ASUU, again, embarks on indefinite strike to press home their demands while students groan with pen
By ORI MARTINS, CHRIS ANUCHA, Port Harcourt; SAM OTTI, Lagos; ABDULLAHI SHUAIBU, Lafia; NOAH EBIJE, Kaduna; ROSE EJEMBI, Makurdi
“It is public knowledge that ASUU declared a total, indefinite and comprehensive strike on December 4, 2011 in order to prevail on government to sincerely and judiciously implement the 2009 agreement it freely entered into with our Union.
Specifically, ASUU identified key areas that were yet to be implemented: (a) Funding requirements for revitalization of the Nigerian Universities; (b) Federal Government’s assistance to state universities; (c) Establishment of NUPEMCO (d) Progressive increase in Annual Budgetary Allocation to education to 26% between 2009 and 2020; (e) Earned academic allowances; (f) Amendment of the pension/retirement age of academics on the professorial cadre from 65 to 70 years; (g) Reinstatement of prematurely dissolved Governing Councils; (h). Transfer of Federal Government Landed Property to Universities and (i) Setting up of Research Development Council and Provision of Research Equipment to laboratories and classrooms in our universities”.
These were the words of Nasir Fagge Isa, president, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) when he addressed the press in Abeokuta on why his association is yet pressing for another strike. A careful look at the key issues why ASUU is embarking on a strike will reveal that all the nine points it wants the Federal Government to address are anchored on one phrase – poor funding of the universities.
The question now is, must ASUU employ strike every time it is pressing home a point? In all its many strikes of the past, has it achieved much? What are the real issues or what are the main goals of ASUU’s strike? Since the strikes are always following in quick succession, what are the effects or cost they usually post on lecturers, students, parents or guardians and the school system in general?
CATALOGUE OF CRISES
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was founded in 1978 with as an umbrella organization uniting university lecturers and academic supervisors in Nigeria. It was a successor to the Nigerian Association of University Teachers which came into being in 1965 and covered all academic staff in University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Ife and University of Lagos. The union was active in struggles against the military regime during the 1980s, fighting for better working conditions of its members.
Thus, in 1988 the union organized what it then called a National Strike with the aim of striking a balancing of fair wages and university autonomy.
The government of Gen Ibrahim Babangida saw this as an unwarranted audacity, and in effect, the union was proscribed on August 7, 1988 and all its property seized. Following protests by other groups and human rights activists, ASUU was de-proscribed in 1990 and it launched yet another strike in 1992 and was banned on 23 August of that year.
However, an agreement reached with the Federal Government on September 3, 1992 met several of the union’s demands including the right of workers to collective bargaining. Sadly, the union claimed the Federal Government reneged on its promise compelling the union to organize further strikes in 1994 and 1996, protesting against the dismissal of some of its staff by the Gen Sani Abacha military regime. After the return to democracy in 1999, the union continued to be militant in demanding the rights of university workers against opposition by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
In July 2002, Dr. Oladipo Fashina, then ASUU national president, petitioned Justice Mustapha Akanbi of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to investigate the authorities of the University of Ilorin for financial mismanagement and corruption.
Not minding the consequences and with total disregard to all known pleads, ASUU, in 2007, went on a prolonged three month strike. Just one year after, in May 2008, ASUU organized a one-week ‘warning strikes’ to press a range of demands, including an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers who were dismissed many years ago at UNIILORIN.
As if everything about ASUU is strike and nothing but strike, the union, once again, in June 2009, directed its members in federal and state universities nationwide to proceed on an indefinite strike over disagreements with the Federal Government on an agreement it reached with the union about two and a half years ago. After three months of strikes, in October 2009, ASUU and other staff unions signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government and called off the industrial action.
It is the failure of the Federal Government to implement the 2009 agreement, ASUU national president, Nasir Fagge Isa claimed, necessitated the current strike move. According to Isa; “Out of nine items earlier highlighted; only two of the commitment – reinstatement of Governing Councils and the Amendment of Retirement Age Act – were met. For the past 16 months, several steps, including formal and informal consultations, meetings, personal contacts, have been employed to avert resumption of the suspended action.
We seem to have now exhausted all available options. Our members cannot understand why a Government finds it difficult to fulfill an Agreement voluntarily entered into with the Union in 2009 as well as the MoU that was introduced following ASUU’s protest against government’s demonstration of bad faith in 2012”.
