ASUU Strike: Buhari’s inconclusive intervention
What and how else shall we write on ASUU-FG crisis since 2009 before the authorities in Nigeria can take the challenge of tertiary education very seriously? Who should we send to our President to remind him about his promise to declare an emergency on education since 2017? As the answers to the questions above continue to blow in the wind before his exit on May 29, 2023, we just need to freeze our fixation on other subjects of urgent national importance at this time to discuss the plight of teachers, notably university teachers in Nigeria. Even as politicians are gallivanting about campaigning for the 2023 consequential elections, we need to sensitise our parents that their children who have presumably resumed studies in various universities after eight months of frustrating strike can still not learn because of the provocative vengeance being unleashed on the university teachers by our duty bearers including the Ministers of Labour and Education acting for the Buhari administration. Even politicians who are running around to be in power from May 29, 2023 should note that the wickedness of the Ministers on the teachers haven’t come to an end: Their continued attack on the ASUU members and university lecturers have actually touched off another round of strategic strike that may hurt more than the eight months strike. This time, the deadly attack is financial strangulation or should we say starvation as a weapon of revenge.
Both the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the newly registered Congress of Nigerian Universities Academics (CONUA) have kicked against the payment of half salaries to their members for October, 2022. The National Vice President of ASUU, Dr. Chris Piwuna, who confirmed the development at the weekend, described the development as “insulting, humiliating and embarrassing.”
The union’s chapter at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) also tweeted last Thursday condemning the development, even as it appealed to its members to remain calm. The National Coordinator of CONUA, ‘Niyi Sunmonu, also described the development as unfortunate but appealed to members that all the contradictions would be resolved.
‘No-work no-pay weapon’
The Nigerian government has insisted on implementing the No-Work No-Pay policy for the period the university workers were away from their duty posts. ASUU, which began its nationwide strike on 14 February, did not announce the suspension of the industrial action until the National Industrial Court (NIC) ordered its suspension. The union announced its resumption on October 14, exactly eight months after the commencement of the action.
The resumption was also a fall-out of the union’s loss of its appeal against the resumption order by the industrial court at the Court of Appeal. But while announcing the resumption, the National President of the union, Emmanuel Osodeke, a professor noted that apart from heeding the directive of the court, the decision was also out of respect for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila who had intervened on behalf of the lecturers and pleaded with President Muhammadu Buhari to reach a middle ground with the striking lecturers over the withheld salaries.
ASUU, however, said its demands had not been satisfactorily met as of the time it was asking its members to return to work but expressed optimism that Mr. Gbajabiamila’s intervention would address the grey areas. In a short statement on its Twitter page, the chairperson, UNILAG chapter of the union, Dele Ashiru, described the development as “insensitive and disheartening”. He, however, appealed to the members to remain strong and united as they await further directives from the national secretariat.
“The leadership of the union at the national level has been duly informed about this unfortunate development and they are on top of the issue,” he wrote: “Members are to remain calm and await further directives from the National Secretariat even in the face of this bracing provocation and crass wickedness by this administration.”
Meanwhile, the ASUU Usmanu Danfodiyo University (UDU), Sokoto, has accused the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, of attempts to polarise the union and create disharmony through selective and biased payment of lecturers’ salaries at the university.
ASUU-UDUS said the minister had ordered the payment of the withheld seven months’ salaries to some of its members at the institution’s College of Health Sciences. Mr. Ngige had claimed that the college graduated students during the period of the strike, which ASUU-UDUS debunked at the time. ASUU-UDUS chairperson, Muhammad Almustapha, said the union’s enquiries revealed that Dr. Ngige wrote the finance ministry to pay the said staff on the basis that they worked throughout the period. He restated that the members were on a total and comprehensive strike throughout the industrial action.
The statement read in part: “On Monday, October 31, 2022, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (ASUU UDUS) Branch received information that a segment of academic staff in the College of Health Sciences (CHS) has been paid a backlog of seven months of their withheld salary (March to September).
“Our preliminary investigations, as to why only a section of academic staff in the university were paid, revealed that the payment was made due to a letter written to the Hon Minister of Finance instructing the exemption of some listed staff from the application of the “No work No Pay” rule. The Letter was written by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment on October 24, 2022, directing the payment of withheld salary of Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) of Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital (UDUTH) Sokoto Chapter, with the pretence that this category of staff has been working during the strike.
