As the strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) continues to cripple activities in the nation’s public universities, FELIX KASSIM writes on how the union has perfected the trick of occasionally invoking the spirit of its 2009 agreement with Federal Government to proceed on endless industrial actions.
ASUU strike is not new to anybody in Nigeria. A young Nigerian, Peter Odion, liking ASUU strike to a perennial festival in the nation’s public university system often celebrated with a total shutdown of learning activities.
While Odion was in a jovial mood while trying to explain the ongoing strike embarked by ASUU that has confined university students to their homes for the past nine months, he was also not far from the truth as industrial action by the university’s lecturers has become a recurring decimal in the country.
Within the last two decades, many Nigerians, including good historians, have lost count of the number of times the union has either embarked on strike or threatened one. The situation which has seen universities turning into ghost institutions has left many students in frustration while those who scaled through admission hurdles last year but supposed to resume in 2020 are gradually having their hope dashed.
Jerome Orji, a prospective student of the University of Abuja, said the strike has dampened the enthusiasm that heralded the appearance of his name in the university’s admission list.
“I gained admission through the 2019 JAMB exam and ordinarily we are supposed to resume but with the strike, I don’t think that will be possible. Other people have also written another JAMB this year and we are still at home,” Michael said.
Its latest strike, which commenced in March 2020 over several issues, chief among them the failure of the Federal Government to implement the agreement reached with the union is now threatening to erode what is left in the nation’s beleaguered university system.
While ASUU insists that the agreement made it mandatory for the government to inject trillions of naira for ‘revitalisation’ of the universities which the latter has failed to do, many, however, believe that despite the legitimacy of such demand, ASUU has continued to use it as a smokescreen to feather its own nest.
An educationist, Mr Ibrahim Obaji, who bared his mind on the industrial action, accused the union of embarking on the strike as a result of its opposition to the forceful introduction of Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and not because of the 2009 agreement.
Noting that elite lecturers are only using the 2009 agreement as bait to reject the IPPIS which may expose some of them engaged in the collection of multiple pays.
He said: “This is 11 years since that agreement was signed and there has been no serious push from the union. The last major strike by ASUU that lasted for six months in 2013 was mainly driven by the issue of payment of academic earned allowance and the latest one is mainly about resistance to IPPIS.
“Did you know that between 2013/2014 the Federal Government as part of the 2009 agreement agreed to release N1.3 trillion in 6 years for universities’ revitalisation? N200 billion was released for 2013 while N220 billion was to be released consecutively in the following five years, not through TETFund, but immediately the first tranche was paid, ASUU continue to drag its foot in forcing the government to release the other sum until the issue of IPPIS came up,” he said.
But the President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, has, however, dismissed such claims that the union is on strike mainly because of IPPIS.
Though there are widespread speculations that the strike will be called off soon following the recent decision of the Federal Government to suspend the use of IPPIS in the payment of lecturers salaries as well as its promise to increase the payment for Earned Academic Allowance to N40 billion and another N30 billion for revitalisation, the union is yet to make a formal pronouncement on ending the industrial dispute.
“We have what the government is offering and have transmitted the same to our members nationwide and we are consulting on what the next line of action will be. You know a tree does not make a forest and our union is democratic in nature and practice.
“As for how long the consultation would take, I cannot say but may go beyond this week. Whatever we decide on is going to be in the national interest, the interest of our children and, the interest of our members and the good of all,” Ogunyemi said recently.
But the Federal Government has, however, vowed to ensure that the problem of the strike by ASUU and other academic and non-academic unions is totally addressed to avoid more damage to the education system and has therefore inaugurated a team to negotiate the 2009 agreement reached with various unions.
Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who inaugurated the committee on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, said the ongoing strike will soon end.
“As you are quite aware, the Federal Government and relevant stakeholders, in the past months, have been neck-deep in several meetings with the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and others, to resolve the outstanding issues that led to the current industrial action in public universities.
“Although most of the residual issues were part of the comprehensive agreement reached with the previous administration, I can report that significant progress has, so far, been recorded and there is an opportunity that our public universities, like their private counterparts, will soon reopen for academic activities, ” he said.
While the renegotiating team chaired by Prof. Munzali Jibril team is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring all residual issues in the 2009 agreements between the Federal Government and the university-based unions are resolved, only time will tell if ASUU will find another major reason to unleash strike in the not too distant future.