The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has threatened to disrupt academic activities in the nation’s public university following its faceoff with the Federal Government, but stakeholders are saying any strike this time will further jeopardise the system
ASUU: Strike is imminent without resolution
Stakeholders: Well-meaning Nigerians should intervene
Students: FG, ASUU should resolve their differences
Again, a drumbeat of war is resonating in the Nigerian university system over the threat of impending nationwide indefinite strike. Nine months after it suspended its last strike, the university teachers, under their umbrella union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), have threatened another possible cycle of industrial crisis that will paralyse academic activities in the public universities.
But, stakeholders are worried that if the current drumbeat is not silenced, it will bring the system, and essentially the university education to its knees.
They, however, expressed consternation that the country and specifically the university system could not withstand or afford an industrial action that will cause disruption in the already bedeviled system.
ASUU, which suspended its over 10-month strike, which was declared in March and suspended in December 2020, is at loggerheads with the Federal Government over non-implementation of the various agreements in the 2009 FG/ASUU Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and various other subsequent Memorandum of Action (MoA) signed with the union to improve the ailing university system.
The union is aggrieved with the Federal Government over non-implementation of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), an alternative payment platform proposed by the union to replace the controversial Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) payment policy introduced by the Federal Government that was rejected by the academic staff union and other staff unions in the univer sity system.
According to the union, since the ‘end user acceptability test’ had been completed, the union has been waiting endlessly for the subsequent deployment of UTAS in the management of payroll and personnel systems of the federal universities.
Other contentious issues in the face-off, ASUU complained, include non-signing and implementation of the draft ASUU/ FGN renegotiated agreement of May 2021; non-release of the first tranche of the N30 billion Revitalisation Fund for public universities; non-release of the N25 billion Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) owed the lecturers; non-remittance of the union’s withheld check-off dues; payment of amputated salaries/allowances to lecturers and third party deductions as contained in the December 22, 2020 Memorandum of Action (MoA), as well as proliferation of state universities.
ASUU had on Thursday, last week, complained that the Federal Government had so far addressed only two of its eight demands (salary shortfall and setting up of Visitation Panels to the Federal Government-owned universities) in the last nine months.
When contacted on phone at the weekend, ASUU National President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, threatened that nothing, going by the Federal Government’s present body language, will prevent the impending job boycott.
The President, who vowed that the strike is inevitable since no resolution had been reached between the union and Fed eral Government, told New Telegraph: “There is no resolution as I speak with you. The planned nationwide strike will hold, but the date will be appropriately communicated to you and other Nigerians.
The Federal Government is yet to come up with any tangible resolution that will resolve the lingering crisis and improve the rot in the universities. The Federal Government has not shown a deliberate commitment to address the demands of our union or implement the various agreements.”
Faced with the negative implications of such action, stakeholders, who expressed anxiety, told New Telegraph that any form of disruption to the university system, which is still gripped by the negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic, would be “greatly disastrous.”
They noted that many universities are yet to complete the 2019/2020 academic session, while the University of Ibadan (UI) has cancelled entire session without student’s admission for 2020/2021; other universities, including Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and the University of Lagos (UNILAG) have mulled plans to merged 2021 and 2022 admission of fresh students.
Also, reacting to the unresolved FG/ASUU face-off, a university don and former Dean, School of Transport, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi lamented that there seems to be a permanent culture of reneging on agreement by the Federal Government.
According to him, as long as this culture persists, there will be no end to industrial conflicts in the university system and other tertiary institutions. He stated that the starting point to avert the looming ASUU strike is for the Federal Government to drop the IPPIS payment system for University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) payment application developed by ASUU, saying that there was no way IPPIS would subsist and the university system will not be damaged calamitously.
Odewumi, however, explained that since the UTAS application had passed all integrity tests, the foot dragging by the Federal Government on its implementation is difficult to understand.
On the implications of another strike in the university system, the don expressed regrets that it would not only lead to continued decline of the education system, but would also cause a huge waste of the students’ life.
On his part, the pioneer Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), Prof. Peter Lassa, described as “unfortunate and regrettable” the incessant ASUU strikes.
On the implications of another strike, the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration), University of Jos (UNIJOS), regretted how strikes had affected the teaching and learning process in the university system, the resultant colossal loss of human time and poor quality of university education with its attendant production of half-baked graduates. “Strike often forces teachers to condense the time-table of courses and rush the students to examination.
When the curriculum provides three hours for three credit courses as required, lectures spread it over a week for students to assimilate, but when lecturers condense a lecture, definitely that would lead to production of halfbaked graduates,” he said.
Lassa added: “Today, students in Nigerian universities hardly know when they will graduate and some of these uncertainties make many students prefer to seek admission to universities in neighbouring African countries.
“This is not because of the superiority of their academic programmes, but the stability of their academic calendar.
These students are being forced to go abroad because our universities have failed to meet their aspirations.” The don further decried the psychological effects of strikes on the students, adding that the consequences usually faced by students and their parents were quite enormous.
Thus, he called on ASUU and the Federal Government to seek other alternative ways of resolving their disputes, saying that industrial action coupled with lack of attention to education by relevant authorities had ruined the country’s higher institution system.
