The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on Monday March 9, 2020 began a two-week warning strike to compel the federal government to implement its 2019 agreement. Speaking in Enugu at the end of the Union’s National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, its National President, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, said the strike was to compel government to implement the outstanding agreement and resolution of its Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) it had with the union in 2009, 2013, 2017 and the Memorandum of Action (MoA) of 2019.
Ogunyemi said, “Having discussed the provisions in the 2009 ASUU-FGN agreement, the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding and the 2017 Memorandum of Action, which have not been implemented, NEC resolved to embark on a two-week warning strike with effect from March 9, 2020.” He also said ASUU would use the period of the warning strike to resolve the lingering stalemate on federal government’s Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). Government had stopped the payment of February salary to university workers who failed to enrol into the IPPIS.
Addressing the press after a meeting between both parties on Thursday last week, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, revealed that the federal government has given conditions for integrating the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) being proposed by ASUU into government’s IPPIS. This came a day after Dr Ngige had described the warning strike as illegal. Meanwhile, the two parties are expected to reconvene on Tuesday March 17, 2020 for further consultations. The House of Representatives had also intervened in the ongoing ASUU strike last Thursday.
It would be recalled that following government failure to implement an agreement it had with ASUU in November 2016, the Union went on an indefinite strike on November 4, 2018 but suspended it on Thursday February 7, 2019 after a new MoA was reached and signed with the federal government. Highlights of the MoA include (1) Release of N25billion to universities in April/May 2019 after which government would resume full implementation of the 2013 MoU; (2) Part payment of the outstanding arrears of Earned Academic Allowances (EAAs) and mainstreaming further payments into annual budgets beginning from 2019; (3) Strengthen the Consultative Committee on State-Owned Universities (CCSOU) to look into issues of proliferation, underfunding and governance; (4) Send Visitation Panels to all Federal Universities which was agreed to tentatively commence on March 11, 2019; (5) Release of operational licence for the take-off of Nigerian University Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) Limited.
Except for NUPEMCO that came to fruition, other aspects of the 2019 MoA signed by the federal government were regrettably not honoured. The persistent failure by government to honour many of its MoUs with ASUU is responsible for nearly all the strikes embarked upon by the Union. Government should realize that it is binding on it to implement every aspect of the MoU or MoA it consciously signed with ASUU. It would add up to irresponsibility for government to enter into any agreement that it cannot honour.
In spite of government culpability arising from its deep-rooted culture of consistent default in agreements, strike isn’t the best option available to ASUU. Incessant strikes have made ASUU to lose public sympathy even when its actions are genuine and justified. For the current strike, there is no evidence that ASUU explored and exhausted other options including media propaganda, putting pressure on federal lawmakers, peaceful demonstrations and seeking redress at the National Industrial Court. Through these measures, ASUU could get government to address its demand without necessarily shutting down the system.
Students in public universities and their parents/guardians were always the victims each time ASUU went on strike. At a time, many parents who could afford, sent their children abroad for undergraduate studies due, more than any other factor, to constant strikes. The poor quality that is generally characteristic of Nigerian graduates today is partly a consequence of persistent ASUU strikes. While we urge ASUU to immediately call off its strike, we encourage government to fully implement every agreement signed with ASUU. Enough of this cycle of strikes and failed agreements.