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Strike: Not again, anxious Nigerians warn FG, ASUU

By Iyabo Lawal, Silver Nwokoro (Lagos) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
14 February 2022   |   4:15 am
It was two full days of meeting: two days of ‘to strike’ or ‘not to strike’ and at the end, many Nigerians had to go to bed hopeful that the National Executive Committee...

Chris Ngige

• Union extends meeting, to announce decision today
• Most lecturers support industrial action, says source
• Parents, stakeholders appeal for restraints
• Ex-minister seeks intervention of former union leaders

It was two full days of meeting: two days of ‘to strike’ or ‘not to strike’ and at the end, many Nigerians had to go to bed hopeful that the National Executive Committee (NEC) of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would not call out lecturers for another round of strike.

The meeting, which is holding at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), has been extended to the early hours of today. A source, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian: “You know the matter at hand is very sensitive and ASUU has been very careful. It is a serious thing. But the final decision will be taken early, Monday morning.

“But it was clear that majority of NEC members opted for declaration of strike, citing government’s failure to implement the agreement reached with the union and accede to its demands over the years.”

As Nigerians await the decision, however, stakeholders have appealed to the Federal Government to fulfill its side of the bargain with the union to avert another disruption to academic calendar.

ASUU National President, Emmanuel Osodeke, had earlier lamented that the union’s demands on revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowances, University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) promotion arrears, renegotiation of 2009 ASUU-FGN agreement and inconsistencies in Integrated Payroll and Personnel information system (IPPIS) payments have remained unheeded, in spite of meetings with Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige.

The union had also earlier issued a three-week ultimatum to the Federal Government, nudging it to address all pending issues to avert another round of strike.

Checks showed that a number of universities already preparing for semester examinations are apprehensive. Students are particularly jittery, expressing fears that they may be forced to go home if ASUU makes good its threat to down tools.

Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), for instance, is billed to commence first semester examinations by the end of this month, likewise other institutions.

A 400-level student of Microbiology at UNILAG, who identified himself as Michael, expressed concern that a strike, at this time, would certainly disrupt the calendar and elongate his stay on campus. He lamented that although the course is a four-year programme, he has already spent six years on campus.

Similarly, Molayo, a final year law student, said an industrial action would mar her chances of getting into law school within stipulated time and or participating in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.

Gbemisola, a 300-level student of FUTA said: “We will start our first semester examinations in two weeks’ time and end by mid-March. But if ASUU strikes, that might no longer be possible. We all know that if the strike starts, the process of calling it off would take some time.”

She appealled to the Federal Government and ASUU to factor students’ concerns, especially after they had spent nearly a year at home on account of the COVID-19 lockdown and a previous strike by the union.

THE National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) said the strike is another attempt to return students to the streets, describing it as a distraction to the nation’s education sector.

Its South West Coordinator, Stephen Tegbe, faulted the government for failing to fulfil its agreement with the union. He said NANS would not mind joining the union in dialogue with the Federal Government to ensure demands are met.

He said: “We want the union to consider that we will not only be losing out by staying at home, incessant strikes will also keep bringing down the value of our education and the quality of graduates.

“We are also sending a strong warning to the Federal Government against toying with our future. If government officials in Abuja are getting their salaries, nothing should stop our lecturers from getting paid as and when due.

“We call on the Federal Government to urgently fix a meeting with ASUU to discuss the best way to go about the issues outlined by the union. We hope government would do the needful to avert recurrence of the #EndSARS protest, which festered due to ASUU strike.”

Former national president of the students’ body, Bamidele Danielson, urged lecturers to shelve the proposed strike in the interest of students.

Also, former education minister, Chinwe Obaji, described incessant threats of strike by ASUU as embarrassing. Obaji wondered why government would enter into an agreement it would not honour.

“We have had a lot of people who came from ASUU as part of government. Why didn’t they address these issues? The lasting solution to incessant strikes in universities is for government to look for officials who were once ASUU members or university teachers, before taking up government appointments,” she said.

Obaji named people like Attahiru Jega, who was a former ASUU chief before taking up government appointment as Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman; Prof. Suleiman Elias Bogoro, Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), who was a former ASUU chieftain and Chairman, Governing Council of the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede-Owerri, Imo State; Prof. Peter Okebukola, former Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC); Prof. Dapo Asaju, former Vice Chancellor, Ajayi Crowther University (ACU), Oyo and others.

She advised: “Government should meet with these officials and get them to negotiate with the union, with a view to finding lasting solution.”

Obaji also appealed to the aggrieved lecturers to have a rethink on strike, saying students bear the brunt of the disruption in the long run.

“It is only in Nigerian public universities that you gain admission for a four-year programme and don’t know when you will graduate. It does not happen abroad or even in private institutions,” Obaji added.

Chairman, Association of Tutorial School Operators (ATSO), Dotun Sodunke, urged government to take education seriously, while appealing to ASUU to shelve the planned strike.

Sodunke noted that students are always at the receiving end, as lecturers eventually get their pay, while the time lost by students is never recovered.

IN a related development, Education Rights Campaign (ERC) called on the Federal Government to avert the strike by resolving all outstanding disputes with the lecturers.

In a statement issued by its Deputy National Coordinator, Ogunjimi Isaac Ayobami, and National Mobilisation Officer, Michael Lenin, ERC said funding of public education is the responsibility of government, because quality education is primarily a social need.

“It is on this basis that we are in solidarity with ASUU to demand better funding of public universities, especially payment of the revitalisation funds and improvement in pay and working conditions of lecturers.

“Without this funding, quality education cannot be guaranteed from underpaid and overworked lecturers or from the under-equipped libraries, laboratories, hostels and other facilities on campuses,” ERC said.

The group commended ASUU for its steadfastness over the decades in the struggle to defend university education.

It said: “The struggle to defend public education is not that of ASUU alone. Indeed, ASUU’s longstanding demand for adequate funding of education, payment of revitalisation funds and improvement in educational infrastructure deserves the unflinching support and solidarity of students and parents.

“At the moment, ASUU has rejected government’s plan to introduce a tertiary education loan scheme, which is a gimmick for government to totally hands-off funding of public education by committing students to a lifetime of indebtedness. These are issues the students’ movement is supposed to be campaigning about but for the ideological collapse of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).”

The group noted that Nigerian students are already facing the most vicious consequence of the crisis of public education in Nigeria, adding that fees are being increased beyond what students from poor and working class backgrounds can afford.

It noted that teaching and learning facilities are obsolete, while decay of hostel and medical infrastructure has cost several students their lives.

ERC urged ASUU to extend its demands to condemning increment in fees across campuses and take a clear position that public education should not be driven by Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) mostly from increment in school, acceptance and other unjustifiable fees.

On his part, the Olubadan-designate, Dr. Lekan Balogun, said: “I strongly appeal to my colleagues in the universities to allow for dialogue towards amicable resolution of the impasse. The spirit of give and take should guide such dialogue in the interest of hapless Nigerians.”

Speaking, while he played host to representatives of Idi-Ito High School, Erunmu, Egbeda Local Council, in Oyo State, he said: “We must take into consideration that where two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. From the position of members of ASUU, one can see their desire for robust and quality education for our children. Yet, the rot that had piled up for several years cannot be cleared in a jiffy, which is why there must be understanding on their part.

“Equally, government must ensure the implementation of whatever agreement it willingly entered into with the lecturers in the interest of peace and harmony, and more importantly, for the sake of Nigerian youths.”