For over nine months, all federal and some state universities shut their doors to academic activities. This is because on March 23, 2020, the Academic Staff of Universities Union (ASUU) declared an indefinite strike after the expiration of earlier two-weeks warning strike which they embarked on in March 9.
According to the National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, the union decided to embark on indefinite strike after it rejected what he described as “the use of force to enrol ASUU members on the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS)”.
The strike was declared at a time the National Universities Commission (NUC) in deference to Covid-19 protocols issued by the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) ordered universities across the country to close for an initial period of one month due to the outbreak of the dreaded coronavirus.
Aside the issue of dispute over IPPIS, ASUU claims of non-payment of salaries and earned academic allowances of its members, poor infrastructure and laboratory equipment for teaching, extremely poor hostel facilities in the public universities and terribly few or even non-existent classrooms for studies, made worse by covid-19, which made it mandatory that the squalid environment called classrooms in our public institutions, have become slaughter slab for both lecturers and students should academic activities resume without discernible improvement in such facilities.
The protracted strike which has lingered for such number of months without any end insight, is a huge embarssement to the federal government and indeterminable punishment to students in our public universities. For over nine months, there has not been any noticeable improvement in facilities in any public university, especially the federal-owned universities as had been harped in by ASUU over the years.
In most of the universities, especially the First generation universities, the deteriorating facilities and near absence of student hostels have continue to be their signature. It is not known to anyone that the Federal government had embarked on hostel rehabilitation in any of the universities belonging to it. There is also no evidence of the construction of new classroom blocks or expansion of existing classrooms or the furnishing of such classrooms, which ASUU and students say, lack basic facilities, including chairs and public address system or projectors, especially in large lecture theatres.
It is disturbing and we at The AUTHORITY are completely at a loss as to why all these years while it appears that the federal government and ASUU appear to be engaged in negotiation, not even a tinge of action is taken to upgrade the facilities.
We see complete contradiction in the action of the federal government to keeping faith with covid-19 protocols as it relates to ensuring the observance of the basic minimum health protocols in our public institutions, whereas the same government would not tolerate any privately-owned institution which fails to keep to the minimum safety protocol imposed due to the ravaging effects of covid-19 pandemic.
It is eqully very worrisome that government has at best payed lip service to addressing the issues that led to the strike. Both officials at the Federal Ministey of Labour and Employment as well as at Education, have not considered it serious a matter enough to discharge their responsibilities creditably and put behind us all the issues standing in dispute and get the students, majority of who are children of the ordinary Nigerians, back to the classrooms.
It is disherartneing that those government officials appear to be interested more in earning their sitting allowances, which had become lucrative business as a result of the prolonged strike and attendant endless negotiations.
On their part, it remains a wonder why ASUU must insist that the outcomes of the negotiation must go their way. Why for instance are the university teachers insisting on their own payment platform, rather than adjusting technology in IPPIS to accommodate their peculiar allowances. Has ASUU wondered what other trade Unions would do if the federal government accepts their demand in this regard? It is also surprising that contending issue such as the continued sale of handouts, reluctance of some lecturers to mark students’ examination and assessment scripts as at when due, obvious lethargy and outright refusal to diligently moderate students’ final year projects and desertation as was the case around 70s up to late 90s, increasing sexual abuse of female students by some unsrupulous lecturers and sex for admission and others attendant vices that have continuously crept into our public universities, are not being addressed holistically by ASUU as they take on the federal government at the negotiation table.
Without holistically addressing all these issues, industrial action will only take a back seat only for it to regirgitate after a while. The AUTHORITY is not aware of any other country in the world where the doors of her educational institutions, at whatever level were shut as long as is the case in Nigeria.
This is most unfortunate and goes to prove how unconcerned and wicked our educational administrators and managers of government affairs feel for the future of our children.
It is more troubling knowing that the children of some of the ASUU members and several top government dictionaries are either studying in private tertiary institutions or are studying abroad.
Is it therefore not immoral and despicable that whereas the children of people holding the commanding heights at various levels are making progress, the children of majority of Nigerians are kept at home with no future in sight, made worse by the refusal of the negotiators to arrive at workable agreements or keep to the letters of such agreements. Refusing to honour agreement is 419 agreement, which often breed such vices among the citizenry.
With risinginsecurity in the country, does the government think that keeping majority of our able-bodied youth at home with no discernible future will not exacerbated insecurity?
Also, for a country that is steadily taking the back seat in technology and innovation, would shutting the doors of our public universities be of any help in reversing the ugly national fortunes?
Without sounding like broken record, officials at the Ministry of Education and their counterparts in Labour and Employment, as well as the national executive members of ASUU should be held responsible for the misfortune bedevilling our public tertiary institutions. For keeping the strike alive for about nine months, it has become obvious that neither parties are willing to shift ground, probably for pecuniary reasons. It is also clear that it does not matter to them that our youths languishing now at home and several others who just completed their final examinations at the secondary schools and obtained high marks in the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) examinations have their hopes of furthering their education being frustrated by people majority of who unfortunately, had benefitted from functional public facilities in the dorm of public scholarship, burseries and other forms of support.
In view of these, we urge President Muhammadu Buhari to rise to the occasion and appreciate the fact that both his funcrionaries and ASUU executives have failed woefully. It has become obvious that they are not desirous of ending the strike and we can predict that if they resolve the ASUU issues, other unions in the institutions would be wittingly or unwittingly instigated to embark on strike.
Industrial action have become an ill-wind that is seen to be deployed to satisfying personal ego rather than effectively resolving genuine industrial disputes. Allowing the FG/ASUU impasse to linger for so long with any end in sight and most unfortunately without any sign of attempt at addressing the terrible infrastructural deficit in our public institutions, smirks of a nation desirous of addressing appropriate human capital deficit.
No nation makes progress along the path we are treading. It is not in any doubt that Nigerians who benefited from public educational institutions are the ones that terminated the allure of public primary and secondary schools. People of same disposition are currently working stridently to descimate our public universities. But, God forbid that such selfish individuals should succeed.