’s grouse include funding of the revitalisation of public universities; non-implementation of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA); proliferation of state universities; renegotiation of the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement, and rejection and replacement of the controversial Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) with the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) platform proposed by ASUU for universities.
According to the union, the timeline for the release of the next trance of the Earned Academic Allowance for 2021 billed for May had already lapsed, while nothing is being done by the government.
The almost 10-month strike was suspended on December 24, 2020, following a Memorandum of Agree ment (MoA) signed with the Federal Government that bothers on the contending issues. Immediate past President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, had said that the objectives of the 2009 Agreement in particular, were found to have been made even more potent by findings of the Federal Government Committee on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities in 2012. But, a month after the suspension of the strike,
Ogunyemi had also raised the concerns that engagement for full implementation of the MoA, which contained payment of lecturers’ salary arrears and Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) was taking too long. With the recent threat by the union, stakeholders are sad that ASUU might be heading towards another round of heated negotiations.
Specifically, the lecturers are aggrieved over an alleged refusal of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) to pay the lecturers’ salaries and remit check-off dues of about 1,000 staff for 13 months, while lecturers in many local chapters of the union are owed two to 16 months salaries.
ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke had hinted that the salaries were being withheld with intent to blackmail members of ASUU into enrolling into IPPIS, despite the Federal Government’s promise to pay all outstanding salaries before December 31, 2020. The President regretted: “There are lecturers that are paid for a few months, after one or two months, they stopped paying them and all sorts of funny things.
We have met with the Minister of Labour and Employment; we even cascaded it to the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President, but the Office of the AGF seems to be adamant on punishing members.
“We have our principle of engagement with the government. The agreement we reached in December was brokered by the Minister of Labour and Employment, and we also agreed to meet from time to time in order to look at the various issues. We met in May and raised all these issues with the Accountant-General’s Office that was present at the meeting.
“They tried to deny the fact that some of our members are being owed. And, we were able to prove with available data that they were lying and they accepted, and agreed to implement the agreement. If any of our members enroll into IPPIS today, officials from the Office of the AGF will pay you the next day, which means that what they are doing is deliberate.
“We have sent complete data of our members to them more than four to five times. They will request for one today; we will send, and the next month our members will still not be paid. But, if any of our members decides to register, they will pay all their arrears. It is a deliberate attempt. “They even came last month to request data and we sent it to them. As we speak, more than 1,000 of our members are still being owed 16 months’ salary.
Then Bursars of each university have sent their documentations and all corrections to the office of the Accountant-General, yet they have not paid our members. “It is very unfortunate that they are trying to kill the university system because of personal reasons, and I think it is wrong. We will meet, get reports from all our branches, get all available data and the union will take the next action.”
Unfortunately, students have always been the ones bearing the brunt of government and ASUU’s bickering, as they are forced to stay off academic work. Apart from the economic, educational, social and psychological implications of the incessant strikes, the duration of study before graduation is automatically prolonged.
Meanwhile, investigations by New Telegraph, however, revealed that the incessant strikes are already taking its tools on the quality of teaching and learning; while at resumption of academic activities, lecturers engage in crash programmes to cover the students’ syllables to end the semester.
“Rather than study to learn, public tertiary institutions are fast becoming a study to pass examination system,” a stakeholder said. Sadly, students left idle at home could become instruments in the hand of some unscrupulous politicians and other criminal-minded individuals, and groups in carrying out evil activities or in fomenting trouble.
For instance, during the #End- SARS protest in the country, the Federal Government had held ASUU responsible for the magnitude of the protest, simply because the majority of the protesters were students, who were then at home due to the union’s protracted strike.
Tom stakeholders, with the growing insecurity and spate of kidnapping, and the underground scheming of politicians ahead of the 2023 general elections, it would be a bad signal to again cripple academic activities in the universities and leave the students to roam about the streets idle and as ready vessels to be used for uncouth activities.
Not to mention, the millions of students on the waiting list to secure admission into the universities including candidates who sat for the just-concluded Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), given the level of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to the university academic calendar.
“But, the Federal Government and ASUU appeared to be blinded by their individual stance to consider the long term implications of their actions, inactions or decisions on the well-being of the country,” stakeholders said.
Recently, the South-West Zonal Coordinator of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Kappo Olawale, had lambasted the Federal Government for treating education as if its least priorities of the country, which has invariably translated to an unstable and unpredictable sector bedeviled by incessant industrial actions.
NANS said: “The unions should be considerate. What they do affects their children too. I know it is not all of them that have their wards in foreign schools. They should look for a common ground, a midpoint to meet with the government.
“For the unions to think that they can get all their demands, is raising a false hope. They must consider the economic situation in the country and what everybody, the government, not exception, is passing through.”
Although ASUU has always tried to appeal to the conscience of Nigerians, they are always criticised for being selfish and embarking on endless and needless strikes without considering the plight of their students.
A parent, Dr. Martins Osime, noted: “It will be unfair of ASUU or any other union in the tertiary institution to embark on another round of strike after the students had spent almost a year if not more, at home due to strikes and Coronavirus.
“Majority of the lecturers have enrolled their children in private institutions so they no longer bother if children of middle and low income earners spend almost all their lives struggling to attain a qualification.
This is sad, and I must say this is heartless.” Also, a 300-Level student of Nassarawa State University, Akinwale Dante, described Nigeria as the worst country to study saying, “you end up spending a year or two extra due to strikes.”
“Is it not better to get a degree from Ghanaian universities and other neighbouring African countries in a few years rather than spend several years in Nigerian public universities and still end up with a certificate that one could barely defend due to the poor quality of the nation’s education system?”
Piqued by the fresh threat by the union to embark on strike, the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, who is disturbed over the grave implications the looming strike portends for the education sector, however, appealed to the lecturers to sheath their sword and deploy better ways of engaging the Federal Government to reach a compromise on contending issues than the perennial strikes it often embarks on to press home its demands.
According to him, too many strikes in the tertiary institution affect the general economy, the well-being of the university, states and the country at large. “It is not about confrontation. It is not about fighting.
We all have common objectives, which is the improvement of the standard of education at all levels in the state,”
he added, reiterating that since that is the case both the government and ASUU should not work at cross purposes that will only result in truncating education development.”