By Gilamro Keban
Some weeks ago, I wrote an article on the many strikes University lecturers embarked on from 1999 to date, and the reasons for the industrial actions. As expected, opinions on the matter were divided.
I tried to lay bare – bring to the front burner, the comatose and pathetic situation of our education system in the 21st century and the calamities awaiting us if nothing concrete is done now.
There are concerns that even with the current Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu at the helm of affairs, no solutions in sight.
Mallam Adamu, a lover and supporter of ASUU struggles in the past is famous for his November 15, 2013 article on Daily Trust Newspaper where he used statistics to show government’s lackadaisical attitude towards avoidable but necessary strikes. He had used several punchy write-ups and condemned the government’s body language towards education.
Only last week, the same Education Minister accused ASUU of dodging negotiations, saying that the government is looking for members of the Union. Responding to the statement credited to Mallam Adamu, ASUU blasted him for lack of due respect for the lecturers.
Today, we see that the story has changed. Funny how time flies. So, I asked, where is Mallam Adamu Adamu? This is the time to make a difference. Sir, the opportunity is now before you to write your name in gold. Talk and do.
Knowing how government officials can foot drag on issues bothering on education, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige also dropped a joke on the ongoing strike saying that he was shocked the Education Ministry and ASUU didn’t resolve the crisis.
For the sake of the record, ASUU has gone on strike for 50 months. Meaning, ASUU embarked on strikes for a good four years, from 1999 to date. We are in week two of the one-month warning strike.
Every time the lecturers down tools, a lot of Nigerians blame them for being selfish with their demands. Some see these demands as being outrageous or impossible to meet by the Government. Do we blame them? Why would a government agree to the demands of the lecturers knowing full well that resources are not enough to address the issues?
A thorough look through the Renegotiation of 2009 Agreement which covered Funding, University Autonomy and Academic Freedom, Condition of Service and other matters, I was made to think twice on some of the issues raised by ASUU.
The rot in the Universities is a serious source of concern. Obsolete equipment in dilapidated laboratories and workshops are embarrassing.
A lecturer who confided in me told me that Nigerian graduates going for Masters and PhD Programmes abroad do struggle to compete with their counterparts because of the absence of state-of-the-art instruments back home. Our institutions are too mechanical in spite of technological advancements.
For instance, ask a Nigerian engineering, science or medical graduate about the kind of instruments or equipment in Nigerian Universities, the testimony would likely be that they have been there for over 20 years or more. No new ones. In premier institutions like Ahmadu Bello University, ABU Zaria, University of Ibadan and Nnamdi Azikwe University, we won’t be shocked to hear that such practical instruments are as old as Methuselah.
And for the recent strike action, the Union said the goal is to compel the Government to resolve the following:
1. Implement the MoA signed with the Union on 23rd December, 2020.
2. The draft Renegotiated 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement submitted for finalisation.
3. Deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).
4. Mainstreaming of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA).
5. Proliferation of State Universities.
6. Release of White Paper on the Visitation Panel Reports.
.7 Payment of EAA to ASUU members at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ife without further delay; following the stipulated guidelines.
8. Victimization of academics in Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU), Kogi State University (KSU), Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Enugu State University of Science & Technology & Ambrose Ali University Ekpoma.
For the umpteenth time, ASUU had made it clear that its demands are not for the interest of the lecturers alone, but for a better University system in Nigeria.
Revitalization fund, according to the Union is for the upgrade of teaching aids and other infrastructures. Although the Government had released N52.5b, there is more to give to the union based on the agreement reached. About 200 billion naira is expected from the government.
Promotion arrears: The Government is yet to pay promotion arrears to those who are due for promotion during the strike period. This is also part of the agreement.
Another concern by ASUU is that State Governors establish State Universities only to source funds from TETFUND. In other words, some state universities are left at the mercy of TETFUND.
Substituting IPPIS with University Transparency and Accountability Solution – UTAS which captures the peculiarities of University lecturers. In all of the demands, the IPPIS seems to be the real bone of contention.
While the government insists on capturing lecturers on the IPPIS roll, ASUU on the other hand is saying that the IPPIS is faulty because it cannot contain the peculiarities of the lecturers. Who will now bell the cat?
We would be fair to both ASUU and the Federal Government when the 50 paged document detailing their January, 2009 agreement is put in proper perspective.
When ASUU first raised these problems in 2006, the then Minister of Education, Dr Obiageli Ezekweseli inaugurated the Federal Government/ASUU committee, comprising Government renegotiation team led by the then Pro-Chancellor of Ibadan, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, OFR and the ASUU renegotiation team led by the then President, Dr. Abdullahi Sule Kano.
Since 2006, several meetings were held and Government pledged to address them. We are where we are today due to the failure of one or both. Several talks and negotiations between ASUU and the Federal Government in the past mostly ended in deadlocks. Blames and counter blames usually follow after such meetings.
Last week, Government and ASUU went back to the table for another round of negotiation for possible amicable resolutions but could not finish; and the meeting was postponed to Monday, 28th February, 2022.
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, who led the government team, hinted that by Monday, all issues would probably be resolved. We hope so because the avoidable strikes are uncalled for.