More troubling is the increasing likelihood that the strike may go on for much longer, because there appears to be end to in sight, and both parties, the government and the ASUU leadership, particularly the latter, digging in and refusing to budge from entrenched positions. Foreboding also is the ASUU leadership’s truculence in adamantly refusing to listen to pleas by eminent personalities in the country, including traditional and religious rulers in the country to evaluate the negative impact of their action on the growth of education, end the strike and to return to work.
When the strike began in July, ASUU president, Dr Nasir Isa Fagge, enumerated what the union determined was the crisis affecting the Nigerian education sector. He said that the crisis stemmed largely from the failure of successive governments to address the challenges that had stunted the development of the sector. But the union’s scorched-earth response to the crisis it identified only adds to further devalue existing infrastructure. While it is possible that government’s often slow response to critically intervene in certain sectors of the economy to stop their deterioration may be blamed for some of the rot, it cannot be the basis to justify the union’s zero-sum approach. Dr Fagge observed that although government was aware of the enormity of the infrastructure, personnel and other forms of decay in the universities, the government had not ‘the courage’ to tackle them for the good of the nation. As this paper noted back in July when the strike was called, that was an unfair criticism, because the government, in spite of its limited capacity to act in any particular sector due to financial and budgetary constraints, had done much more than Dr Fagge had suggested, particularly through the intervention programmes of the Tertiary Education Fund, from which ASUU members have also benefitted.
The contentious issues sustaining the strike are nine of the 11-points agreement that the government signed with ASUU in 2009, including earned academic allowance and other sundry demands, most of them pecuniary.
Last week, the federal government announced that it had met almost all of ASUU’s demands after releasing additional N30 billion to the union. Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State, who is chairman of the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) assessment implementation committee for universities, and heads the government’s negotiating team to talks with the union leaders, said that the Ministry of Education would disburse the fund to the various universities for the payment of allowances of lecturers.
While the government makes some concessions, no matter how little it may appear, the ASUU leadership has remained intransigent, and sometimes making additional demands outside the issues that led to the current strike. For instance, the ASUU expressed concern that a clear procedure for accessing the funds by the universities was yet to be defined. Lecturers are employees of their various institutions; they cannot dictate the procedure for accessing funds on behalf of the university managements.
Moreover, Dr Fagge insisted that only the provision by government of N500 billion, as the union had demanded, would meet the immediate needs of the universities.
“We observe that the (Suswam) Committee is so far mentioning only N100 billion. If the implementation is to be related to the funding requirements in the 2009 ASUU/FGN Agreement and the January 2012 MoU, what is due for 2012 and 2013 is N500 billion, not N100 billion,” Fagge said.
This all-or-nothing approach is not a working strategy, and the ASUU leadership should recognise this and take a more conciliatory path. The greater danger that their action could wrought is the long-term damage to the education sector, and the effects of the pent-up frustrations that students and the parents must be feeling as the strikes lasts.