He added; “One key aspect of the Agreement where Government has demonstrated insincerity is on the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA). Components of these allowances include responsibility allowances to Heads of Department, Deans of Faculties and other functionaries of the university system. After the MoU of 26th January 2012, Government accepted in principle to pay EAA.
As if to demonstrate its commitment, the IMC under the chairmanship of Dr. Wale Babalakin was assigned the responsibility of working out practical and sustainable ways to do this. When the IMC submitted its recommendations on this aspect of the Agreement, which has run into almost four years, however, the Government suddenly began to give excuses.
And, finally, it set aside the recommendations of the IMC on the account of financial difficulties; these were recommendations that came out of serious engagements with officials from relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Our Union sees this sudden reversal of gears as a betrayal of trust”.
Isa, therefore, said; “From all indications, it appears Government is yet unprepared to address the challenges facing the Nigerian University System with the urgency that is required. This trend is dangerous, as it constitutes a threat to the relative peace in Nigerian Universities.
There can be no justification for Government’s position given what all Nigerians know about the management of the nation’s resources. It is evident that Government is highly deceptive and is not interested in sustaining relative stability in our universities. If Government can betray our Union on the 2009 Agreement, where is the basis of trust for the impending review that was due for 2012? It is in the light of the above, especially having exhausted all other options, that ASUU-NEC at its meeting in Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, between 29th and 30th June 2013 resolved to call out all its members on a nation-wide strike action beginning from Wednesday, 3rd July, 2013”.
HOW UNIVERSITIES RESPONDED
All ASUU branches in the various universities responded almost in the same way when their national headquarters indicated that it will be embarking on nationwide strike to press home some of its demands. For instance, academic and business activities are now grounded at the Benue State University (BSU) following the nationwide strike initiated by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Some BSU students who spoke with Education Review on the condition of anonymity said they were not sure any more lectures would hold unless the strike is called off.
At the time of filling this report, some students were seen packing their luggage and leaving for their various homes while traders within and outside the campus continued to lament about the drop in business due the looming strike.
The fear of business crash compelled a food-seller who operates a small canteen opposite the campus first gate, Madam Evelyn to appeal to ASUU and the Federal Government to quickly come to a compromise and ensure that the industrial action is called off as soon as possible so that her blossoming food business does not collapse totally.
Efforts to get the ASUU chairman of the institution to comment on the development failed but BSU Vice Chancellor, Prof. Charity Angya in a chat with newsmen, confirmed that the University’s ASUU branch insisted it would join the strike since it was called by the national body.
Angya who rated Benue as one of the best state governments that had largely met the demands of ASUU said she got the assurances of the institution’s chapter of the union that it would make presentation to the national ASUU on the efforts of the state government whenever it is meeting.
“The state government has really tried in the area of meeting the demands of ASUU even better than the federal government. That is why even now that the national body of the union has called for a strike, ASUU BSU has told us that it would join but also promised to make presentations to its national body in their next meeting”, she said. It was gathered that BSU had already slated its Post-UTME examinations for July 26 (later this month) before the indefinite strike was embarked upon by ASUU.
Efforts to get the ASUU chairman of the Federal University of Agriculture (UAM), Makurdi, Dr. Celestine Aguoru for comments on the strike failed as several calls made to his phone were neither picked nor returned at the time of filing this report.
But an insider who did not want his name in print revealed that the executives of the union were in a meeting where they were expected to formally join the strike action. It has also been established that Academic and other activities have been paralyzed at the Federal University, Lafia and the Nasarawa State University, Keffi following the indefinite strike embarked upon by ASUU nationwide.
Investigations conducted by Education Review in Lafia and Keffi revealed that the strike which took many students by surprise forced them to go back home because of lack of academic activities in the Universities. Some students interviewed blamed the Federal Government for its nonchalant attitude towards the plights of students and universities in the country.
They wondered why the government has yet to implement the agreement between it and ASUU in 2009. Mallam Abubakar Adamu, a 200-level student of Nasarawa State University, Keffi called on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, listen to ASUU and attend to their plights to enable the lecturers return to classes without further delay.
“We are now preparing for our exams, but with this strike embarked upon by our lecturers, we don’t know when we are writing the exams and it is quite disturbing. I am appealing to the Federal Government to call ASUU to a round table discussion and then attend to their plights so that the lecturers can return to classrooms, Adamu appealed”.
Some lecturers of the university who preferred anonymity said it was not their intention to embark on strike, but the industrial action became necessary due to the poor treatment meted out to them by the Federal Government, and blamed the President Jonathan Goodluck regime for negligence.
