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EDUCATION

Looming Strike And Future Of Nigeria’s Tertiary Education

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The Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Associated Institutions (NASU), and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) recently embarked on a five- day warning strike.

The five-day warning strike according to the union, was to ensure that their demands were listened to and fulfilled. The non-teaching staff of the Nigerian universities had accused the federal government of discriminating against them and giving preferential treatment to the Academic Staff Union of Universities( ASUU).

The union had also warned that unless the government met their demands, the warning strike which ended last week might snowball into what they called mother of all strike.

Amongst their demands was the release of the sum of N30 billion for payment of their earned allowances, as they maintained that the 80 per cent of the money earlier released to the universities to ASUU was too discriminatory.

The two unions stated that the money was to be used to close the gap created by the discriminatory disbursement of the funds earlier approved for settlement of university workers’ earned allowances.

The strike according to the unions, has become imperative following the alleged poor response from the federal government, to meet their demands after the expiration of the 14-day ultimatum to government.

The union had earlier issued a 14-day ultimatum to address the issue of earned allowances, sacked workers of staff schools or they would shut down the universities.

At the expiration of the 14-day ultimatum, they had resolved to embark on a five- day warning strike after what they called a ‘non positive’ response from the government.

The unions had also frowned at the inability of the government to obey the judgment of the National Industrial Court (NIC) that ordered the reinstatement of workers in the staff schools.

After the threat to proceed on strike, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, had organised a meeting with the unions to resolve the contentious issues, but the meeting could not hold as it was scheduled on the day members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) had embarked on a protest for the release of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky.

The leaders of the union had stated that they waited for the senate president for a rescheduled meeting in Abuja for many days and no information was given to them.

However, the permanent secretary, Ministry of Education, had met with the leadership of the union but after the meeting, with no follow up response from government, the non teaching staff had decided to embark on the warning strike.

The areas of demands include the earned allowances which the non teaching staff unions claimed that they were shortchanged in the sharing formula.

The union had said that out of the N23 billion released to the four unions in the university, ASUU, allegedly took over about 80 per cent of the money, leaving only 20 per cent for the three unions.

There have been reports of a pending meeting this week,  between the minister of labour and employment, Senator Chris Ngige, and the leadership of the union so as to forestall another strike action.

While Nigerians pray for a lasting solution to the issue of strikes in the nation’s tertiary institutions, the union leaders from the nation’s tertiary institutions are skeptical about the end while lamenting that if their demands were not given urgent attention, schools’ calendar would continue to be disrupted.

While speaking on the issues, the national public relations officer of SSANU, Abdussobur Salaam, recalled that the issue of university staff schools, over which its members embarked on a warning strike last week, was one of the first issues that were brought to his attention in December 2015, when he first assumed office.

“We met with him on January 3, 2016, and he assured us that the matter would be resolved since we had a subsisting agreement dating back to 2009. This was, however, not the case, as we had to go to court and embarked on about three industrial actions to ensure implementation of the court order, which reiterated our 2009 agreement on the staff schools. This should not have happened and you can imagine the losses and distractions to the system on account of an issue, which the minister needed to be more assertive over,” he said.

SSANU alleged that the minister, during his first term, allowed his leadership of the ministry to be hijacked by some interests who were bent on destroying the sector.

“It would appear that the minister in his first coming, was afraid not to rock the boat and was quite cold about many issues. To this end, in this second coming, we expect him to come up with more energy to change the status quo in the nation’s educational system. There is a lot of rot and corruption in the sector, which he would do well to address. He acknowledged this in his ministerial screening and it would be good if he takes a holistic review of appointments of heads of parastatals and start with them in clearing the corruption, identified as a bane in the system,” he said.

At the beginning of the year, the nation had suffered from double strike action by ASUU and Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP).

The strike action was due to promises not fulfilled by the federal government. ASUU strike which started on November 4, 2018, was however called off on February 7, 2019, after three months of the action.

The union’s national president, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, while calling off the strike stated that the union had reached a new agreement with the federal government. However,  the president had warned that the new Memorandum of Action(MoA) if not fulfilled, the union would have no option than to resume the strike.

He explained that in addition to the N20 billion for 2018, the sum of N25 billion  would be released in April/May 2019, after which the government would resume full implementation of the MoU of 2013.

“Part-payment of the outstanding arrears of the earned academic allowances, defraying the balance up to 2018 in four tranches within 36 months, and mainstreaming further payments of EAA into the annual budgets beginning from 2019 budget,” he said.

Also,  on February 12 2019, ASUP had suspended its two months’ strike, but warned that it would not hesitate to resume the suspended strike should the government fail to review the Memorandum of Action (MoA) and ensure full implementation before the end of May 2019.

