Government, ASUU should seek alternatives to strike, say concerned Nigerians

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• Urge govt to hands off varsity education, empower governing councils
• Students count losses of ASUU strike, call for PPP option
• ASUU monopoly responsible for incessant strikes- CONUA

With the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) still on strike after six months of industrial action, concerned Nigerians have called for an alternative resolution of the dispute, saying negotiation between the Federal Government and ASUU have failed over the years.

A lawyer ad public analyst, Dr Charles Omole, said both parties have been negotiating for over 30 years and nothing had come out from all the negotiations.

According to him, the negotiations failed due to the Federal Government’s inability to meet up with the funds required to address the myriads of challenges confronting the nation’s university system.

The United Kingdom-based analyst said government must hands of 60 per cent of its involvement or give a moratorium of a-10 year withdrawal plan from university funding, while also appointing vice chancellors who are going to get grants and endowments for their institutions.

He said: “For a country that wants to maximise its university education system, government’s contribution cannot be more than 35 per cent at most. We are in trouble with our university education in Nigeria, because we make the institutions totally dependent on government for its revenue and running cost.

“We need a complete reform of our university education system. What we have always lacked is a leader with the political will to take tough decisions devoid of political correctness.” He lamented that the failure to reform the public university system gave rise to private universities.

“That’s why private/individually owned universities are not popular in countries with solid public university system. In these places, the rich give grants to universities instead of thinking of starting their own.

A retired director from the Federal Ministry of Education, Monday Nwankpa, and former vice chancellor, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, Prof Olusoga Sofola, said government should look inwards in proffering lasting solutions to incessant strikes in public universities.

For instance, Nwankpa said federal universities could be made to operate at full autonomy, with the governing council of each institution taking firm control and ensuring smooth running of the universities. He advised the government to also consider changing the nomenclature of the Federal Scholarship Board to Federal Students Loan Board.

“Poor students who cannot afford school fees could apply for students loan and pay back when he or she begins work upon graduation. With this, the Federal Government will be freed from huge wage bills running into billions of naira. Education is capital-intensive and requires cost-sharing. Therefore, ASUU and other staff unions will, under this arrangement, discuss with their employers, in this case, the governing councils.

“Government has come to a realisation that there is no point in lecturers abandoning their responsibilities of teaching students and coming to Abuja all the time for negotiation on issues that could be effectively handled by the councils.

“And once ASUU goes on strike, all other staff unions will join. What about state-owned universities? They go merely on solidarity strike because most of the issues canvassed by ASUU have no bearing on them. So, it is better this is permanently resolved. Let all unions dialogue with their governing councils.”

The Guardian gathered that under the new arrangement, the governing council of each university would take responsibility of negotiating with staff unions on issues relating to salaries, wages and other welfare provisions in line with the provisions of Universities’ Miscellaneous Provisions Amendment Act 2003, (otherwise called Universities Autonomy Act No.1. 2007).

The Act was enacted by the National Assembly and signed into law on July 10, 2003. It was later gazetted by the Federal Republic of Nigerian Official Gazette No.10 Volume 94 of January 12 as Act 1 of 2000.

Two sections of the Act clearly asserted autonomy of universities. For instance, section 2A(a) read thus- The powers of the governing council shall be exercised, as in the laws and statutes of each university and to this extent, circulars that are inconsistent with the laws and statutes of the university shall not apply to universities. University shall be free in the discharge of its functions and exercise of its responsibilities for the good management, growth and development of the institution.”

Experts have said that the purpose of these provisions is to liberate universities from the bureaucracy of the civil service and enable the council exercise its powers and perform its functions without undue external interference or influence.

On his part, Prof. Sofola said with university autonomy, the money accruing could go to increase emoluments of lecturers. He also canvassed reintroduction of students loan scheme and bursaries for brilliant but indigent students by state governments, by cutting down on number of political functionaries.

While declaring a comprehensive and indefinite strike, ASUU President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, said the union’s action after over six months of warning and roll over strikes, was meant to save public universities.

Osodeke said it was compelled to carry out the action because it has “experienced a lot of deceit from the Federal Government in the last five and half years.”

On February 14, ASUU declared a one-month warning strike to protest the non-implementation of its demands by the Federal Government. The union extended the strike by eight weeks on March 14, citing the government’s failure to fully address its demands.

It, thereafter, extended the strike by another 12 weeks, which ended on May 9. The union again extended the strike on August 1 by another four weeks “to give government more time to satisfactorily resolve all outstanding issues.”

Apparently unimpressed with government’s handling of the issues, Osodeke, at the end of the union’s National Executive Council Meeting (NEC), last Monday, said government has failed to satisfactorily address its demands.

“ASUU was forced into taking this painful decision to prevent Nigerian children from the ruling class and their foreign collaborators from further destroying whatever is left of our public universities. Were it within our control, our universities would never have been shut for one day,” Osodeke said.

ASUU’s demands include renegotiation of 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement, revitalisation of public universities, payment of earned academic allowances and deployment of University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) for payment of university lecturers’ salaries, among others.

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