The lingering ASUU strike

Nigerian public universities have been under lock and key for more than three months. The action is due to the industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) some months ago.

It will be recalled here that the lecturers had on February 14 given a 30-day warning strike to allow the Federal Government the opportunity to address the issues raised by ASUU.

However, at the end of the 30 days, the Federal Government was unable to arrest the situation. The immediate foregoing gave ASUU the impetus to roll-over the strike on March 14. More recently, the union declared another 12 weeks’ strike, thereby keeping the students perpetually at home.

Indeed, mandating the Chief of Staff to negotiate with the union without putting any tangible thing on the table amounts to self-deceit

Needless to say these are anxious moments. This is because these hapless and helpless students do not know when the impasse would be resolved.

Though President Muhammadu Buhari has asked the lecturers and their union leaders to consider their students and call off the strike. A call considered by many as a step in right direction, but coming rather too late.

Besides, the president mandated his Chief of Staff Ibrahim Gambari and some other officers from the presidency to call ASUU for a round-table dialogue. We believe that the Federal Government should go beyond paying lip-service to the lingering strike and take a decisive step to address the issue.

It is obvious that the Federal Government lacks the will power to take the bull by the horn by fulfilling its agreement with ASUU and being decisive on what they want from the union. Indeed, mandating the Chief of Staff to negotiate with the union without putting any tangible thing on the table amounts to self-deceit. Certainly, this will not wash with a discerning union like ASUU. This may well explain why nothing concrete was achieved on the platform of the interaction with Professor Gambari.

Come to think of it, the Federal Government should not have allowed the strike to commence in the first place, bearing in mind that ASUU as a bell-whether union will among other things trigger many other unions to follow suit in the strike.

Incidentally, this is precisely what has happened. The other unions: SSANU, NASU, ASUP, among others, have embarked on their own respective strikes thereby crippling the local economies of the various university communities across the country. This flood of strikes have rendered both the academic and socio-economic activities on campuses redundant with many lives subjected to unnecessary hardships and suffering.

If we may be allowed to reiterate, the bone of contention is that ASUU entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Federal Government in 2009. But the Federal Government on many occasions has failed to keep to its promises to honour the agreements.

There have been several other agreements between the Federal Government and ASUU, and they all revolve around the agreement reached in 2009.

Some other issues ASUU wants the Federal Government to address are to increase the funding of the universities, and renegotiate the conditions of service for lecturers.

ASUU is also demanding the Federal Government pay arrears of allowances and stop the implementation of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS).

In place of IPPIS, the lecturers want the Federal Government to consider the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as a payment platform.

However, the Federal Government is saying that UTAS failed to pass integrity and credibility test conducted by its own agency: The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), and as such, it could not be implemented. This, as revealed by ASUU, is patently untrue.

It is very disheartening that the students are the ones mostly bearing the brunt of the ongoing strike. Some of them have fallen victims of rape and other criminal activities in the country. Their youthful energies are being wasted away at home. These are dismal scenarios for a developing country like ours.

Moreover, the instability in our tertiary public institutions has caused image problems for the country. In the past, Nigerian universities could boast of many international students. But the reverse is the case today.

Rather, Nigerians are the ones migrating to foreign universities to get quality education. We did not expect that after the nine-month strike, which was called off early in 2021, ASUU would embark on another one, almost a year after. In this respect the government must be held responsible for this recurrent situation. The lingering strike, no doubt, is mortgaging the future of the country and that of the students.

Read also: ASUU: Matters arising

We therefore call on President Buhari to intervene concretely and end the ongoing strikes in our public universities. He had recently pledged that his government was committed to fulfilling the promises made to ASUU. This is the time for him to walk the talk as education remains germane and critical to the nation’s socio-economic development. Though resources are scarce, revitalising the universities can be achieved if we put our priorities right.

However, we also believe and demand restraint on the part of striking lecturers. If and when the government comes forth with a genuine offer, the union should do a rethink and call off the strike.

Both parties must not forget in a hurry that the country is preparing for a major electoral contest. And that if the strikes are not called off, they are likely to affect the 2023 elections.

It is only in Nigeria that you find a man whose house is on fire chasing after rats. How for instance do we explain the fact that the Federal Government recently donated $1 million, about (N580m) to Afghanistan, when our own education sector is in dire need of financial assistance? Clearly, we need to reset our priorities. And education, particularly tertiary education, should and must be one of such priorities.

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