The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) last Wednesday suspended the industrial action that has disrupted academic activities in Nigeria’s universities for nine months. Notice of the suspension was made by the President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi. He said the decision was reached after an agreement with the Federal Government at a meeting held the previous day, Tuesday, which addressed most of the demands of the union.
He however said an Implementation Committee had been set up to monitor the implementation of the agreements, stressing that “the NEC resolved that the current strike by the union was suspended conditionally” and “should government fail to fulfill its own part of the agreement, ASUU will resume its suspended strike as deemed necessary”.
The protracted ASUU strike began on March 23rd after a two-week warning strike which ended without resolution of their grievances.
Plausible as this sounded, it has opened another Pandora box. The issues bother on whether there is true commitment on the part of the government negotiators led by the Ministers of Education and that of Labour and Employment. We emphasise the two ministers because whoever represented them at the negotiation table were merely their agents. President Muhammadu Buhari on his part, being the last man in the game of Nigeria’s governance should carry the overall blame should any flaw be made in the implementation.
It is unfortunate that no Nigerian leader, especially in the present dispensation would want to accept responsibility. But buck-passing and lack-luster attention to issues were what led to the unfortunate shutting down of the doors to our citadel of learning for a whole nine months.
The AUTHORITY had heaped blames on the two ministers, their agents and ASUU executives for the protracted strike, hinging the blames on the sitting allowance they were paid even when they had failed to resolve the issues. We have not changed our position and as a matter of fact, we dare say that should implementation of the current agreements fail, the same set of personalities, including President Buhari, should take all the blame. We say this because it will be preposterous for Nigeria to begin to hear and accept any further explanation should the implementation of the agreements fail. We sincerely believe that if these officials of government have any stakes, as being alluded that their children are studying in the public university system, they would not blink an eye lid to get the agreements reached fully implemented.
Even before the agreements were reached, Nigerians had expected basic action of government around the premises of public universities. First, we had expected noticeable improvements in the physical infrastructures in those universities. This did not happen. Hostels are still in dilapidated state, classrooms are still insufficient, teaching aid and laboratories for practicals are still in comatose state or non-existent, staff quarters are nothing to write home about. Worst is that with Covid-19, there is no effort at expanding facilities to avoid physical contact in our over-congested classrooms. It is not also known that wash-hand points are being set up at intervals within the universities premises, neither do we have improved water supply system in any of those public universities. Upgrade of health facilities in the universities is not on the front-burner, and one wonders how government intends to handle this area, whereas it never fails to upbraid private institutions, reminding them of the need to adhere to all of NCDC (Nigeria Centre for Disease Control) protocols. Nigerians are not surprised after all, how many of those occupying public offices have their children in public universities?
As for ASUU leadership, we shall not be quick to applaud them for suspending the strike. What does ASUU intend to do to stop all forms of indiscipline, including sexual harassment, sex for grade, sales of handouts, refusal to mark exam and assessment scripts, delay in progressing with student final year project/theses, and sundry wicked acts being perpetrated by some unscrupulous university lecturers? How ASUU handles issues of management of discrepancies noticed in the payment structure in the universities is another issue all together.
What is more disturbing is that the 2021 budget did not contain provisions for those facilities, whereas issues of providing for the extravagant lifestyle of public officers, were fully taken care of in the budget. How government intends to raise funds to upgrade facilities in our universities is still a mystery and goes to the real of issue of failure in the implementation of the letters of the agreement.
Except Nigeria wakes up to the fact that public officers are not behaving as patriotically as expected, but seek more of selfish gains to the detriment of the progress of our nation, so long shall we continue to experience such terrible industrial action in the future. If an analysis is done, Nigeria lost trillions of Naira during the over nine-month of ASUU industrial action. We have also lost a generation of intellectuals that should have been produced at the universities during the period, no thanks to the pursuit of selfish agenda.
While the ASUU appear to have been put behind us, it should be observed that several other unions both in the academic sector and other sectors are already gearing up for strike. The salary discrepancies we unwittingly created have now become our albatross and one had expected that officials of the Labour Ministry should have been working underground to obliterate such unwholesome discrepancies. Unfortunately, they are not doing so as our Planning, Research and Statistics Departments across the ministries appear to be headed by dead woods or being bugged by private ambition of unpatriotic individuals who are occupying sensitive portfolios. That is the reason we hear top government functionaries stealing billions or trillions and even converting physical property, which are discovered only whey enter the black books of those in authority. Otherwise, why should the Audit units or the SERVICOM Units always fail to discover infractions, which are only discovered by anti-graft agencies and this is only when such individuals misfire with those in authority?
The AUTHORITY is unequivocal that we must not allow issues that took us to the ASUU Golgotha repeat, otherwise it will become obvious that entrenched interests are promoted over end above national interests over which our internal security systems should rise up and frustrate as they had been doing in the years of yore.
Whatever that made Nigeria take up premium position on the infamous global “strikers” register, have to be expunged. Strikes are ill wind that blows nobody any good. It is only the negotiators who earn sitting allowances that benefit from strikes. Neither the ordinary members of the unions nor the public benefit from such unwarranted strikes. We must carry out holistic analysis of our labour laws and procedures and punish those who frustrate implementation of agreements reached at the table of collective bargaining. Time to do so is now.