Monday, 4th December 2023

Students to FG, ASUU: This strike is ruining us

By Collins Olayinka (Abuja), Ayodele Afolabi (Ado-Ekiti), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos), Maria Diamond, Ogechi Eze and Adetayo Adeowo (Lagos)
17 October 2020   |   4:25 am
“I will like the Federal government to take the issue between it and ASUU seriously. Let the ASUU also be prepared to end its industrial action. They should not waste our time and by extension our future.

• Thursday Night Parley Deadlocked, Negotiations Continue Next Wednesday
• FG Earmarks N20B For Revitalisation Of Public Varsities
• Union Gets N30B To Defray Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) Arrears
• Timelines For Resolution Of Outstanding Issues Fixed

“I will like the Federal government to take the issue between it and ASUU seriously. Let the ASUU also be prepared to end its industrial action. They should not waste our time and by extension our future. Now that the scourge of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has reduced to a reasonable extent, I think it is time to move on with our education.”

With these words, Olutaiwo Ayobami, a student of English and Literary Studies at the Federal University of Oye Ekiti (FUOYE) berated the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for their failure to the reach a truce on the issues that have ensured that students of federal universities in the country have been at home for seven months.

Many of the students, who spoke with The Guardian against the backdrop of the failure of government and the ASUU to a find common agreement on the issues in dispute at their meeting last Thursday night, lamented that the strike has taken a toll on them.

They urged the Federal Government and the union to reconcile their differences without further delay in the interest of their (students) future.

After talks between both parties ended in yet another deadlock on Thursday night, they are scheduled to meet again next week Wednesday to continue the engagement.

Recall that ASUU embarked on an indefinite strike on Monday, March 23, this year, following the insistence of the Federal Government that university lecturers under its employ must enroll on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). The union is also demanding the payment of its member’s Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) from 2014 to 2020, among other issues.

Since then, several meetings held between the government and leaders of the union had ended in deadlock. Recently, ASUU presented an alternative payment system, University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) to the government, which the government has said it was considering.

At last Thursday’s meeting, government agreed to commit N20 billion payable at the end of January 2021 to the revitalisation of public universities, which ASUU agreed to take to its relevant organs for deliberation.

On the demand by ASUU for the payment of its members’ Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) in two tranches, which cumulated to N40 billion that has become overdue since November 2019, the Accountant General of the Federation committed to release N30 billion on or before November 6, 2020.

It also hinted that the remaining N10 billion would be spread equally over the two tranches to be paid in May 2021 and February 2022, respectively.

The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) was also charged to quickly conclude the verification of figures of EAA claims so as to clean up the figures from 2014 to 2020.

To achieve this, a committee would be constituted by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to develop a template that would capture all the agreed allowances in the 2009 agreement for all the unions in the universities.

Thereafter, the OAGF and the National Universities Commission (NUC) would quickly conclude the verification of the EAA figures so as to defray the payment from 2014 to 2020.

ASUU was asked to work with the OAGF and NUC to achieve that by the end of December 2020.

The process of mainstreaming the EAA into annual budget using the agreed formula would be activated while the NUC, and Ministry of Education would coordinate the activation process immediately and conclude that by November 6, 2020.

The National Assembly (NASS) also agreed to implement this process of mainstreaming, provided the Ministry of Education would send in the amount involved as quickly as possible. ASUU also said it would confirm shortfall in salary payment and report at the next meeting.

On the state universities, it was agreed that the NUC Act would be amended in order to strengthen its regulatory capacity.

The payment of Earned Academic Allowances to loyal ASUU members at the University of Ilorin has also been resolved.

It was revealed at the parley that visitation panels to federal universities had been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, but they have not been gazetted.

The Federal Ministry of Education was urged to ensure gazetting within two weeks.

The meeting agreed that the Panel would be inaugurated latest by the end of November 2020 and have four to six weeks mandate to finish its work by December 31, 2020, and submit two reports per university covering five years periods of 2011 – 2015 and 2016 – 2020.

The government team revealed that the renegotiating team for the 2009 agreement would be reconstituted on or before October 31, 2020 and the renegotiation would be concluded on or before December 31, 2020.

The meeting agreed that if University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) passes all the different stages of the integrity test, which would involve National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and the Office of the National Security Advisers (NSA) and after its efficacy is ascertained, it would be adopted for the payment of the university staffers.

