Despite suspension of strike, stakeholders insist government must address funding of varsities
• As NANS urges FG to waive semester registration, hostel fees over lost time
After eight months of face-off with the Federal Government, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) called off its protracted strike on October 14 at the end of its National Executive Committee meeting in Abuja.
ASUU, however, maintained that its demands had not been satisfactorily addressed and some of the issues remained unresolved.
The union had a running battle with the Federal Government since 2009 to rescue the soul of tertiary education in the country. It secured an agreement with the Federal Government in 2009, to among other things, increase funding to universities. But 13 years after, sensing that government was leading the union by the nose with its endless circle of negotiations, ASUU, on February 14, declared a four-week warning strike to protest government’s failure to implement the
Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) reached with it by the Federal Government. National President of the union, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, had said the strike was borne out of their concern for the continued survival of public universities.
He lamented that 13 years after the agreement was signed in 2009, its provisions were only partially implemented, while the conditions of service of academic staff, funding and autonomy continued to be eroded on campuses.
ASUU’s demands include funding for revitalisation of public universities, salary shortfall, proliferation of state universities and visitation panel to universities, renegotiation of 2009 agreement, replacement of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) with University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), release of withheld salaries and non-remittance of check off dues.
Following the attention the issue generated and to examine matters surrounding the prolonged strike, the Federal Government, on March 7, inaugurated a seven-member committee to look into renegotiation of the 2009 agreement reached with the union.
The committee, led by Pro-Chancellor, Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Prof Nimi Briggs, recommended a monthly salary of N1.2m for professors in the public university system. This was against their current earning on average of N462, 000 per month.
The committee also recommended diverse yearly allowances for professors. The allowances are for postgraduate supervision, field trip, responsibility and hazard, examination/timekeeping, teaching practice and industrial supervision, among others.
But the Federal Government, through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Emmanuel Osodeke, accused the committee of excluding relevant advisory government arms like ministries of finance, education and labour, from the sittings of the committee.
Ngige said the committee’s sitting was non-inclusive and one-sided, recommending impracticable figures in salaries and allowances that are beyond the capacity of the Federal Government.
So, instead of adopting the recommendations of the committee, the Federal Government set up another committee to study the recommendations contained in the Briggs committee report.
The Federal Government later filed for an interlocutory order at the National Industrial Court (NIC) to compel ASUU to return to classroom.
The court on September 21, ordered the union to call off its seven-month-old strike. Although ASUU appealed the ruling, the Court of Appeal, while acknowledging the validity of the grounds of the union’s appeal, still upheld the order of the lower court and ordered the union to comply with the ruling as a condition to hear the appeal.
As academic activities commence, stakeholders have expressed concern over the fate of the backlog of students seeking admission into universities as there are two new sets awaiting resumption.
The first set of students, whose admission processes were concluded last year, are yet to resume, while another set of students sat for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) this year.
A Professor of Transport, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi, said court directives are not solutions to issues at stake.
“Even if ASUU is forced to the classroom, can lecturers be forced to teach? If they are forced to teach, can they be coerced into teaching at their optimum best? The worst harm you can do to students is to be taught by a dissatisfied and demoralised teacher.
“The minister of labour was more interested in winning the battle than solving the problem. The first principle in productive negotiation is a win-win outcome for all parties. To those on government side, they are sitting on a high horse, and power and arrogance are key ingredients of their tools.
“What is required going forward is to allow the intervention of the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila to mature. The Federal Government should keep faith with the pledge made to the Speaker.
“Besides, it is important that government employs knowledgeable and well informed negotiators with appropriate temperament to engage astute unions such as ASUU,” he said.
National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Hassan Soweto, sympathised with the students for starting another journey that is likely to terminate very soon into another debilitating and prolonged strike.
He said this is because the Federal Government is not likely to use the period of the suspension of the strike to address any of the issues that forced ASUU to go on strike.
According to Soweto, the priority is for the Federal Government to immediately start addressing ASUU’s concerns with a view to ensure that public universities are properly and adequately funded and staff pay guaranteed.
“Also the government needs to do away with IPPIS and adopt UTAS, while also ensuring a regime of democratic management of universities to prevent corruption and looting by management.
“Linked to this is the need to ensure genuine autonomy of universities and respect democratic rights of students and staff,” Soweto said.
ERC commended ASUU for their courage and steadfastness, saying by their struggle, they have shown an example that President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-poor government can be resisted in its agenda to make public education the preserve of a few rich elites.
“I urge them to utilise this period to take stock, review the struggle, draw useful lessons, repair, re-stock, re-arm, and re-strategise, with a view to preparing forces for renewal of the struggle to save public education,” he said.
Soweto urged the Federal Government to ensure that students do not have to experience similar prolonged strikes again by demonstrating commitment to the collective bargaining agreement.
President, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Usman Barambu, in a chat with The Guardian, expressed appreciation to stakeholders, including the president, speaker, ministers, media and student leaders involved in the negotiation to return lecturers back to classrooms.
Barambu, however, urged the Federal Government to compensate students for the wasted period, saying at least a semester registration fee and hostel fee should be waived.
The student leader said the priority now is for students and lecturers to prepare themselves for lectures, while school management gets ready to manage the institutions.
“They should be patient enough with everybody. Because you wasted eight months of somebody’s life, if you’re teaching him, there is that anger.
Barambu advised ASUU to always carry students’ leaders along before going on strike, stressing that it is the same students that will come and help.
He told the Federal Government to fulfill promises, adding that they can meet and call ASUU to a roundtable for the ones they can’t, to explain situations to them. He said this would help eliminate strikes that are fast killing the sector and dashing the hope of Nigerian students.