Its over three months since the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on an indefinite strike action on November 5, 2018.
The two parties involved: that is the federal government and the leadership of ASUU, held several meetings to resolve the impasse. Unfortunately, a common ground has not been reached.
The back and forth meetings have definitely reached a point were many have stopped counting. However, there are strong indications that the meeting the two parties are going to hold today will be the one to bring the much-awaited good news.
The federal government has expressed optimism that the strike action will soon be a thing of the past. The minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige while speaking after the last meeting, stated that some progress have been made, adding that it was left for ASUU to consult with its members and get back to the federal government.
“It has been protracted but the good news is that we have gotten to the end of the tunnel” he had said.
ASUU, also informed the public of the meeting with the federal government today, adding that government has placed on its table another proposal which the union leadership agreed to look into before the proposed meeting.
“The minister of Labour and employment, Dr Chris Ngige has brought a new proposal to the table and we are going to reconsider it, though it is not up to the N50bn as we requested,” the ASUU president, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi said.
He however assured that the union will have something concrete to tell Nigerians after it’s meeting with the federal government today.
“The union will be consulting it’s members and will provide feedback to its meeting with the federal government which is scheduled for next Thursday (today)” he had said.
ASSU president while speaking during an interview on the union’s demands had asked government to act decisively on the revitalisation of the universities with the release of N50 billion immediately and spread the balance of N220 billion over the next three quarters of this year.
“What government proposed was to release N20 billion in two instalments and we said that is not it; there are five tranches of N220 billion that are pending and our members are saying that government should at least release one tranche and as a sign of commitment to that, they should release N50 billion immediately.
“Another demand was on the payment of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) for which the government had promised to release N20 billion and we said the N20 billion should be strictly for ASUU members.”
Fear over students’ possible disenfranchisement
As the strike lingers with seemingly no end in sight, there have been fears in some quarters that if the strike is not called off before the 2019 election, many of the students who had registered for voting at their schools, but are now forced to stay at home, will definitely be disenfranchised.
A recent release by INEC on the occupational distribution of registered voters for the 2019 election indicated that students top the list by 26.57 per cent. INEC put the students’ population at 22,320,990.
But already, there are concerns that the number of students, who will vote, will fall drastically as they would find it difficult to return to their schools, just to cast their votes and return home.
“That is going to be a herculean task,” Ginika Igwiechi, a student of University of Calabar said. “I am staying here in Abuja with my parents and if the strike is not called off, I don’t see any reason that will take me back to Calabar even though I registered to vote there” she said.
Steven Jide, a student of University of Nigerian, Nsukka has a similar experience. He lives with his parents in Lagos and he wonders how he would be able to express his civic duty, as according to him, he was not prepared to travel all the way to Enugu state where he registered, just to cast his vote.
“My parents will not even listen to me if I asked them to give me money to travel to Enugu just to vote. Who does that in this tight situation we see ourselves. They are just trying to save the little they have to give me and my sister in the event that ASUU call off the strike so travelling just to cast my vote is out of it,” he said.
“That is the reason we want INEC to make it possible for our voters card to act like an ATM card so that we can vote anywhere we find ourselves during the election,” Jude Clement, a student union executive at the Kogi State University said.
Clement is of the opinion that if the voters card is configured in a way that one can vote anywhere, issues of being disenfranchised will not arise.
“Strike or no strike, wherever we are, we will just represent with no excuse. Now, we have excuses to give for not voting,” he said.
Another student, Edith Gabriel, a student of Plateau State University, however stated that even if the strike action is called off today, many parents would not allow their children to head to school until after the election.
“I blamed the federal government and ASUU for this. If they had reached an agreement early enough, we would have been in school by this time, studying.
But ASUU, in a tweet via its twitter handle Official_ ASUU @ ASUUNGR, while addressing the concern of students over the election, said it was putting into consideration all those issues while consulting with its zonal coordinators.
One thing which remains vague is how the union is putting the issue into perspectives as it claim since there is no inkling as to how it intends to facilitate the provision of opportunity for the students, who by virtues of their numerical strengths, could change the tide of the election, to vote.
However, whether ASUU calls off its strike or not, many Nigerian students will surely still be disenfranchised, unless by stroke of fate. Right now, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) is yet to reach an agreement with government to call off its strike action, which it embarked on since December last year.
‘FG on top of the situation’
As for the Polytechnics lecturers, the federal government through the minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu assured that it has virtually resolved all the contending issues with the leadership of ASUP, and that the strike will be called off soon. But Nigerians are still watching.
We recall that Adamu who told newsmen that the government has reached agreement on issues regarding the review of Polytechnic Act adding that the president was waiting for the National Assembly to transmit the amended act to him for assent.
When reminded that other contending issues included the revitalization of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, the minister stated that the government was committed to the revitalization of facilities in its public tertiary institutions and has directed the Minister of Finance to source for additional funding of N30 billion for the purpose, with particular reference to Polytechnics and Colleges of Education.
Speaking on other agreements, the minister had said, “On State owned Polytechnics, the National Board for Technical Education has been directed to strengthen its regulatory mechanism including developing a new template for accreditation to address observed weaknesses and to ensure that proprietors of Polytechnics including states and private owners meet their obligations to their staff.
“ The allowances and shortfalls arrears and shortfalls in salary are being addressed across board. To this end, Government has released N16.8 billion to settle outstanding arrears. Disbursement is ongoing through the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
“As a demonstration of Government’s commitment to continuous dialogue with the staff unions, the Ministry will provide alternative funding for the stalled renegotiations in the Polytechnics sub- sector,” he minister has reeled out.
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