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Of ASUU strike and no work, no pay!

This country is just drifting on autopilot. An agreement that we have concluded since May 2021, and you waited until the expiration of the tenure of the former council members to constitute another team. This is what could have been addressed in two days or in one week. “The whole process is a joke, because none of their children is studying here in the country” ––Emmanuel Osodeke (President of ASUU)

T he news headlines are heady, haunting and beyond any iota of humour. Consider these, if in doubt: ‘NANS backs FG’s ‘no work no pay’ stance against ASUU’… ‘Dissociate from ASUU strike, Oyo State acting governor tells LAUTECH’. ..‘UNIBEN still part of ASUU strike – Chapter chairman’…‘We need to act fast on ASUU strike, Osinbajo tells APC governors’… ‘ASUU strike unfortunate, shouldn’t have occurred, says Afenifere’. The valid position of Afenifere is right on point, of course. The longwinding strike embarked by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities some six months ago, in February, 2022 should not have taken place.

That is, if our current crop of political leaders has any respect for quality education delivery. And if they got their priorities right, to also understand the value of honouring agreements reached with individuals and groups, after some peaceful negotiations. That surely defines integrity.

In all honesty, the element of Trust should be the key to facilitate smooth and sustainable relationships. In fact, if yours truly was told, back in July 1976, while graduating from the prestigious, premier University of Ibadan, all on Federal Government scholarship that my country, Nigeria would be where we currently find ourselves some 46 years later, one would have described such prediction as one nauseating nightmare coming from a weird man’s imagination.

But here we are in the 21st century Nigeria, still grappling with preventable pains of extreme poverty, scary scale of insecurity, crumbling health infrastructure, massive brain-drain in the medical and human resources sectors, economic conundrum with ever-rising inflation of almost all consumables, obvious inequity, nepotistic appointments- all traceable to faulty educational foundation. Worrisome indeed, is the fact that we have a dysfunctional political structure skewed in favour of the political elite, as against the wishes of the masses.

If not, how do we still call this a democracy, where many of our political leaders who approve peanuts as budgetary allocations for education, sponsor their favoured children for highbrow university education outside our shores? And they brazenly and proudly display photographs of their families celebrating them while the children of the poor masses grind their teeth in agony, after wasting away at home courtesy of six months of ASUU strike! So, if the Federal Government goes ahead to reopen universities without meeting some of the requests of ASUU as reached in 2009 it means that some unpatriotic elements, who have little regard for quality education delivery have truly succeeded in ruining this nation further. Amongst the demands by ASUU are the renegotiation of the ASUU/ FG 2009 agreement and the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) to replace the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS). Other demands of the union include the release of the reports of visitation panels to federal universities and distortions in salary payment challenges.

There are also the critical issue of funding for revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowance, poor funding of state universities and promotion arrears. Sad to note that the Minister of Education Adamu Adamu had days after the commencement of the strike constituted the white paper panel of the visitation panels, but did not inaugurate them as at when due.

The newly constituted seven-man team is to be chaired by an emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, and pro-chancellor of Alex Ekueme Federal University, Ndu-fu Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi State, Nimi Briggs. Curiously, eight months after the renegotiation of the 2009 FGNASUU Agreement had reportedly been concluded by the Munzali Jubril-led renegotiation committee, the Nigerian government went ahead to constitute another team of scholars to renegotiate the same agreement with the nation’s universities’ workers’ unions! Can you believe that? But the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has described the new development as a confirmation of the “unseriousness of the Nigerian government and poor commitment to resolving the lingering crisis in the university system.”

ASUU has consistently insisted that the implementation of the renegotiated 2009 agreement and the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) for the payment of its members’ salaries, are key conditions to be met before the ongoing three-week-old strike by the union could be suspended. Members of ASUU have therefore, called on Nigerians to defend what they described as the sanctity and integrity of the nation’s university system. Going forward, members of ASUU and the Minister of Education should learn from the experience of former President Goodluck Jonathan. He recently explained that there was a similar strike by ASUU that lasted for four months. Different committees were set up without achieving the objective of calling off the strike.

But what exactly did he do? ‘So, I had to call a meeting of all the leadership of ASUU. I presided over the meeting with my vice president.. the Attorney General and Secretary to the Federal Government were there….I thought that my being there would help us do things quickly.

But we spent the whole night. We finished at about 5.30 am and the strike was called off ”! Can someone close to the corridors of power in Aso Rock implore President Muhammadu Buhari to borrow a fresh leaf from his predecessor and do the needful, please? Lest we forget, the demands of ASUU are more about getting our children better educated, to define their brighter future than for selfaggrandizement, as some of our politicians are wont to do. For members of ASUU, one would call for circumspection and having a broader perspective to resolving trick issues.

In every negotiation there should be room for shifting ground from extreme positions to reach a common middle front. Instead of some universities pulling out of ASUU to satisfy the unpatriotic aims of those who do not value quality education, they should stay put to resolve the all-important issues that will positively impact on their jobs. And instead of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) describing as “wicked, selfish, and insensitive,” ASUU’s demand for payment of the six months salary arrears for the period its members were on strike, they should be solution-providers not acting as cannon fodders to stoke the fires of dispute. Much as one shares in their woes, the long-term aim of the strike is for their own good, their long-suffering parents and the country at large.

 

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