The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been sounding warning of an impending strike again. Students are not looking forward to it. However the union insists it is for good reports, KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE, OLUWATOYOSI ADEGEYE and TIMOTHY ISHOLA.
Since July, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been threatening to go on strike. It is for no other reason than the non-implementation of the 2009 Agreement between the union and the Federal Government and the Memorandum of Understanding and Memorandum of Actions that issued from it over the years.
Last December, ASUU called off a strike that had lasted nine months over the same demands. The Federal Government promised to implement the nine demands immediately from January. However, nine months later, only two of the demands have been implemented. The union is therefore threatening to down tools again.
The reason for strikes since 2009 has been the non-implementation of the said agreement – something students and their parents are tired of. This is particularly so this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic which disrupted the academic calendar for most of last year. Many schools are yet to recover from the disruption.
Jesse Dike-Bernard, a 400-Level student of Mathematics, Federal University of Technology Owerri said he felt both parties were playing with his future.
He said “I feel they are playing with our future. It is a norm now. Every year we go on a forced vacation because of this issue. It is sad because the strike would definitely kill dreams. I am supposed to be in finals by now but I am still in 400 Level because they do not take education seriously in Nigeria.” He added: “Both ASUU and the Federal Government are selfish. You cannot jeopardise the educational system because of money .They don’t think because their kids don’t go to our schools. All the money ASUU gets where does it go too? We don’t know.”
Abdullateef Barakat a student of the University of Abuja lamented the time wasted during strike lasts and its effects on students.
“The strike causes delay and wastage of time. Not everyone is happy with where they are staying during their studies. Strike just prolongs the suffering. The last nine-month strike was not productive for me at all,” he said.
Okere Caleb of Enugu State University of Science annd Technology said should ASUU go on strike, it would affect students in so many ways, including lethargy for studies and disruption of the academic calendar “which usually results in rush of activities when we finally resume to meet up with the normal education curriculum.”
Okebiorun Mercy, a mathematics student at the University of Nigeria Nsukka said the strike would extend her stay in school. “I should have been done with my degree this year. Because of the COVID- 19 and ASUU strike, I am currently in 300-Level. It is so saddening,” she said.
However, Oluwabukunmi Akintunde, a 200-Level student of the University of Lagos does not think ASUU is selfish about strikes. She believes the government should meet their demands .
“ I cannot say the strike does not bother me because it does but who am I to complain when they are yet to pay the people who will add knowledge to our lives? I feel ASUU is not being self-centered. Prices of things increase every day in Nigeria; they need to be paid. So I do not blame them; I blame the Federal Government for not meeting their demands. It is either the government pays or we student stop paying school fees and we begin to protest,” she said.
For Daniel Ifeanyi a 300-Level student of FUTO, ASUU’s demands should not be too hard for the Federal Government to implement.
“Yes we are affected but if you actually look into it what they demand are the basic things; therefore Federal Government should be able to meet their needs. Also ASUU should consider the students in everything they do,” he said.
ASUU justifies demands, strike
Though many students feel like the grass trampled upon when the two elephants, ASUU and the Federal Government fight, members of the union said they do not enjoy going on strike.
Coordinator of the ASUU-Lagos Zone, Comrade Adelaja Odukoya, said that members of the union suffer during strikes as well.
During a press briefing held at the UNILAG-ASUU secretariat on Tuesday, Odukoya highlighted the negative effects of strike on lecturers.
“Like our students, we suffer tremendously as a consequence of any strike action. Industrial actions affect us in more ways than one – as parents who have children in Nigerian public universities; as lecturers who cannot ply their trade, denied their salaries during strikes while they continue doing their non- teaching duties of research and community development; stalled promotions; disruption of their planned professional activities such as workshops, seminars, conferences etc. that are indispensable for their career advancements; and extended semesters to make up for lost time which makes annual vacation impossible and imposes stress on our members.”
Odukoya added that strikes were difficult to prosecute.
“People think we enjoy strike. What the average chairman hates the most is a strike action. We do not like it. You know why? Your best friend may be your enemy during the strike . It is difficult to prosecute but it is a patriotic duty we owe ourselves and that is the only way we have salvaged the Nigerian University system,” he said.
