ASUU strike and ordeal of Nigerian undergraduates
Since the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) came into being in 1978, it has continuously had a running battle with successive governments in the country over the welfare of its members, students’ welfare, funding of universities and other issues.
The development has led to several strikes by the union and its affiliate bodies over the years. Always at the receiving end of the incessant strikes are undergraduates in public institutions, whose academic programmes are disrupted and valuable time wasted.
Several efforts to curb the recurring decimal in the country’s higher education system had proved abortive over the years. ASUU has always seen industrial action as the best tool to compel governments to do its bidding.
Although, some of the union’s demands are very genuine, questions have been asked on how the managements of the universities have been running the affairs of the institutions, without subjecting themselves to proper scrutiny and accountability.
The 2009 FG/ASUU agreement, which is the major bone of contention in the ongoing ASUU strike seems to have become un-implementable by government, in spite of several strikes over the issues before now.
But whether the agreements are implementable or not, is not the business of an average Nigerian undergraduate or their parents, who eagerly look forward to their wards’ graduation.
But it seems there is light at the end of the tunnel on the Federal Government’s proposal to ASUU towards ending the ongoing strike. The Union’s negotiating team, had yesterday morning risen from a 13-hour meeting with a government delegation in Abuja and announced that it had agreed to consider government’s proposals.
National President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, who led the negotiating team, said it would present the proposals to the leadership of ASUU for its final decision and get back to government within a week.
“Now, we have some concrete proposals that we will take back to our members for consideration,” he said.The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, disclosed that the meeting discussed seven issues, which constituted ASUU’s core demands.
Ngige listed some of the demands and what government proposed to do on each.On funding of the public universities, he said government had accepted to commence quarterly payment of the fund.
“The government has decided to make some funds available for September and October to show they are not liquidating the agreements and to show a sign of good faith,” he said.
In respect of the 2009 memorandum of understanding (MoU), for which non-implementation was the core of ASUU’s grievances, Ngige said government proposed to set up a seven-man committee with the union to work out the modalities for implementing the agreement.
He, however, said: “This is without prejudice to the Babalakin Committee on re-negotiation of the agreement”.On earned allowances of the teachers, which financial implication had risen to “about N220 billion as at last Thursday,” Ngige said: “Payment has started in that direction.”
Regarding registration of universities’ pensions management company and pension matters, he said a pathway was proposed for the registration of the company.
On university staff schools, which the teachers are demanding to be reopened and funded by the Federal Government as part of universities, the minister said: “Though not appealing, we have agreed that the decision should be communicated to the various universities.”On non-payment of salaries, he revealed that government has shown commitment and evidence that payment had started to liquidate outstanding sums and allowances.
He added that government made a proposal for the Central Bank of Nigeria to create a separate account for universities Treasury Single Account, while research grants will be exempted from compulsory remittance into the account.
“For issues on state universities and quality of education, which concerns everybody, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu was mandated to take a memo to the Council of State and the Federal Executive Council (FEC), “he said.
While it is hoped that the government will walk its talk on all the issues, it is expected of the union to properly consider the proposal in the context of the present realities and in the interest of the Nigerian undergraduates, whose academic careers are being jeopardised by the strike.
Also expected is a permanent solution to the agreements that appear to have become a willing tool in the hands of ASUU members to disrupt academic activities in the country’s public institutions.