ASUU on strike again
After several warning signals and deadlocked meetings with the Federal Government, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), for two weeks running, has been on a national strike, which it declared as total, indefinite and comprehensive. Although many academic staff of some universities have been observed carrying out scant administrative duties and research works, lectures in all programmes in public universities have been put to a halt.
The directive to carry on with the strike came following a resolution at the National Executive Council meeting of ASUU held at the Nasarawa State University. According to the president of the union, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, the strike became necessary following government’s repeated failure to honour a Memorandum of Understanding it signed on January 24, 2012 and in 2013 to comprehensively implement the 2009 Agreement endorsed by both parties. Highlights of that agreement include the following: funding of the universities to provide infrastructure and facilitate teaching and learning, university autonomy and academic freedom, improved staff welfare and condition of service, refusal to honour the Earned Academic Allowance (EAA), and re-negotiation of the agreement.
Besides, the Federal Government is reported to owe federal universities about N880 billion. Following the NEEDS Assessments Report, the government signed an MoU with ASUU in 2013 to revitalise the university system with an injection of N1.3 trillion in six years, based on a yearly release of N220 billion starting with N200 billion in 2013. ASUU was also displeased by the non-release of the operational licence of the Nigerian Universities Pensions Management Company (NUPEMCO) to manage the pension of retired academic staff.
In his reaction to the strike, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, acknowledged the shortcomings of the Federal Government even though the current administration was not the one that negotiated with ASUU.
Adamu’s position was frank: “I must confess the government has not fulfilled its own part of the bargain,” he said. “Though we are unhappy that ASUU went on strike without following due process and giving us good notice, we realised that we promised something and we didn’t fulfill it.”
This is a prudent gesture that both parties can leverage upon. Had the minister taken a bare-face aggressive posture, it would have been a terrible faux pas by this administration. But he minister realised rather candidly that government is always a continuum and accepted responsibility. This is commendable.
But beyond the strike, there are fundamental queries well-meaning Nigerians must raise. For instance, Nigerians need to ask: What is the premium placed on education in general? With the ludicrous cut-off points for entrants into tertiary institutions of learning just released, need one ask how the government views tertiary education? Concerning its relationship with other parties in terms of industrial disputes, what integrity quotient does the government bring to the contract table? And from ASUU these questions need being asked: Is the Nigerian university an Ivory Tower at all? Are faculties remodeling resources for national benefit? Even with the resources at their disposal, is there any training or transmission of values going on in Nigeria’s universities. How far can they go?
Holding onto these queries, certain quarters have cast aspersions on the university academic union for embarking on this strike, by arguing that the industrial action is either ill-timed or politically motivated. It is argued that the polity is gradually being heated up preparatory to 2019 general elections, by political forces which prod ASUU to cause tension and upset the system. Others, on the other hand, maintain that the strike is an inopportune misadventure considering the economic situation of the country. They argue that the predicament of university lecturers are no different from the rest of the country, adding that, ASUU’s insistence on government to meet their demands, at this crucial economic situation, is tantamount to insensitivity. And this is inconsistent with the solidarity spirit which ASUU preaches.
Moreover, in a rather sardonic manner, others have castigated ASUU’s leadership for not being innovative in addressing ASUU-Government tension. They argue that for lack of any ingenious means of addressing conflict, strike has become an instrument for legitimising the tenure of any new ASUU leadership, because in the absence of strike in a given tenure, such ASUU president may not be known.
These may be justified knocks on ASUU. Yet, whilst it may not be easy to completely resolve the ASUU-Government crisis, proper management of the situation may help the system. One way of doing this would be for the Federal Government to enter into negotiation with trade unions with sincerity of purpose. Since 1973, when a coalition of university lecturers, under the aegis of the National Association of University Teachers (NAUT), carried out its first notable industrial action over the excessive inflation, through 1992 to 2009, and up until this moment, the Federal Government has always put itself in a moral quagmire over dispute with university lecturers. It has always been encumbered by unwarranted vacillation over honouring agreements it freely entered into with the former. This is as embarrassing as it is blatant expression of lack of integrity.
A government that values integrity as one of the hallmarks of good governance would honour promises it makes to its citizens and unions. On the contrary, it undermines itself as a government when it does not or cannot honour such agreements. With regards to ASUU, the government must attract the confidence and trust of this union through constant dialogue. Even if circumstances cause the government to renege on an earlier agreement, it still has to express that through periodic dialogue. The government should meet ASUU periodically to reschedule its indebtedness to that body. Refusal to constantly engage may result in unionists exploiting the defiance to their advantage.
Furthermore, there is need to re-emphasize the value of university autonomy to intellectual excellence and social progress. Although misconstrued as government dissociation from university administration and criticised for its cutting-edge accountability and developmental strategies, university autonomy is a tested administrative approach to achieving world-class university education system. A well-managed system of university autonomy as this newspaper once stated will entrench the inexorable symbiosis between the quality of universities and the intellectual capital of a country. It would dismantle the old order that views university education as a ‘social rite of passage’ or ‘a dividend of democracy’ for an ethnic group or locality, and re-introduce the value of scholarship to personal refinement, positive transformation of the immediate environment and contribution to global culture and civilisation.
Above all: University autonomy will push universities to the wall, and separate the good from the bad. And, rather than merely produce graduates, universities will compete to be the best in the supply of well-qualified and well-educated workforce and citizenry, out of which the country draws the capital for its well-being.
Notwithstanding the above recommendations, ASUU needs to examine its approach to conflict resolution and settling disputes. Although most of the salary reviews in this country have come about as the cascading effect of successful ASUU strikes, the activism mentality drawn from the Marxist-Leninist ideology which ASUU often seems to adopt is now moribund. It is basically reactionary and not developmental. ASUU should deploy the finesse of abundant intellectual resources at its disposal to come up with pro-active developmental agenda for the country. It should not only react to situations and ultimatums, but also map out development plans and articulate modalities for achieving them.
The government should not violate its own integrity by being tardy, insensitive, somewhat insincere and misguided about the place of education in the country. It should therefore place high premium on education. On the other hand, ASUU should also endeavour to legally declare a dispute within the ambience of the laws of the land. This way, it would be seen to be leading by example in promoting the rule of law.Both sides, indeed, should be seen to place the appropriate premium on the well being of Nigeria.
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