It has been eight months into the national strike declared by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) , yet there seems to be no end in sight to the strike as federal government and ASUU have failed to reach mutual agreement.
It would recalled that the Academic Staff Union of Universities declared a total, comprehensive and indefinite strike after an emergency NEC meeting on March 23, to compel the federal government to implement the Memorandum of Agreements (MoA) of February 7, 2019 and to address issues of the Renegotiation of the 2009 agreement and provision of Revitalisation Fund to public universities, earned academic allowances, visitation panel to public universities
and proliferation of state universities and governance. Both ASUU and Federal government seem not to understand the importance of education and why university resumption should be prioritized at this time.
It appears that the government does not appreciate the danger posed by having an army of undergraduate and postgraduate students remaining idle this last eight months while the ASUU strike lasted. They are not aware that university resumption should be prioritized as a way of keeping the army of youth occupied so as to quell their restiveness!
Who would deny the fact that the #EndSARS protests that literarily brought the country down to its knees was largely successful because the organizers had ready army of university students to draw from? Has it not occurred to the government that having such large army of young Nigerians at home for eight months and
counting poses a severe security risk? Why is it that government appears nonchalant to the demands of ASUU? It looks like the government is hoping that the lecturers would eventually get tired of the strike and call it off by themselves. One is beginning to think that government ambivalence to the strike may be located in the fact that wards of most government officials school abroad. Even ASUU members themselves ironically school their children abroad. This seems the plausible account for their ‘I don’t care’ attitude, an attitude that has crippled university education in Nigeria.
What are the demands of ASUU that seem too much for Nigeria’s successive governments to implement? What are their demands when compared to the humongous drawings of our lawmakers at the Senate and House of Representatives, governors, ministers, presidents and other top government functionaries? The last time I checked, the core demands of ASUU from the federal government are rather straightforward!
ASUU wants federal government to address issues raised since their 2009 agreement! These include provision of Revitalisation Fund to public universities, to pay academics their earned academic allowances! But then, one wonders why ASUU rejected The Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) an Information Communications Technology (ICT) project initiated by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of payroll administration for its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). It is rumored that many ASUU members are employed by multiple universities at the same time, hence their resistance against IPPIS!
While the federal government insists that IPPIS is the way to go and that ASUU members must fall in line if they must receive salaries, the lecturers are adamant against IPPIS. They say that IPPIS system cannot meet the peculiarities of the university system. ASUU has therefore shown preference for the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), saying that it is better suited for the academic system, as it recognises all agreements entered into between the government and university-based trade unions.
Abuja zonal coordinator of ASUU, Theophilus Lagi, who addressed a press conference recently said that the UTAS platform ensured simultaneous payments of employees’ salaries and third party deductions like tax, pension, union dues, cooperatives and bank loans, as well as ensured accountability and transparency. He added that the UTAS allows universities to adapt to the fluidity of nature, type and period of recruitment of staff; and facilitates storage and automated
retrieval of personnel records for effective monitoring, revealing that UTAS was developed by members through their meagre resources and is better suited for the university system.
There are other grievances of the lecturers but the aforementioned are the key issues that federal government needs to resolve to bring sanity in our university education system. Can the federal government be able to meet these key demands? Yes it can! This country wastes a lot of money servicing the needs of public officers (elected and appointed), which if drastically cut down, can easily release funds sufficient to sustain universities as well save the country from the consequences of brain drain. The government has to develop short and long term goals of meeting the wage bill of the lecturers to ensure seamless academic calendar always. Government should take the talks with ASUU as a national security matter and treat it as such.
The leadership of ASUU should also make concessions to break the logjam so that our kids can return to school speedily. For the sake of the nation, concessions must be made by both sides. However, government funding challenges is not enough to use it as an excuse to
stifle education! There are many areas where government can cut spending but certainly not in education! Education is an investment in the future, so it is foolish for a developing country to ever consider cutting costs there.
Instead, in times of crisis, education spending should rather be increased!
Government and ASUU should listen to one another so that they can let our teeming university students go back to school! They can also continue negotiations while academic activities continue unabated.
When I raised this option to friends within the academia, they complained of their lack of trust in the officials of government. They claimed that government has a trust deficit because government had previously reneged on formerly signed agreements. In other words, they do not trust the government to keep to any agreements. There lies the crux of the problem. What then happens to our universities while this ASUU and Government ding-dong continues!