- ASUU/FG Rift: Students, parents, businesses count losses
STRIKE By August 14, the ongoing strike in public universities by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other staff unions, would be six months old. The prolonged stalemate is jeopardising the future of Nigerian students. BABATOPE OKEOWO writes
… as parents, students groan as strike lingers
Govt should reopen varsities – Stakeholders
We won’t suspend strike, ASUU insists
No doubt, Nigerian public universities are going through difficult times; raising a concern among stakeholders of what becomes of hope for the system six months after the prolonged strike.
That the academic and administrative calendar in the universities has been disrupted is no longer in doubt, but the reality that the system, going by the on-going strike would lose a session; especially for fresh intakes into the universities for 2023 academic session has remained consequential.
This is as the four-week extension of the on-going strike in the public universities by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), has continued to dash the hope of Nigerian parents and millions of students, whose future is precariously hanging in the balance.
Since February this year, students in both state and federal universities have been at home, with no respite in sight, due to the prolonged strike over unfulfilled 2009 agreement and the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and 2020 Memorandum of Action (MoA) the Federal Government signed with the union.
The non-teaching staff unions, SSANU, NASU and NAAT also joined the strike that completely shut down the nation’s universities in the last few months. ASUU, which declared the indefinite nationwide strike on February 14, has vowed to stick to its guns and not to suspend the strike until the government fulfills these agreements and implements its demands.
The situation became dicey following the posture and refusal of both the Federal Government and the union, who despite the stoppage of the lecturers’ salaries under the “No work. No pay” rule to shift grounds so as to resolve the face-off in order for academic activities to resume in the nation’s universities. To worsen the situation, the outburst last week of the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo has further complicated the crisis.
Stating the government’s position, the Minister said ASUU is not the only one in Nigeria, and hence, the Federal Government could not borrow to pay the union. He, however, declared that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government could not borrow to settle the striking university lecturers, saying the country cannot pay ASUU N1.2 trillion to the detriment of other sectors of the economy and called on Nigerians to appeal the lecturers’ sense of patriotism to suspend the strike and go back to classes as the nation cannot grind to “a halt because we want to take care of the demands of ASUU.”
Meanwhile, mixed reactions have since greeted the Minister’s outburst by stakeholders, who condemned the statement and wondered how a government which cannot resolve the crisis in its university could borrow N1.14 billion to procure Prado Jeeps for Niger Republic.
They, however, called on the Federal Government to address ASUU’s demands without further delay in order to save the future of the students and university education, saying the Federal Government should use the recovered looted funds to settle the union’s demands.
The stakeholders further called for speedy interventions for the resolution of the on-going strike. However, the stakeholders and ASUU said they are still waiting for the report of the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, which is expected to be submitted to the government this week.
Genesis of the strike
The trajectory of university strikes, reports indicated, dated back to the last three or four decades for which the university system has witnessed about 16 different strikes by ASUU.
Currently, the lecturers’ union is at loggerheads with the Federal Government over refusal of the government to implement agreements reached with ASUU since 2009. And, due to several failed negotiations with the government and various ultimatum issued by the academic staff, ASUU on February 14, 2022, in the first instance, declared a four-week strike, which was extended by another eight weeks on March 14, after the expiration of the first four weeks for lack of concerted effort by the government to address its demands and end the logjam.
The major crux of the unresolved industrial dispute include nonimplementation of FG/ASUU 2009 Agreement, as well as the 2020 MoU and MoA; implementation of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) as payment platform for the lecturers’ salaries with its alleged irregularities; non-implementation or non-adoption of the Universities Transparent Accountability Solution (UTAS) developed by ASUU as alternative payment platform to IPPIS; non-payment of Earned Academic Allowance (EAA); and non-release of funds for University Revitalisation Funds, among others.
But, the Federal Government, which through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, had indicated that it would require N1.6 trillion to meet various unions’ demands and incur an additional N560 billion as workers’ salaries alone, insisted on the use IPPIS to pay workers in the universities, which ASUU and other unions have vehemently kicked against and rejected given its failure to take care of peculiarities of the university system.
Following the imbroglio that bog down the system, the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, has called for a declaration of a state of emergency in the university education sector as a critical move to resolve the on-going prolonged strike in the nation’s public university system and end incessant strikes in the universities.
Towards this end, the don advocated the introduction of school fees in the university, and called on the Federal Government to provide an enabling platform for all critical stakeholders to dialogue with a view to proffering amicable and reasonable solutions to the lingering impasse.
On his part, a lecturer at the Olusegun Agagu University of Science and Technology (OAUSTECH), Okitipupa in Ondo State, Prof. Temi Ologunorisa, spoke on the forceful implementation of the IPPIS, onew of the major contentious demands of ASUU based on the irregularities in its implementation, saying with the payment platform, Vice-Chancellors could no longer employ or place Professors on sabbatical, or hire adjunct lecturers without having to take permission from the President or state governors.
Given such approach, the university system, he noted, has been integrated as part of the civil service system, which is a wrong way to run a world class university system, even as Ologunorisa insisted that the universities need some level of autonomy financially and in terms of governance, which IPPIS has eroded.
“Under the IPPIS, Vice-Chancellors have to go cap in hand begging the governors since they can no longer employ or hire staff. That is not acceptable. This is the same with federal universities, where Vice- Chancellors will have to go to Abuja because they cannot take lecturers on sabbatical or recruit staff,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the wife of the Governor of Ondo State, Mrs. Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, has also expressed concern over the lingering ASUU strike, ASUU, describing the development as a setback for the nation’s education sector. Addressing the Medical Students in Akure, Mrs. Akeredolu lamented the dysfunctional health care system in the country, saying several medical practitioners, trained and groomed in Nigerian universities have left and are still leaving the shores of the country in droves to practise overseas. She stated: “I just have to express mydispleasureatthewaythingsare going, especially at the education sector.
