ASUU: Averting looming crisis of ‘half salaries’
The decision of the Federal Government to pay pro-rated or ‘half salary’ in October to members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), soon after they called off their eight-month strike, is embarrassing and certainly inappropriate for an embattled government seeking peace; and for teachers who have strongly maintained a principled stance, including obeying the order of court. By its action, the government seems to be getting ready for more hard nuts to crack, instead of consolidating an opportune gain. In fact, the Federal Government was not just rash, it smacked of a punitive measure carried out of personal malice against the academic union. For this, the government goofed.
Notwithstanding the academics’ commendable gesture of maintaining academic activities and ruling out any further strike actions, Nigerians should not be moved that all is settled. Even though ASUU members have since resumed academic work in compliance with court orders, it is unlikely that school activities will progress as they used to be. Since the government, as rightly pointed out by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu and his labour counterpart, Chris Ngige, has invoked the ‘‘no work, no pay’’ policy, latest protests by academics in some universities show that the university calendar may yet be disrupted. This may entail cancelling the backlog of responsibilities of the preceding session and starting on a clean slate. If academic staff make true this threat, that would be calling for fresh crisis. Students will not move to the next session and there would be stagnation of multiple sets of university entrants into government universities.
Besides, the fundamental issue that caused the ASUU strike in the first place is being undermined by the inconsequential issue of ‘half salary.’ It seems the government has diverted Nigerians’ attention from ASUU’s main grouse, which, if true, connotes an ignoble action. The bone of contention is that the Federal Government should sign and implement the Nimi Briggs Committee re-negotiated agreement. Additionally, it should deploy the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as the payment platform in the university system in line with the directives of the president. All these should not be treated with levity. Government needs peace at this time particularly with the general election a stone-throw away.
It is important that well-meaning and good-spirited Nigerians should intervene and frankly look into the crisis. And this period of strategic reflection on the part of ASUU is the auspicious moment for intervention. While the ongoing school session presents some temporary respite now, it is to the government’s disrepute that two incidents of protracted strikes have occurred in a space of two years, clearly a bad testimony for any government mindful of its credibility.
This has lent credence to notions that this government, given its perceived aversion to enlightened engagement and intellection, is embarking on a grand design to destroy education. It is paradoxical that a government dotted with intellectual pundits and university schooled officials, some of whom, like the vice president, have been university lecturers and professors, would be so vaingloriously scornful about developing tertiary education.
Despite the recalcitrance of the Federal Government, ASUU should listen to, and explore alternative views in resolving dispute with government. Past experience and current repercussion on the educational sector have shown that rigidity is not always feasible. Indeed, ASUU’s modus operandi is the typical rigid style of unions the world over and tends to showcase ASUU as not different from artisans’ unions.
Certainly, the concern of Nigerians on the rigid nature of ASUU’s outmoded unionist tactics is to be appreciated. All the same, rights are not solicited; rather they are demanded. Nigerians would recall that government is often so unmoved by cordial entreaties with unions and civil society groups; and it appears that it is only strike actions that can get the government’s attention. For instance, it was not until doctors started emigrating en masse and people started dying in hospitals that this government realised that health workers had to be reasonably remunerated. Compared with their dealings with ASUU, this government has been more responsive to complaints or agitations by aviation workers or petroleum and natural gas workers, presumable because of the massive collateral damages often arising from the unions’ strike action.
When it comes to labour relations, this government has performed badly, exhibiting an unbelievable level of crassness. It is evident from the different arguments of both parties that the escalation of the crisis arises from needless ego-tripping and diatribes thrown at persons. The government is supposed to set the standard, provide the enabling environment and resources and then charge the university teachers to deliver.
In the present instance, the administration has not made that happen, indicating that it has lost track of the value of tertiary education. A crisis in which a minister sees the industrial action against the Federal Government as a personal affront is a very puerile and counterproductive response to the crisis.
This is the kind of action affecting public tertiary education with huge human resource repercussion. In the last one year, genuine academics have become disenchanted with the calling and are considering quitting, while younger academics and students from middle class families are leaving the country in droves. In the long run, Nigeria will suffer critical manpower crisis. Yet, no serious discussion goes on about reconfiguring tertiary education.
As the government looks into the proposed salary increments appropriated under this year’s budget, consideration should be given to the prompt payment of the outstanding seven and half months’ salary. On its part, ASUU should restructure its administrative machinery for better representation and public relations. It needs to be cautious, reflective yet pragmatic, rather than be unduly lured into inflammatory engagements with its employers.