“The Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment having realised that he failed in his attempt to divide the rank and file of ASUU, specifically targeting the UDUS branch for obvious mischievous reasons, has now come up with another treacherous move aimed at further dividing the union.”
‘You will hear from us – ASUU’
Meanwhile, the ASUU National Vice President, Dr. Chris Piwuna, a former chieftain of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), said he received his half salary on Thursday and found the development “insulting.”
“Since I started working in the university system, this is the most insulting, humiliating and embarrassing experience I have had,” Mr. Piwuna said. He threatened that Nigerians would hear from the union very soon.
“Yes, you will hear from us very soon,” he said.
And even CONUA?
The National Coordinator of CONUA, Dr. Sunmonu, also said the national leadership of the union was working to right the “wrong.” He insisted that his union was not on strike during the industrial strike embarked upon by ASUU, saying its petitions against the stoppage of its members’ salaries have been submitted at the appropriate quarters. As I noted in August here, talking about the long strike and plight of university teachers may have become a stale subject to discuss at this time that politicians are promising heaven on earth including how all our universities in their time would be better than all the Ivy League Universities in the United States. Even October salaries can’t be completed after eight months of deprivations. That is inexplicable and unconscionable.”
As I have noted here before, let us have some introspection on a critical national issue that can destroy Nigeria faster than the bandits, insurgents, and another recession: It is the unending humiliation of our teachers, notably the federal university teachers who have been on strike and have been unpaid for the past eight months. What of the numerous state university teachers who have been enduring the shame of irregular payment for years? In this country, teachers (from primary to tertiary schools) have been generally regarded by state actors as ‘the flotsam and jetsam of the society’ as journalists were once described by the iconic Obafemi Awolowo.
I am always worried that our state leaders who have access to state funds are not concerned about the parlous state of education and the squalid condition of teachers in Nigeria because they can easily send their children abroad- to receive quality education. Teachers and medical doctors are leaving Nigeria in droves again and this brain drain is becoming a brain gain for even developed countries. Hold your breath, all of the children of our frugal president and symbol of integrity have enjoyed the best of education in the United Kingdom where he too prefers to be treated at their best hospitals. Let’s study this classic that most of us have received many times across platforms. It is on ‘why collapse of education is the collapse of a nation’.
The following words posted at the entrance gate of a South African university sums up the problems we are now facing: ‘Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examinations by the students.’ The result is that: Patients die at the hands of doctors. Buildings collapse at the hands of engineers. Money is lost at the hands of economists and accountants. Humanity dies at the hands of religious scholars. Justice is lost at the hands of judges. Because “The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.”
This message is a classic bell that tolls for not only President Buhari and his cocky and misguided Ministers of Education and Labour alone. It is directed at all the 36 state governors and 774 local government council officials in this convoluted federation. It is not about typing out the quotable quotes or words on marble on education in our various rooms and offices. It is about how our leaders can manage priorities in a way that will empower them to regard education as a weapon of country and global competitiveness.
As I was saying, this is not a time of lamentation about the quantum of time the ASUU members have wasted on strike, the only language authorities in Nigeria understand. It is not just a time to remember that ASUU has been the most unappreciated driving force behind improved remuneration package in the public sector. It is just the right time to encourage our leaders at all levels to swallow their pride and vanity and be angry with themselves about the consequences of their violent ‘attack on education’ and indeed on the future of their country. On reflection, they should know that without good teachers, without happy teachers, there can’t be good and employable graduates who can cope with the needs of the nation at this time. Our leaders at all levels who like to decorate their bookshelves with the biography of Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean iconic leader who lifted his country from Third to First World when he led the country for 32 years, should read the book. Our leaders often appreciate orators and public speakers when they regale them with how Yew turned around one city country to a significant nation. I would like to encourage our leaders to spare a weekend to study the role of quality not just in the education of Yew, but also in the life of Singaporeans. If they study the classics of the iconic Yew, they will see how quality education consciously funded as a fundamental objective of state policy, is the weapon the great leader used in developing his 5.6 million people into global citizens, significant entrepreneurs, and great thinkers.
Interpretation: Singapore’s power base is simple: intellectual capital. This can only be obtained through conscious and robust investment in education at all levels, not investment in big and expensive bridges our leaders struggle to commission.