By Abdulazeez Alhassan
The Academic Staff Union of Universities(ASUU) struggles are as old as its birth. It is on record that the union had downed tools for more than 15 times since 1978.
However, government’s refusal to honour agreements reached with the union has been the basic reason ASUU goes on strike; yet, nothing seems to have changed.
The two parties(ASUU and FG) are always in conflict over funding of the Nigerian Universities, better working condition, earned academic allowance, salary shortfall, replacement of IPPIS with UTAS, among other demands.
There were many signed agreements between the two parties, and which most of them were failed by FG. In the wake of the last strike action by ASUU which lasted for nine months and was suspended in December 2020 after signing the 2020 Memorandum of Understanding(MOU) between FG and ASUU, promising to address the issue as soon as they suspend the strike, still, has some issues which may lead ASUU to down tools February 2022
In November 2019, the Federal Government had offered to commit about 50bn to the sector-20bn for revitalisation and 30bn for earned allowances. This was later reviewed to 25bn and 40bn respectively.
When ASUU rejected the offer, insisting on 110bn, which is 50 percent of the tranche of 220bn that was agreed during the 2013 Memorandum of Action(MOA), but which the government declined citing paucity of funds.
The national president of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodake noted that the union received nothing as agreed after seven months of signing the 2020 MOU, lamenting that only issues of salary shortfall and visitation panels to Federal Universities were addressed.
It is disheartening for someone to know that the 2009 MOU, 2013 MOU and 2017 MOA were partially honoured by FG.
The signed 2009 agreement provided that FG will release 1.3 trillion in tranches within the period of six years, laying emphasis that the money is meant for University revitalisation, earned academic allowance, among others. Sadly, four years after, FG failed its promise and did not release any amount of money to the union.
This led to the 2013 strike action, which was later suspended after the Federal Government released 200bn to the union, promising to release 220bn in 2014 and 200bn in the subsequent years.
Still, this promise was failed by FG till ASUU downed tools(warning strike) in 2017, which led to the call off of the strike after FG had released 20bn to the union; promising to release the signed amount of money after six weeks.
The above were 2009, 2013 and 2017 agreements. However, the Federal Government failed its 2017 promise thereby forcing the union to embark on strike in 2018.
This was later called off after renegotiating with the chairman FG/ASUU committee; hence ASUU rejected Dr Wale Babalakin as he openly said FG will not honour 2009, 2013 and 2017 agreements. Adding that FG will only accept fresh agreements.
These were the struggles of ASUU before 2020 strike action which was discussed above.
There were also many attempts by FG to privatise the education sector since 1976. Not later than 3 years, there was a committee set up by the government to look at an alternative source of funding for Universities.
The committee came up with a proposed cost sharing system; parents should pay 70% of expenses while government pays 30%. Proposing 900,000-1.5m for each session.
This is sad and disheartening as two things are bound to happen when government makes this declaration-parents have to bear the cost of educating their children or children of the poor have to drop out.
Subsequently, the integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System(IPPIS) was introduced to Nigeria in 2014. It was however rejected by ASSU citing reasons that it breached the autonomy of universities; since it will kick-out visiting and sabbatical lecturers, adding that there were complaints of irregularities in payment salaries; in accurate capturing, lack of implementation of allowances, among others.
However, the union called for its replacement with with the University Transparency and Accountability Solution(UTAS) introduced by the union.
In particular, ASUU president Prof. Emmanuel Osodake, on January 16, 2022 said that the union will wait till February 2022 before embarking on strike.
Adding that, it was only due to the intervention of the Nigeria Inter-religious Council(NIREC) and other stakeholders.
He also lamented that issue in contention is the delay in approving the University Transparency Accountability Solution(UTAS).
There is need for Federal Government to learn how to keep agreements, and meet up with ASUU obligations; they should not wait to be reminded through strike which is disrupting academic activities.
More so, instead of opening more Universities, government should invest more in already existing Universities and ensure they have enabling environment for academic pursuit, they should as well increase the budgetary allocation to education sector.
In thesame vein, government should ensure that lecturers are monitored appropriately, ensure they get to work on time and have enough to do, not just saying they are overworked and are not getting their allowances.
There must be a system which should monitor what they are actually doing.
The above were on the part of Federal Government. On the part of ASUU, the lecturers should have a peer review mechanism in which the university system itself is able to asses lecturers and at the end of every semester, find out how many of these lecturers are really lecturing and what their workload is because some lecturers are overworked while some are just there doing nothing.
Furthermore, ASUU should also be made to realize the limitations of government in terms of current limitations with regards to meeting its obligations. Instead of always going on strike; they should use internal mechanisms to ensure that government is reminded of these agreements and when any of the agreements is floured, they should take to the pages of newspapers or electronic media to draw the attention of the general public.
Abdulazeez Alhassan wrote from Rigasa Kaduna. He can be reached via email@example.com