ASUU and its hassles
Maybe, just maybe, the solution to the usual impasse between the federal government and the Academic Staff of the Universities (ASUU), is for the national assembly to wade in and get the issue addressed and resolved once and for all. If news making the rounds is anything to go by, another threat of an industrial action is being issued by ASUU, and without a proper response by the federal government, the nation’s education calendar may once again be put on hold for as long as the struggle lasts.
It will be recalled that a similar strike action by ASUU lasted almost a whole year with all the attendant problems associated with the closing of schools for an indefinite period. Most of the issues raised by ASUU are in connection with an agreement purportedly reached by the immediate past government with the union, hinged mostly on demand for proper funding for education.
That while the United Nations Organization recommends about twenty six percent of a nation’s budget to be voted into education, Nigeria is said to fall as far below as less than eight percent, and because of the low budgetary allocation, education in the country is nothing to write home about. While agitations for an increase in the budgetary allocation to the education sector is desirable and justifiable, it would seem that ASUU is merely putting the need for proper funding for education as the first of its major demands just to attract public sympathy. There are other contentious issues the academic body itself is keeping away from the public glare as it is aware that those requests would receive an outright public condemnation.
It is true that the former administration entered into an agreement with ASUU but it is doubtful if the man who signed the agreement had a proper understanding of its terms, or whether, a nation battling with very low resources and a rapidly dwindling economy will be able to cope with it. Or just maybe because the fellow signing the agreement felt since he also belonged to, or had been a part of that sector, wanted to appear as acting in their favour. Moreover, in a country like Nigeria where almost everything is politicized, chances are that the agreement was signed simply to seek the support of the academic body in view of an upcoming aspiration. In all, the agreement was signed and it has now become a major albatross to the current government which was never party to it.
Since government is said to be a continuum, ASUU is always up in arms every time, asking that the agreement be honored, or everything will be paralyzed in the public tertiary institutions. Each time too, members of the public are easily swayed and get carried away by the ASUU rhetoric. Notable Nigerians who are conversant with the very stringent demands of the purported agreement have at a time or another expressed doubt about the possibility of any government being able to cope with the demands, not even with the current state of the Nigerian economy.
The current administration faces a lot of challenges amidst dwindling revenues resulting in continuous borrowings which is now becoming a major source of concern. Members of ASUU are very insincere in their regular attitude of wishing to eat their cake and still have it since each time they embark on any industrial action, and no matter how long it drags, they still insist on the government paying for all the months for which no service was rendered. Where else is that done if not Nigeria? ASUU reserves the right to call its members out on industrial actions but asking for payment for work not done is criminal and it should no longer be tolerated. The university system in Nigeria today is in shambles because of the complete non-challant attitudes of members of ASUU. While admission processes have become a strong racket making it possible for only the children of the highest bidders to gain admission, lecturers shuttle between different private jobs and pay little attention to their official duties. Yet, they still hang on the neck of the government asking it to honour some nasty demands.
Any government reserves the right to decide on any method if finds suitable to pay its workforce especially to correct notable loopholes. That members of ASUU went into loggerheads with its employer over use the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPS) was the height of confrontation acceptable only by a country like Nigeria where leaders are completely bereft of how to put its workforce in proper check. Nowhere in the world except perhaps Nigeria are employees found to dictate to their employers how they must be paid, and it is all because over the years, members of ASUU are already used to being pampered and worshipped due to their propensity to employ cheap propaganda to blackmail any government. Until the government therefore puts its foot down and takes a drastic and very strong decision about ASUU, particularly as regards the so-called agreements that have become so insurmountable that every time, threats are issued about schools going to close, it will be very difficult for the country to move forward as far as public tertiary education is concerned.
Members of ASUU will always embrace industrial action even at the touch of a button since they are aware that no matter how many months the strike drags on, they will still get paid for work not done at the end of the day. Besides, strike period allows ASUU members to focus more on their private practice while the children of the poor in public higher institutions rot at home. The National Assembly should therefore intervene and lay the issue of agreement or no agreement to rest once and for all.
Oyewusi lives in Lagos.
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