There appears to be no end to the crisis between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government on issues affecting public institutions.
With the extension of a strike by another three months, students, parents, and stakeholders came hard on the government, accusing it of insensitivity.
The body is accusing the Federal Government of failing to honour the agreement reached with the union, which led to the suspension of its industrial action in December 2020.
National President of the union, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, said the strike was borne out of their concern for the continued survival of the public university system in Nigeria.
In a communiqué issued at the end of its National Executive Council meeting in Abuja, the university lecturers said: “After extensive deliberations, noting Federal Government’s failure to live up to its responsibilities and speedily address issues raised in the 2020 FG-ASUU Memorandum of Action (MoA) within the additional eight week roll-over strike period declared on March 14, 2022, NEC resolved that the strike rolled-over for 12 weeks give government more time to satisfactorily resolve all outstanding issues.”
The union condemned what it described as the government’s insensitive attitude towards lecturers’ strikes.
It also accused the three-man reconciliation team set up to resolve the dispute of failing to do its work, adding that no single meeting had been held since then.
ASUU said its members were shocked to see that while public universities were shut down and indigent children were idle at home, the political class was busy purchasing expression of interest forms with millions of naira.
The association is also angry that those in power have abandoned poorly equipped institutions in the country to be junketing between Europe and America to celebrate the graduation ceremonies of their children.
“This speaks of the level of depravity, insensitivity and irresponsibility of Nigeria’s opportunistic and parasitic political class.”
ASUU further accused the government of employing starvation as a weapon to force lecturers to abandon their struggle for better funding and remuneration for university staff, adding that such a strategy is bound to fail and cannot stop the resolve of university teachers.
ASUU said unless something was done urgently to redirect the renegotiation committee led by Prof. Briggs, to address the issues in dispute, the exercise may end up as a wild goose chase.
ASUU has declared a strike action since February 14 and several reconciliation meetings by the Federal Government and the striking Lecturers have met brick walls.
ASUU’s demands include Funding for Revitalisation of Public Universities, Salary Shortfall, Proliferating of state Universities and Visitation Panel, Renegotiation, Replacement of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) with the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), withheld salaries and non-remittance of Check off dues.
The union lamented that since 2020 when the MoU was signed, the Federal Government has only addressed three of the issues.
“The starting point is to say that those were outstanding issues from the memorandum of agreement signed with the government on February 7, 2019, which it has not done anything significant to address. But since then, IPPIS has been elevated almost over and above these other issues earlier highlighted.
“We believed that with all that we have done, the government has no reason to withhold salaries of members, which in some cases, are eight or nine months, and even 10 months. We are at that point where we need to resolve the issue of mode of payment for what the government owes our members.“
In 2012, when the NEEDS assessment of 16 universities was carried out, after much pressure, the government came out to say that it agreed with N1.3 trillion to be released over a period of six years, starting with the sum of N200 million in 2013. That was the only tranche the government released, which was spread over five years.
Since 2017, we have been saying that the government should go back to pay the balance or come up with a new schedule for paying the balance of N1.1 trillion. The best we have got from the government was the release of N25 billion, then N20 billion as a sign of commitment, which does not address the fundamental issues because the spirit behind the MoU of 2013, which the Federal Government signed with ASUU, was the need to massively inject funds into public universities, but there are problems in terms of facilities and human capacities, among others.
“Given the glaring and deliberate failure of government to honour the agreement it willingly signed with the union, it is becoming obvious that industrial harmony is gradually being destroyed in our institutions. Enough is enough. ASUU is fed up with deceptive antics of the Federal Government of Nigeria,” he lamented.
It’s been a ding-dong affair between the university teachers and the Federal Government. The strike, no doubt, worsened the already chaotic academic calendar, which has always remained one of the casualties of ASUU’s incessant strikes.
But a public analyst, Joe Udoka, said the union cannot be brandishing an agreement reached between it and the government in 2009 now, because the socio-economic circumstances are no longer the same.
He said: “We view the whole altercation as needless as the issues at stake are in no way ambiguous. What the lecturers’ union demand from the government is for it to honour its own promises made in 2009 for improved funding of the university system and working condition of the lecturers. Though the government has now devised means of strategically disowning the 2009 agreement signed between its representatives and ASUU, it should be reminded that government is an institution and not person.
“Change of administration should not be an excuse to renege on binding commitments made by the government, especially that relating to a critical area like education,” Udoka said.
Underfunding of the education sector, over the years, has had a collateral effect on the country. Universities, hitherto exemplary centres of excellence that attracted academics from far and near, have become grotesque carcasses of their former selves.
The deplorable education system has forced privileged Nigerians to send their wards out of the shores of the country for studies. A report released last year put the figure of what Nigeria loses to overseas studies at N1.5 trillion per annum. It could be higher.
Embarrassingly, countries like Ghana, Uganda and Benin Republic, which were hitherto considered far below Nigeria in all respect, have now turned to be countries where Nigerians seek education.
Ghana alone is estimated to be benefitting about N160 billion from hundreds of Nigerians, while those who should act to better the system of education send their children to choice universities around the world, the result at home is a decline in quality of education.
A committee headed by erstwhile Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, which conducted a need assessment of universities, came up with a report that unearthed the rot in the system.
The report, which was commissioned by the government itself, detailed the appalling condition of the universities, both in human and infrastructural terms. While the teacher-student ratio stands on the average at the embarrassing figure of 1:100, basic teaching tools in laboratories, workshops and libraries were discovered to be either grossly inadequate or nonexistent.
In most, if not all, university students have no adequate hostel facilities, while some defecate in the open, due to the absence or inadequacy of toilet facilities.
These same students, according to the report, take lectures in crowded lecture halls and theatres. The consequence of this neglect of the education system is the soaring number of half-baked graduates coming out of these institutions.
Though the teachers could not be absolved of blame, it is, however, only fair to expect a good result when the condition for good performance is set.
ASUU has spent a total number of 1,500 days, which translates to 4.09 years on strike since the return to democracy in 1999, findings by The Guardian have shown.
The breakdown of the striking days by the union suggests that about 19.5 per cent of every academic year in the country is spent on strike.
This is why some people in the country see the activities of the union especially the industrial actions as an attempt to frustrate the academic pursuit of Nigerian undergraduates.
Incessant strikes by university teachers are a sad reminder of how governments have relegated education, to the detriment of the much desired human capital development for the country.
This year, the budgetary vote for education falls far below the UNESCO recommended 26 per cent allocation. In fact, there has been a reported rise in crimes due to juvenile delinquency, which the students are exposed to because of incessant strikes.
How to resolve these lingering issues is what the government should endeavour to address, once and for all, to save the country from further embarrassment.