The on-going strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities [ASUU] was declared by its President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi as total, indefinite and comprehensive. He said there will be no teaching, examination, supervision or attendance at statutory meetings of any kind while the strike action lasts.
The goal of the strike, Ogunyemi said, is to compel government to address critical issues including funding for revitalization of public universities based on the FGN-ASUU Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] of 2012, 2013 and the MOA of 2017; reconstitution of Government’s current team to appoint a leader of its renegotiating team “who has the interest of the nation at heart”; release of forensic audit report on Earned Academic Allowance [EAA] payments; settlement of all outstanding EAAs and mainstreaming of same into salaries beginning with the 2018 budget.
Other ASUU demands include payment of EAAs to University of Ilorin lecturers without further delay; payment of arrears of salary shortfalls to all universities that have met the verification requirements of the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit [PICA]; provision of a platform for ASUU to engage governors on proliferation of universities, underfunding of university education and undue interference in state universities’ affairs; and release of Pension Fund Administrator’s [PFA] operational license to NUPEMCO.
At Senate plenary last week, Chairman of Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETfund Senator Barau Jibrin blamed federal government for not implementing agreements it reached with ASUU. Meanwhile, Minister of Education Malam Adamu Adamu has appealed to striking ASUU members to exercise restraint in their demands. He said ASUU’s problems with government began during Umaru Yar’adua’s administration in 2009. He said the 2009 agreement between ASUU and federal government provided for funding of universities with N1.3 trillion over a six-year period. The minister however said the government could not fulfill its pledge because international oil prices crashed after 2009. Past administration made promises to the union when the economy was resilient, he said.
Malam Adamu also said at the inception of this administration, the country’s economy slid into recession with consequences for all sectors including education. Now that our economy has exited recession, Adamu appealed to parents, students and ASUU to continue to exercise restraints while government responds to the plight of the education sector.
It would be recalled that the 2009 agreement is the originating document from which other MOUs were entered into by federal government and ASUU. Issues in the 2009 agreement centered on increased funding, academic freedom and university autonomy. In 2012, government raised a panel that visited all public universities and assessed their needs. The Needs Assessment report informed the signing of the 2013 MOU. Due to failures experienced in implementation of the 2009 and 2013 MOUs, the federal government in September last year signed a Memorandum of Action [MOA] with ASUU. The 2013 MOU and the 2017 MOA both originated from the 2009 agreement.
Failure by successive administrations to honour the terms of agreements reached with ASUU is a major indictment on government. The current strike could have been forestalled if government had invited ASUU to re-negotiate the terms of the MOUs and MOAs based on the economic challenges facing the present administration. To that extent ASUU’s action is justified but it is important for its members to appreciate that there are other sectors with competing needs.
Critical though education is to the country’s development, not all of its needs can be met because other sectors also have pressing demands. There has been no prolonged ASUU strike action since 2013. Relative stability achieved in the academic calendar has restored parents’ confidence in our public universities. This huge gain must not be frittered away. Prolonged ASUU strike actions since the 1990s created a situation where the elite sent their children to foreign universities in Europe, UAE, Malaysia, Ghana and Benin Republic.
We urge both sides back to the table to re-negotiate the 2017 MOA within bounds of economic reality. This strike action must not become protracted with hardship for students, parents and the lecturers themselves.