Last Sunday the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) once again signalled a fresh ultimatum to government on the possibility of them once again embarking on another indefinite nation-wide strike Ostensibly this is due to the inability of the Federal Government to honour the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entered into with ASUU and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) in order to call off a previous strike.
Shedding light on the looming industrial dispute, the President of ASUU, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke explained that, since the Federal Government was still owing some lecturers between two and 16 months’ salary arrears and withholding the remittance of their check-offs, the union would have no choice than to down tools, as government was, by the MOU, expected to have cleared the salary arrears before December 31, last year.
On his part, the President of SSANU, Mr.Mohammed Ibrahim has requested the Federal Government to shelve her proposed move to the remove the 3,000 teachers in the University Staff Schools from the Consolidated Salary Scale (CONTISS) in next year’s budget despite a ruling by the National Industrial Court (NIC) favouring the teachers’ continued retention in CONTISS. SSANU, like ASUU, has threatened to embark on an indefinite strike, should the Federal Government disregard the NIC’s ruling and the MOU entered into with the trade union. The consequences of another disruption in academic activities in the public university system after a nine-month strike by ASUU will be profound to conjecture.
Though some public universities are striving hard to recover the lost ground, the knowledge-gaps created in the students are not likely to be closed and remedied. Knowledge-acquisition is, at all times, incremental. If, for any reason, the little body of knowledge, that is earmarked for absorption, assimilation and digestion at a scheduled period, is missed, it may never be acquired again. And when eventually, the missed body of knowledge is impacted on students, it comes as an overkill, in excess, of the carrying capacity of the recipients. In a circumstance, like this, university education, even if all the variables were to be in place, could not be said to be standard, qualitative and functional. Such university products are unlikely to successfully steer the nation to sustainable development.
The situation is made more hopeless by the realisation that Nigeria, despite her selfacclaimed status as the ‘Giant of Africa’, holds the shameful record of being home to the largest number of out-of-school children in the world. New Telegraph commends ASUU, SSANU and other trade unions in the nation’s public university system for agreeing to resume work in the face of the partial implementation of their demands.
The trade unions should also be given thumbs-up for their mature and nationalistic disposition regardless of the reported antics of the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation as well as other relevant governments and functionaries.
The complaints of the ASUU and SSANU are touchy enough as to elicit the timely intervention of the National Assembly to, as a matter of urgency, summon the Minister of Education, his Finance, Budget and National Planning counterpart, the Minister of Labour and Employment as well as the Accountant- General of the Federation and demand the immediate payment of the outstanding financial entitlements owed some members of ASUU including their checkoffs and the full compliance with the NIC’s ruling that the teachers in the University Staff Schools be retained in CONTISS.
The Parliament should also direct the Office of the Accountant- General of the Federation to desist from withholding lecturers’ salaries in a bid to arm-twist them into enrolling into the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPS), as the Federal Government is urged to accept the alternative model to IPPIS, developed by ASUU. We enjoin the National Assembly to request the National Universities Commission (NUC) to always insist, among other things, that each application for the establishment of a public university, be accompanied by a template for the weekly internal generation of revenue, outside the charging of tuition and other fees as well as the government subvention.
To be able to discharge the task ahead, the current Ninth National Assembly should, desist from erroneously regarding herself as the extension of the Executive Branch of Government, as was the case, in its first two years, characterised with legislative purposelessness and lack of bite in the face of an exceedingly power-hungry Executive Arm.
The Parliament should rise from its worrisome lack of vision and direction to compel the political office-holders, including the President, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Governors, Deputy-Governors, ministers, commissioners and Senior Special Assistants/Advisers, to substantially give up part of their provocatively-manifold financial benefits and other privileges. This will go a long way to having funds to adequately run the education sector including clearing the outstanding financial benefits of ASUU members and retaining the teachers in the CONTISS.
Nigeria can do without political office-holders but will always need teachers and other functionaries in the education sector. Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria cannot afford to have yet another disruption in the academic activities of her public universities. Enough is enough!