If pushed to the wall, like it is currently happening with the government failing to match its words with actions, then, he said ASUU was not afraid of strike.
“We do not want to go on strike but we are not afraid to do so,” he said, flailing the Federal Government for meeting only two out of nine demands it agreed with the union.
“We are saying we are being pushed to the wall. What we are doing is sensitising the government and calling its attention to its own misdeeds. The Minister of Labour said they have actually met some of the demands. We had about nine issues when we went on strike. Two could be said to have been met. When you have an examination, two over nine is a total failure,” he said.
Responding to whether ASUU strikes have been effective over the years, Dr. Akinloye Oyewunmi, of the Lagos State University (LASU) branch, said but for ASUU fighting for demands, nothing would have been left of universities.
“Without these struggles, there would be nothing left of universities in Nigeria. Our skins are used to struggle. To some of us, we enjoy it,” he said.
Odukoya added that it was because of ASUU that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) was established and has become a major source of funds for infrastructural development, research, and training for not only universities but other tertiary institutions in Nigeria from an education tax collected from private sector firms.
Showing the picture of a beautiful edifice on his phone, he said: “You think it is Afe Babalola University? That is Kwara State University. That is the proceeds of TETFund. It is our struggle. That building costs N3 billion. Ninety-five per cent of structures in that university, are TETFund structures. Go to Gombe State University; go all over the country, particularly our state universities; go to Akungba; go to Bayero; go to OAU…and somebody will say the strike does not pay.
What ASUU is fighting for
Odukoya said ASUU wants the Federal Government to replace the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) with the ASUU-developed University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS); implement the condition of service reviewed since 2012; and renegotiate the 2009 Agreement, among others.
Regarding UTAS, Odukoya said the government was purposely hindering the adoption of the software which they claim is better than IPPIS.
Throwing more light on the hindrances ASUU had faced despite the government’s promises to adopt the software, national treasurer of the union, Prof. Olusiji Sobande, said NITDA, the agency saddled with the responsibility of scrutinising the software had failed to get in touch despite ASUU successfully demonstrating its use to stakeholders.
He said: “Once they made that pronouncement that the issue was actually with us; which they had not told us until we had that meeting, we conducted that stakeholders’ acceptability test within one week and NITDA was present. There are certain key areas in their questionnaire that we did not even know about, like ‘were the users able to log in?’, ‘were they able to use the facility?’, ‘was it functional?’
“All those were clearly taken care of during that process and all the stakeholders present actually gave pass mark to the software.
“Our expectation was that after that test within a very short time, there would be a pronouncement as to what is the outcome of the test. Up till now we have not gotten any responses,” he said.
However, following the demonstration, Sobande said the Federal Government adopted a feature of UTAS, its ability to be operable from any institution, for IPPIS.
With the continued use of IPPIS, Odukoya said the Federal Government was centralising corruption. He lamented that for about a year under IPPIS, the government had failed to remit check-off dues of ASUU members to the union’s account.
“For over one year now, the government through IPPIS has implemented a deliberate policy of systematically strangulating our great union by denying us our check-off dues which payment is now at the whims and caprices of IPPIS. Our union is being owed billions in unremitted check-off dues, in addition to third party deductions like cooperative contributions. It is important to point out that government more than anyone else should know that the non-remittance of deducted check-off dues according to the Trade Union Act is a criminal act,” he said.
Regarding the union’s demands that the government commit funds for the development of universities’ infrastructure, Odukoya said the Federal Government was doing it illegally – dipping into TETFund funds. He said: “TETFund is not government money. It is from the private sector.”
The lecturer said it was imperative for the public to note the government’s insincerity in meeting its demands nine months after the last strike so they are not surprised should the Union resume its strike.
“To be consistent on the side of history, we are again expressing our frustration at the depressing arrogance with which government has continued to wish away the collective sacrifice of our members, our students and their parents on these struggles. That the government after six months, true to character, has again failed to fulfil most of what was agreed upon well after the timelines have expired, is scandalous and underscored the government contempt to the Nigerian academics and its pathological hatred for knowledge and the educational development of Nigerians,” he said.