While speaking recently on the tasks ahead the minister of education,  Mallam Adamu Adamu, the union leaders who spoke with LEADERSHIP urged the minister to resolve pending lingering issues.

The ASUU president in an interview,  noted that Adamu should make efforts to unearth the critical issues hampering the development of education, especially tertiary education,  in this country.

“Again, some outstanding labour issues he met on ground were not fully resolved. For example, Nigerian academics were not happy that the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement which Mallam Adamu kick-started in March 2017, was not concluded for more than two years,” he said.

On the tasks ahead the minister, Ogunyemi urged Adamu to do more to fix the Nigerian education by following through with his earlier pronouncement of the declaration of state of emergency in the sector.

“As for the university system, ASUU expects that the minister would ensure that the 2012 Report the FGN’s Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities is updated and fully implemented,” he added.

Also speaking, the national secretary of Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics(ASUP) , Anderson Ezeibe, noted that for the fact that the minister has been there for years, the onus lies on him to complete all that he had started in his first term in office.

“The minister has been there for nearly four years before so he knows that a lot of things were left half done. Before he exited, for instance, the renegotiations  of the agreement between the union and the government have not been concluded. It is still pending. The engagement we have been having since we had our last strike in 2017, some of them are still pending, for instance, the NEEDS assessment issue and the  revitalisation fund which he was pursuing before he exited. We expect him to consolidate on this effort,” he said.

Also speaking on the issues, the president of Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), Comrade Nuhu Ogirima, called on the minister to respect the tertiary education governance subsector.

He explained that government should pay more attention on colleges of education and polytechnics especially as they have recently transcended their mandate.

“Their mandates have transcended from given tertiary services to middle level manpower now because we have HND being awarded by polytechnic, HND is equivalent to degree. We have the colleges of education affiliated with universities awarding degrees. Government should recognise the fact and at the end of the day, they need to do the needful in terms of the provision of the necessary infrastructure.

“The colleges of education, train teachers for primary and secondary schools. When the colleges of education are now denied the requirement to offer their services, it is the nation that suffers,” he said.

Ogirima urged the minister to ensure that agreements with the various unions in the tertiary level of education were fulfilled.

Earlier this year, the minister of education had assured that the present administration of President Muhammedu Buhari, was doing everything possible to ensure that the issue of strike became a thing of the past.

The minister had blamed the delay in meeting some of the demands projected by the ASUU on weak financial base of the federal government, adding that previous administrations made bogus promises to the

academic unions when the economy was quite buoyant.

“Let me begin by saying that the issues necessitating this strike dates back to 2009, when the then government of late President Umaru Musa Yar Adua, signed an agreement with the ASUU on funding of the  federal universities in the country.

“The agreement provided for funding of universities to the tune of N1.3trillion over a period of six years. It is instructive to know that Nigeria was experiencing the oil boom at that time. It was therefore expected that the government will be able to meet the terms of agreement.

“However, international oil prices crashed in subsequent years thereby throwing the country into economic hardship.At the inception of this administration, the country’s economic fortunes worsened, nose diving into recession, with dire consequences on all sectors of the economy,including education,” he said.

Adamu stated that the nation had exited from recession not too long ago, adding that as the nation begins to recover from the consequences of low oil prices, things would be better.

“If this trend continues, definitely, the education sector will also improve, in other words, the wellbeing of the education sector and any other sector of the country’s economy is a function of the international oil prices, this is the stack reality for now which all of us must acknowledge and accept,” he added.

While many argue that the government was capable of meeting the demands of the union, others believe that with the economic situation in the country,  alternative source of funding for education was needed fast to meet up with the demands of the union and in turn, lift up the education sector.

“Just like the two per cent tax from companies which TETFund has used on tertiary institutions, other sources should be created because as of now,  the budget for education is really low,” Peter Nnolim,  a lecturer in a public university said.

However,  a civil servant and a mother of four, Christiana Ajor, stated that government lacked the political will to address the issues in the education sector.

Ajor, whose two children are in public universities, lamented that she was tired of the incessant strike actions which had made her children stay more than they were supposed to stay in school, adding that most top-ranking officials of the Nigerian government had their children studying abroad which explained their lack of commitment to address the lingering issues that led to the industrial action by the lecturers.

She proposed for a law banning public office holders from sending their children/wards to study in tertiary institutions abroad as a measure towards stopping the spate of strike action from unions in tertiary  institutions.

Nigerians, especially parents and students pray that the remaining academic year would be strike free as the government  works towards fulfilling the demands of the unions.

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