The Academic Staff Union of Universities [ASUU] conditionally suspended its strike action on Thursday last week, February 7 and directed its members to resume work with effect from last Friday following an agreement it signed with the Federal Government. ASUU President Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi listed eight items contained in the agreement signed by both parties, Memorandum of Action (MoA) of 2019.
The MOA’s highlights include (1) In addition to the N20 billion for 2018, N25 billion would be released in April/May 2019, after which government would resume full implementation of the MoU of 2013 (2) Part-payment of the outstanding arrears of Earned Academic Allowances (EAAs); defraying the balance up to 2018 in four tranches within 36 months; and mainstreaming further payments of EAA into the annual budgets beginning from 2019 (3) PICA verification and release of arrears of salary shortfall at Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, not later than February 15, 2019; and (4) Strengthening the Consultative Committee on State-Owned Universities (CCSOU), inaugurated last month, to look into issues of proliferation, underfunding and governance.
Others are (5) Payment of outstanding EAA arrears of all eligible University of Ilorin staffers, especially the loyal ASUU members whose appointments were illegally terminated by today, February 7 (6) appreciation of Government for facilitating the release of final letter of approval for the granting of operational license to NUPEMCO (7) Visitation to all Federal Universities to commence tentatively by March 11, 2019; and (8) Provision of documented guidelines on procedures and roles of parties in the process of renegotiating FGN-ASUU Agreement of 2009 which would commence not later than February 18, 2019 and end by Friday March 19, 2019.
Although Ogunyemi said ASUU “acknowledges the understanding and support demonstrated by patriotic Nigerian students and their parents all through the strike period” and it “equally appreciates the comradely assistance from the Nigeria Labour Congress”, he said ASUU will resume its suspended strike action should Government fail to fulfil its part of the agreement in the 2019 MoA.
ASUU had embarked on an indefinite strike on November 4, last year, following government’s failure to implement the agreement reached with it in November 2016. It was a resumption of the strike action conditionally suspended on September 14, 2017. The 2017 strike was suspended following the signing of a MoA in which the federal government promised to address the contentious issues before the end of October 2017 but did not do so.
Each time ASUU goes on a nation-wide strike, working days which should have been used for scheduled academic activities are lost. Yet, lecturers get paid for work not done at the end of every strike. Indeed, ASUU had no need to evoke the non-victimization clause in the latest agreement it signed with government owing to the proactive propensity of the current administration.
Students in public universities and their parents/guardians who pay for their education have always been the victims of these strikes. The just suspended strike, for example, has led to deferred graduation of final year students, delayed mobilization of graduating students, late beginning of the 2018/2019 academic session and stalled admission as well as registration procedures of new undergraduate and postgraduate students. It is regrettable that after sealing a deal with government, ASUU is most often impelled to resume a suspended strike; usually due to government’s deep-seated culture of defaulting. ASUU strikes are thus suspended only to be resumed later. This has been the unfortunate cycle in Nigeria.
The poor quality of today’s Nigerian university graduates is partly a consequence of incessant ASUU strikes. While 43 of the 169 existing universities in the country are owned by the federal government, 47 are state governments-owned. The 79 private universities cater for only 5 percent students’ intake, leaving the 90 public universities to provide 95 percent admission spaces for children of ordinary Nigerians. While we urge ASUU to find alternatives to strikes, government is advised to honour every pact it signs with the union, if only to secure Nigeria’s future.