BusinessDay

The impending ASUU strike

If there is anything that has been very constant in the academic calendar of the Nigerian universities since the dawn of time, it is that, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government of Nigeria are always in conflict over funding of the public universities, and better working conditions among others.

After the end of the military era in 1999, Nigerians ushered in democracy and a government that promised to be people-oriented. Still, it did not take long for Nigerian students to experience the usual disruption in their academic pursuits. A few months after the Obasanjo-Atiku administration was sworn-in, ASUU embarked on a nationwide strike and it lasted for five months.

In 2001, ASUU declared another strike over the reinstatement of 49 lecturers sacked at the University of Ilorin. The industrial action was aggravated when the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo described Nigerian university lecturers as “a bunch of lazy and ungrateful people” The strike was called off after three months.

Having had an agreement with the federal government during the previous strike, the union was forced to embark on another industrial action on Sunday, December 29, 2002, after the Obasanjo administration failed to implement the agreement. The strike lasted for only two weeks.

In 2003, Nigerian university undergraduates had to stay at home again for six months as ASUU embarked on another industrial action due to the non-implementation of previous agreements, which cover poor university funding and disparity in salary and retirement age.

Nigerian university students again experienced another disruption in their academic calendar(s) as university lecturers went on another strike. The lecturers went on strike for just two weeks.

In April 2006, academic activities were paralysed in all public universities across the country when ASUU declared a 3-day warning strike. It eventually lasted for one week.

The 2006 industrial action was followed by another on March 26, 2007. The strike lasted for three months. The reasons for the strike were pretty much the same reasons for the previous strike.

ASUU should find another approach to addressing its grievances with the government, rather than wielding the incessant weapon of strike

In a bid to press home its demands, ASUU went on strike for one week in 2008. The demands included an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers who were dismissed at the University of Ilorin.

In 2009, lecturers in public universities across the country embarked on an industrial action that lasted for four months. The strike which started in June was called off in October. Before the strike was called off, the federal government and the union had an agreement. The 2009 ASUU/FG agreement would later become the reason for subsequent industrial action.

The year 2010 also saw another setback for Nigerian university undergraduates in their academics as ASUU embarked on another indefinite strike that lasted for over five months. The strike started on July 22, 2010, and was called off in January 2011.

The 2020 strike was the mother of all ASUU strikes; it lasted for 10 months. Therefore, the issue of the ASUU strike has been a reoccurring decimal in Nigeria.

ASUU recently warned that the union might be compelled to embark on yet another strike if the federal government failed to implement the December 22, 2020, Memorandum of Action signed with it prior to the suspension of the last strike.

Read also: Persistent ASUU strike: Increased investment in education, necessary but insufficient condition

The union claimed that the federal government deliberately delayed in deploying the University Transparency and Accountability Solution as the payment platform for university staff, the non-payment of the due tranche of Earned Academic Allowances.

Besides, ASUU frowned at the non-release of the earlier agreed N40 billion fund for the revitalisation of public universities, the unwillingness to sign the draft of the renegotiated 2009 agreement, the continued non-payment of promotion arrears, the non-payment of withheld salaries, and the non-remittance of deducted check-off dues of the union.

Be that as it may, one would have wanted ASUU to concentrate more of its efforts in demanding better welfare packages for lecturers and allowing other things to fall in place. It is heart-rending that in Nigeria, a Professor earns as low as N416, 000 (about $835) as salary. This dismal situation should be of utmost concern to the union. First things first, like it is said. One must first secure the ground before struggling for the mat.

However, that is not to say that the federal government has done well by not keeping to the agreement reached with ASUU. That is simply an act of irresponsibility. How do you expect a man to be teaching when he is hungry or worried over his rent?

But, like the popular saying goes, ‘when two elephants fight, the grass suffers’. Therefore, the equally worrisome thing here is that it is the students and parents who continue to bear the brunt of these strikes.

It is believed that ASUU should find another approach to addressing its grievances with the government, rather than wielding the incessant weapon of strike. Thus far however, it seems that this is the only language that is understood by the government. Whereas, strike should not be the only means of addressing the disagreement between the government and ASUU. The Federal Government is to be blamed for this recurrent problem and unfortunate turn of events.

Therefore, the federal government on its part should endeavour to leave up to its promises. It is disheartening to have leaders who do not keep to their words.

We wish to reiterate here that ASUU should focus its energy on ensuring that professors and lecturers obtain a decent wage profile from the government. This is one meaningful way in which the union can be relevant in the pursuit of other issues that are deemed to be critical.

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