The failure of the federal government’s negotiating team and its counterparts from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to reach agreement last week has dashed hope of quick resolution of the lingering industrial showdown. Gabriel Chy Alonta examines the unending crisis that has adversely affected university education in the country.
Since the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) downed tools on November 4, 2018, in protest of federal government’s alleged poor funding and refusal to fulfill its own side of previous agreements with the body, all have not been well with the Nigerian university education system. It’s akin to a battle between two elephants that leads to devastation forthe grassland.
Even as concerns mount over the rising cost of the industrial crisis on the tertiary institutions, the federal government appears to be making frantic efforts to mitigate the impact. Recently, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, declared that the Buhari-led government was adopting all necessary measures to address ASUU’s demands and appealed to the striking lecturers to ensure that a dialogue was reached. But the striking lecturers denied that progress had been made towards resolving the imbroglio.
Some weeks back, reports emerged that the minister disclosed that the federal government had reached a partial agreement with the striking lecturers. “I am happy to report that we touched some areas of understanding in implementation from the memorandum of action which we agreed to in 2017. Some of these areas we have substantial compliance and some other areas have not been fully dealt with”, Ngige reportedly told newsmen. He went further: “Like the issue of shortfall in salaries of some federal universities’ workers and lecturers, ASUU has given a list to the accountant-general’s office and we have agreed that the list should be cross-checked by the presidential initiative on continuous auditing.
“We also have the issue of earned allowances, revitalization; these are issues of 2009 agreement and partial implementation and we have agreed on the modus operandi to look into the fund situation, this is due to low revenue on the part of government.” “In realisation of this the ministry of education will set up a committee, that would engage the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, and the minister of education has taken steps in that direction to formalise the interaction. Thus discussion is fruitful and we do hope that in the next adjourned date we would have had the requisite result on the few agreements reached today.”
However, the story changed when the conflicting parties met last Monday, December 17, 2018, and when tension boiled, ASUU negotiators reportedly walked out of the 6th meeting with the federal government delegates. Earlier during the meeting, the minister had reportedly told the lecturers that he hoped a consensus on most of the issues was reached at the end of the meeting, but the leadership of ASUU refused to comment on why they were walking out of the meeting.
Worried by the dramatic twist of the unsuccessful 6th meetings of the two parties, President Muhammadu Buhari waded in on Tuesday, begging ASUU to call off their strike in the overall interest of the nation. The president, who made the call in Abakaliki during the 3rd convocation ceremony of the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyistate, said the federal government had provided the requisite environment for teaching and learning in the university of Nigeria system.
Speaking through Barr. Victor Onuoha, the Deputy Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission, President Buhari maintained that universities had critical roles to play in nation building.
“This administration is not unmindful of the fact that funding for education may not be adequate largely due to lean resources and other competing national needs. I want to assure Nigerians that we will continue to do the needful within the limited available resources. Consequently, I urge the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to suspend its ongoing industrial action in the overall national interest”, he pleaded.
But ASUU leadership had remained unmoved by the plea. In fact, ASUU chairman, BiodunOgunyemi, has reportedly vowed that the union was not going back on its demand, an indication that resolution of the crisis was not imminent. Ogunyemi who disclosed that the latest industrial action was total and indefinite for all university academic staff, stressed that the federal government must deliver on its promises before it will take a decision on whether to suspend the industrial action.
Meanwhile, the ongoing ASUU indefinite strike involving both the federal and state-owned universities, has continued to generate serious worry for students, parents, lecturers and business operators within the school campuses. Chinelo Frances Otikpa, 300 level law student of the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, UNEC, said the strike was obviously not the best, noting that it distorted the academic calendar thereby affecting students.
“The clamour by ASUU may be to make the education sector better but my worry is that they have done this over some years to no avail. If they want to achieve a different result, they should try another method and do well to consider the students too. It is unfortunate that such development has often led students into misdemeanour of all sorts”, she regretted.
Another 400 level chemical engineering student from NnamdiAzikiwe University, Awka, Anambra state, Stanley Ofor, said that strike affected students, who had long awaited resumption, while appealing that the federal government to fast-track its dialogue so that the students can return to the classroom. “We, the students, want ASUU and government to please negotiate and reach a consensus to call off the over one-month strike”, he said.
ChiomaAlonta, a final year student of Philosophy, UNIZIK, Awka, regretted that “we keep going round this same circle over and over. The strike has become too many and needs a lasting solution. “This agitation is one too many; it is one attention that government must strive to pay to ASUU for us to move forward as a people and a nation. I am not happy about the development, as a student”.
A mass communication student of the ChukwuemekaOdumegwuOjukwu University, Igbariam, ChidimmaNwobu, said it was high time government showed more concern by being more responsive to the needs of our institutions and the education sector at large. “Some students may start engaging themselves in issues capable of compromising their future due to idleness. It is capable of making some of the students to lose interest in schooling”, she added.
IfunanyaUzoeghe, a linguistic and communication studies student of Abia State University, Uturu, opined that the strike should be called off, noting that students were lagging behind already. “We are leaders of tomorrow who will help to shape and mould Nigeria for better future. Industrial actions will do us no good”, she stated.
Dr. Williams EmekaObiozor, Rector, Nation Builders College of Technology, Asaba, Delta state, said: “I don’t think the strike should be called off. Government should resolve the issues they have with ASUU once and for all. “Can you imagine the monetary allowances and salaries of members of the National Assembly? Can you also compare their job to the job of lecturers who produce the graduates needed for the nation’s manpower”, he remarked?
Some business operators have equally cried out against the adverse effects on their businesses. Business owners, who spoke with the Orient Education on university campuses described the ongoing strike as worrisome. According to them, economic and social activities in and outside the school premises had been paralysed just as most shops and business centres are either locked or witnessing low sales. “The ongoing strike is regrettable; you know when the university is not operating our businesses are bound to suffer because only few people patronise us. We pray that the efforts of government to solve the problems with the unions will yield tangible results so that we can fully return to business,” they said.
Recall that the chairman, Senate Committee on Tertiary Education, Sen. JibrinBarau, said efforts were being made to speedily meet the demands of striking university lecturers. Barau, who gave the assurance during an inspection of projects by the committee at the University of Lagos, said that members of the upper legislative chamber were displeased with the strike.
According to him, what is needed at the moment is an approach that would ensure that ASUU and the federal government would reach a common ground fast. The lawmaker said the senate was worried about the industrial unrest because it could get students distracted and engage in vices capable of compromising their future, adding that “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”.