I am expressing this view as aconcernedmotherlikeeveryother Nigerian parent, whose children are out of school since February 14, 2022. In a way, we are all affected negatively that a greater percentage of Nigerian universities are shut down due to strike.”
Meanwhile, a House of Representatives candidate for Ondo East/West federal constituency under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Hon. Felix Kehinde, who frowned at the unresolved crisis six months after, also condemned the action, which according to him, has taken a negative toll on the education, economy and mental well-being of the students.
While lamented the insensitivity of the Federal Government to the plight of the students and their parents, as well as the lecturers, he wondered that such boredom and idleness being experienced by the students at home could lead to mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, and thus taking tolls on the students’ mental health.
Thus, the UnitedKingdom-based medical practitioner further noted that if Nigeria were a country with serious and compassionate leaders, this on-going strike would have ended long ago in the interest of the masses and the future of the nation. Kehinde said: “No serious nation in the world jokes with its future like Nigeria does. The social impact of the on-going ASUU strike cannot be understated.
Many young people who have been at home for six months without engaging in any productive activity will definitely suffer one form of mental health issue or another. He, therefore, advised university managements to begin to put in place functional guidance and counselling units with a special focus on mental health, even as he noted that businesses on campuses and the general economy must have been negatively impacted since the university lecturers embarked on strike.
According to him, the government should have thought of how the small scale businesses would survive if our campuses remain shut. Kehinde, however, called on the Nigerian government and ASUU to, as a matter of urgency and national interest, end the impasse and allow the students, who are roaming the streets to go back to the classrooms.
As a result of the prolonged rift between the Federal Government and ASUU, students, parents and business owners that depend on functional campuses for their livelihood, are already counting their ordeal as they bear the brunt.
For instance, during the two-day solidarity protests by the organised labour, social and commercial activities were disrupted in many major cities, towns and commercial centres across the country, as vehicular movements and business activities were disrupted. Meanwhile, parents and other stakeholders, who are worried over the strike that has now entered six months without any hope of early resolution, are lamenting that the children are already idling away at home.
They, however, are saddened that the months of inactivity are having negative impacts on the students. Apart from the anxiety being expressed by parents and students, many businesses and owners, especially those operating on campuses are now counting their losses as several of them have either been run out of business or leaving the owners in debts.
Recounting her ordeal, an undergraduate of Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Goodness Babayemi, expressed regrets that his life and those of other students is being wasted by the prolonged strike.
The 19-year-old, who recalled that he secured admission into the university at the age of 17 year, said that the coronavirus epidemic kept him at home for almost a year, and when academic activities were to resume the strike began again, leaving him with no hope of when to graduate. Another student of Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti (EKSU), Joy Adenitan, said that she had since March relocated to Lagos when it was obvious that the strike would take longer than expected.
She explained that she had to join a friend in an ushering job for which she engages today as a job agent hiring young ladies, especially on weekends to service her clientele across Lagos. Adenitan, who regretted that she is being sexually harassed by men because of the nature of the job, said: “I am forced to smile at people that I don’t even like at events; I am forced to shake hands, be unnecessarily polite even when there are advances by men, all for N4,000 per event.”
Lamenting his plight, a parent, Mr. Matthew Babalola, stated: “I don’t know why the government is less concerned about the students being idle at home this long with some engaging in illicit activities, while some are undertaking dangerous journeys to migrate to Europe and America, and dying in the process. We learnt of how many people were killed in a North African country recently, but you cannot blame them because they are idle.
The government should please open the universities because it rests in their hands.” A single mother of three, and civil servant in Ondo State, Mrs. Ruth Adeyemo bemoaned the development, saying she has been having sleepless nights since the strike began on how to look for something profitable to engage her children as they might be at the risk of peer group pressure and influence as they are idle at home.
Now, she wondered about how the children, who no longer open their books, but only discussing crypto currency, parties, traveling abroad and how to get dollars, would remain the same after the strike.
Reacting, Albert Olufunso, a father whose son is in one of the universities, lamented that the strike has negatively affected his plan for the year, saying he would have considered private university for his children if his earning had improved. He further expressed worry that his son is becoming difficult to control because of idleness unleashed on his by the prolonged strike.
Why ASUU extends strike
As the President’s ultimatum to the Minister of Education expired without any tangible or concrete step by the government, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of ASUU on Monday last week, extended the on-going strike by another four weeks for the government to do the needful. Sadly enough, the extension came at a time when Nigerians, especially parents and students, were expecting the suspension of the industrial action.
ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, who made this known in a statement in a television broadcast, however, noted that the union’s decision was reached during its National Executive Committee meeting held at the University of Abuja, last week Sunday.
He said: “We reviewed the progress made so far, and to be honest, no progress was made. We have not heard from the Minister at all. Nobodyhasreachedouttous. We canconfirmthatcallingoff thestrike was not even a matter of discussion during the NEC meeting.”
In its resolution, the NEC further noted that the extension was aimed at giving the Federal Government more ample time to resolve all outstanding issues with the striking university lecturers.
The union, which vowed not to suspend the strike, deplored the government’s failure to conclude the process of renegotiating the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement, deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).