Meanwhile, a parent, Mr. Taiwo Olomola, who currently has two children in the university, described the situation in Nigerian university system in view of incessant strikes by the staff unions as worrisome and lamentable.
He said: “It is unfortunate that the Federal Government appears not to have the well-being and future of the Nigerian youths at heart. When last did ASUU suspend its almost 10-month-old strike?
Did the Federal Government not enter into agreement with ASUU leadership to address their demands and why not fulfill the agreement?”
“Why wasting the time of these innocent students? It is in idle hands that the devil establishes its workshop. Many of them are now engage in Yahoo Yahoo, cyber-crime, prostitution, cultism and several other social vices in the society.
Citing the case of his daughter, who he said is preparing for her 400-Level second semester, he [pointed out the dream and plan for her to graduate this year and undertake the mandatory NYSC in 2023 before going to overseas for her Master Degree overseas, would be a forlorn, if ASUU should embark on another round of strike.
Olomola, however, queried why the Federal Government refused to address frontally the nation’s education challenges and the demands of the staff unions once and for all.
According to him, rather than borrowing trillions of naira and spending it on projects that are not feasibly beneficial to the masses, proper attention should be directed at the development of the education sector, in which the welfare of the workers is paramount.
On the effects the strikes would have, he said that in the Nigerian university system today, a student that is supposed to spend four years for a course, spends between six and seven years due to incessant strikes by their lecturers.
Therefore, Omolola called on President Muhammadu Buhari and his aides in charge of education to wake up and prevent ASUU from embarking on another strike by heeding to their demands.
“Enough is enough. We parents and the students are suffering. Education is dying, and Nigeria can afford another ASUU strike,” another parent said.
Also, piqued by the development in view of the implications of impending strike on the education and future of the students, a legal practitioner, Mr. Oluwole Niyi, however, insisted that the country could not afford any disruption to academic activities and students’ future at this critical moment of stagnation in the university development.
He called on well-meaning Nigerians to intervene quickly by appealing to Federal Government to address ASUU’s demands for the union to shelve any form of strike because of the effects on the students, their parents and the long-term damage that incessant strikes have caused the education sector and the society at large.
Expressing displeasure that the impending strike would jeopardise the academic calendar of universities, some parents and students, who spoke with New Telegraph condemned any form of strike in the universities, saying it will be an ill-wind that would blow the country no good.
While reacting to the strike, Mrs. Ronke Oriola, a parent, lamented that incessant strikes by academic staff have caused the students to lose touch with academics following the long period they stay at home as a result of the strike.
Thus, she appealed to ASUU to shelve the strike in the interest of the students, who she stressed had just returned to campuses after the COVID-19 pandemic and ASUU strike had kept them at home for almost a year.
Narrating his ordeal, a parent, Mr. Odimayo Inimidun recalled that his son has been at home for two years after his secondary school because he could not process admission due to disruption of the university calendar.
Also, bemoaning her plight, a prospective student of Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) regretted that after completion of her pre-degree course almost two years ago, the hope of continuing her university education is getting slimmer every day following disruption in the public university system, as some of her course mates who were admitted into private universities are already in their 300-Level.
She, however, pleaded with the lecturers to shelve the planned strike, saying the Federal Government should as a matter of urgent consideration, address ASUU’s demands in the interest of education development and future of the students.
A 400-Level undergraduate at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, however, blamed non-stability of university calendar on strike, lamenting that he has spent almost five years for a four-year course due to incessant strikes.
Also, Ayomide Adeyemo, a 400-Level student at Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, is worried that ASUU’s strike has been a major recurring issue in the university system.
Given the negative implications the impending strike would have on students and the entire education system, he regretted the lack of the required attention the Nigerian government is paying to the education sector.
According to him, non-implementation of agreements reached with the union has always been the cause of the disagreement between the government and university staff unions. He said the government should muster enough political will to implement those demands so as to allow the system to run as in other developed climes.
Expressed frustration over strikes, he said: “The danger of leaving the youths idle for a long time could lead them into unhealthy behaviour because of the tendency to lure undergraduates into social vices such as fraud, prostitution and other untoward practices.”
The students appealed to both the lecturers and the Federal Government to resolve their differences in order for the system not to experience any form of strike that will keep the students idle at home for long.
In his reaction, the President, Kwara State chapter of the All Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS), Alhaji Toyin Abdullahi, said by now one would have expected the Federal Government to resolve the contending issues with ASUU and prevent another strike in the universities.
“None of our universities has caught up with the lost ground due to the last ASUU strike. Incessant strikes in our universities will not only lower the standard of education in Nigeria, but will also increase the crime rate and insecurities,” he added.
An educationist, Mrs. Abigail Olarewaju, said another strike would not in any way benefit the country, especially the students that had already lost a session to the last year strike, adding that embarking on strike this time again would further jeopardise their future.
For ASUU to embark on another strike, she noted, would further cause people to lose faith and confidence in the Nigerian academic system.
To avert the impending strike, she called on the Federal Government and ASUU leadership to urgently resolve all grey areas in the agreement in order to ensure that the strike is avoided. “They should find common ground to resolve the logjam. It should be give and take by the two parties,” she hinted.
Additional reports by Babatope Okeowo, Musa Pam and Stephen Olufemi Oni.