Meanwhile, the meeting could not agree on how payment would be done for ASUU members during the transitional period of UTAS tests, as the government side again appealed to ASUU to enroll on IPPIS platform in view of the presidential directive that all Federal Government employees should be paid via IPPIS.

They could thereafter be migrated to UTAS whenever certified digitally efficient and effective with accompanying security coverage. But the ASUU maintained that given its invention of UTAS, it should be exempted from IPPIS in the transition period.

On withheld salaries of some ASUU members, the meeting agreed that government would pay the money as soon as both parties agree on the mode of payment.

As negotiations between the two parties continue, many students affected by the industrial action said the situation was frustrating them.

Sanni Hariet Oyinkansola, a 200 level student of Theatre and Media Arts at FUOYE, urged the Federal Government to do the needful quickly to safeguard the future of the students.

“Our educational pursuit and our future should not be sacrificed by Federal Government. I believe that the two parties can always reconcile their differences if they have the interest of the students at heart. We are appealing to FG in particular to address the problem that is keeping us at home as quickly as possible. Staying at home is not the best because an idle hand is the devil’s workshop,” she said.

An Engineering student of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), who identified himself simply as Michael, told The Guardian that he was worried and tired of staying at home.

His words: “Nigeria should not be a laughing stock due to incessant strikes and inability of the Federal Government to honour the agreement it reached with ASUU for many years. It is true that it was reached with the previous governments, but government is a continuum.

“Therefore, I expect that we should move on and the agreement honoured to save students. I am not happy the way things are. Education should be taken serious in Nigeria. The way we are seeing this problem, it is capable of keeping us in school for more than the required number of years. I am begging the Federal Government to resolve this problem once and for all.”

Ezichi Zipporah, a final year student of Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Nigeria, Nsukka said: “I have deeply lost interest in resuming school activities due to the fact that I have lost memory of what had been previously taught before the strike. I can’t even remember all my course titles and codes. All my female friends are not even talking about school activities anymore, as their attention has shifted to getting married and starting a family,” she said.

Mercy Olaoluwa Olatayo, a 100 level Law student of the University of Ibadan, said: “Apparently, this notorious ASUU strike is the greatest menace to the educational system in Nigeria. This is because it has most of the nation’s higher institutions in its claws. It is wrecking us! It is eating deep like a cankerworm pesting on its favorite fruit. Sometimes, I wonder if the government of this country even values education at all. Obviously, they do not care about the present state of our education sector. When are we going to realise what we are losing? This ASUU strike is seriously ruining us.”

A 400 level student of Management Sciences at the University of Jos, Miss Felicia Mbaebie, also said, “I am not happy at all staying at home for this long. It is frustrating. The time we are supposed to finish will now be extended. The Federal Government should honour the agreement reached with ASUU so that the students can resume. This is the only way forward to avert future strikes when this one is suspended.”

On his part, a 200-level Law student of the University of Calabar, Okwuokie Emeka Lawrence, who was analytical in his response, said lecturers have been out of class for approximately 20 per cent of the total teaching time in the past 13 years, noting that it was equivalent to four academic sessions.

He said: “In 1999, the union embarked on a five-month strike; in 2001 a three-month strike, 2002 a two-week strike, 2003 a six-month strike, 2005 a two-week strike, 2006 a week strike, 2007 a three-month strike, 2008 a week strike, 2009 a four-month strike, 2010 a five-month strike, 2011 a 59-day strike, 2013 a five-month strike. In 2017, it lasted for a month and in 2020 a seven-month strike. The big question now is, when would this end?

“I feel like the issue of this strike is a misdirected one because the major issue of IPPIS over the UTAS system can be resolved by other means, not necessarily by a prolonged strike at the detriment of Nigeria students.

“There are so many negative effects of this strike, one of which include the disruption of various universities’ academic calendar. Second is the extension of students’ academic year. Courses that are supposed to span a duration of four, five and six years would now have to be five, six and seven years, respectively. Lastly, it leads to an increase in social ills and vices. This is because students who are idle might end up engaging in some illicit activities that would have been avoided if the universities were in session.

“My advice to the Federal Government and ASUU is that they should look for a more effective and efficient means to resolve their dispute and come to a favourable conclusion. I also urge the Federal Government to always keep to their promises and agreement, as our university system is not just in a deplorable condition but also outdated when put on a global scale.”