Friday, 29th September 2023

Over one million students may not vote as ASUU strike persists

By Kanayo Umeh, Abuja
04 February 2019   |   4:25 am
More than one million students of federal and state universities across the country may not vote during the forthcoming general elections due to the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

[FILE PHOTO] Voting in Progress

More than one million students of federal and state universities across the country may not vote during the forthcoming general elections due to the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

A high percentage of the about two million university students across the country, who registered to vote in their various institutions, may not have the opportunity to exercise their political rights during the polls due to the ongoing industrial action.

The Guardian learnt that most of the students stay in school hostels, which are currently under lock and keys.

Parents are also likely not to allow their children to go back to school to participate in the elections, knowing full well that the institutions are on strike and universities may not be able to provide adequate security for their wards.

Although private universities are in session, the National Universities Commission (NUC) said about 75 of them only accounted for less than six per cent of the students’ population in the country’s university system.

ASUU had on November 4, 2018 begun an indefinite strike over the failure of the Federal Government to implement three areas in the Memorandum of Action it signed with the union on September 14, 2017.

The union’s grouse with the Federal Government included its failure to carry out the forensic audit of the earned academic allowances of the lecturers since 2017 and the payment of N20billion out of an agreed N220billion annually as well as underfunding of the public universities.

Briefing journalists before ASUU started the strike on November 5, its National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said all entreaties made to the government to honour the agreement with the union fell on deaf ears and they had no alternative but to begin the strike.

Ogunyemi alleged that the government was not interested in public universities as the children of the top politicians and rich men in the society patronise private universities to the detriment of public institutions.

Both sides have met four times without resolving the crisis, thus forcing students of public universities, who constitute the majority of INEC ad hoc staff during elections, to stay at home.

In an interview with The Guardian yesterday in Abuja, the ASUU president said the strike was not targeted at the elections.

According to him, the students and other members of the university community are free to participate in elections, as they were not told to boycott them.

“Our strike was not targeted at the elections; it does not have anything to do with the elections. If the strike now coincides with the election period, certainly we didn’t start it while the elections were on.

“We have been on strike since November 4 and if this matter had been addressed, it would not have lingered up till this time. I don’t think ASUU should be blamed if the strike continues till the election periods.”

The President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Danielson Bamidele Akpan, said the student body would be holding a crucial executive meeting this week to come with a solution to the issue.

“We have been doing a lot to get the government and the striking lecturers back to the negotiation table and resolve the crisis, but to no avail,” he said.

Akpan said the association’s concerns about the strike had earned NANS a lot of blackmail by ASUU which accused the students’ body of working for the government.

“We don’t believe that they are fighting for the Nigerian students or the restructuring of the education sector. We realize that the only thing they discuss when they get to the negotiation table are earned allowance and salary shortfall,” he said.

But the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, yesterday said the Federal Government had made a breakthrough in its negotiations with the striking lecturers, raising the hope that the students may still participate in the elections.

Adamu, who disclosed this at the seventh edition of the Weekend Ministerial Press Briefing, said ASUU would call off the lingering industrial action today (Monday). According to the minister, an agreement has been reached with members of the union who are expected to call off the strike without any further delay.

“Government team has reached agreement with ASUU. It is my hope that academic activities will also resume in universities campuses across the country without further delay,” he noted.

Adamu also commended the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) for calling off their strike to allow students get back to classes.

He assured the union that the government would reciprocate the gesture by fulfilling all terms of agreement reached with COEASU.

The minister announced that government had virtually resolved all issues concerning the strike by polytechnic lecturers, adding that they would also call off the strike very soon.

“Government is committed to the revitalisation of facilities in its public tertiary institutions and has directed the minister of finance to source additional funding to the tune of N30 billion for the purpose, with particular reference to polytechnics and colleges of education.

“The National Board for Technical Education has been directed to strengthen its regulatory mechanism, including developing a new template for accreditation to address observed weaknesses and to ensure that proprietors of polytechnics, including states and private owners meet their obligations to their staff.

“Arrears and shortfalls in salary are being addressed across board. To this end, government has released N16.8 billion to settle outstanding arrears. Disbursement is ongoing through the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation,” he noted.

Adamu noted that the Federal Government through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) allocated a total of N727,225,862,128.86 worth of investment in critical areas of infrastructural development in tertiary institutions in four years.