Reacting to the strike, chairman, ASUU, Keffi branch, Comrade Theophilus Lagi said that his union simply obeyed the outcome of the body’s National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held at Olabisi Onabanjo Univeristy, Ogun State, where ASUU urged the Federal Government to fulfill the agreement both parties reached earlier on. “Unless that agreement is fulfilled, we are not going to call off the strike” he said.
It was gathered that efforts by authorities of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria to obtain favour from Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) not to be part of the ongoing strike to enable the students write their semester examinations next week proved abortive.
The Vice Chancellor of ABU, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha was ready to pay a kind of fine for the period the students would write the examinations if the ABU ASUU could exempt itself from the strike but his pleads fell on deaf ears. At the Kaduna State University (KASU), students were seeing packing their bags and luggage and leaving the campus in droves.
“My son is schooling at ABU, and any moment from now he will return home because I just called him on phone, and he told me that the school is on strike”, a parent, Mr Joseph Edegbo informed Education Review in an emotion laden voice.
“What will I be doing in the campus when lecturers are on strike, and there is nobody again, I will go home and wait till they call off the strike,” a student who pledged anonymity said. Meanwhile, the General Secretary, National Union of Textile & Garment Workers (NUTGTWN), Issa Aremu has expressed solidarity with ASUU. According to Aremu, “as an affiliate of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), we hereby register our solidarity with the nationwide strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to compel the Federal Government to respect the agreement signed with ASUU in 2009 to pay lecturers their earn allowances.
“Once an agreement is signed, it becomes binding on the two parties, in this case the Federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Acting contrary to the terms of collective agreement as done by the Federal government is a violation that is injurious to the industrial relations process. ASUU strike is a legitimate move to enforce an agreement freely entered into with the Federal government four years ago.
“We therefore call on the Federal government to urgently put an end to the strike through immediate implementation of the agreement reached with ASUU. The Honourable Ministers of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i and Labour, Chief Emeka Wogu must be on duty to urgently resolve the lingering issues with ASUU”.
The directive by the national body of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that its members should down tools with effect from Tuesday, July 2, 2013, has recorded full compliance in the University of Port Harcourt. A visit to the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) also revealed that the lecturers obeyed the order, issued by the national President of the union, Dr Nasir Fagge. In the first three days of the strike, most lecturers of UNIPORT were seen on the campus, but none was found teaching the students. Inspection of many lecture rooms indicated that no teaching activity took place.
But many students were still found on the campus, as some of them still see the directive as a warning strike, which may be over in the shortest possible time. One of them, who simply identified himself as Nworgu Innocent, said it was unwise now to go home, as according to him, the Federal Government may not want them to go on strike now. He was optimistic that the government may want to invite the leadership of ASUU for dialogue and to seek for a peaceful resolution of the strike.
The story was not different at RSUST. Many students were seen in groups discussing the strike. Just like in UNIPORT, no lecturer was seen teaching, while the lecture rooms were empty. One of the students, Fyncountry Beleme, who decried the incessant strikes in the country, appealed to the Federal Government, not to allow this to linger for a long time, as it will affect the students adversely. COUNT US OUT Almost a week after ASUU declared a total and indefinite strike, academic activities dragged on across some universities in the country in deference to the national directive.
The national president, Dr. Fagge, had directed members of the union to embark on an indefinite strike nationwide with effect from Monday last week. Investigations on the level of compliance across the universities reveal that some of the institutions didn’t comply immediately as directed. At the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi, normal lectures went on unhindered as lecturers made frantic efforts to finish their course outlines.
It was also gathered that the ASUU executive members of the school reportedly held a meeting to decide the commencement date of the action.
An insider told our reporter that major issues discussed at the meeting was how to manage the national crisis, without causing grievous havoc to the school’s academic calendar. It was gathered that examinations earlier scheduled for Tuesday last week went on as scheduled. For instance, students of Electrical Electronics and Computer Sciences wrote their examinations, as well as other departments.
There was also poor compliance by lecturers at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, (UNN). A final year student, who pleaded for anonymity, said most of the departments had rounded off their examinations before the order came. It was gathered that final year students wrote their last paper on Monday and Tuesday last week in defiance of the national directive.
Although students of Computer Science, Agric/Economics had their scheduled examinations postponed, the strike didn’t bite hard as imagined because other departments had earlier finished their exams.
There was also partial compliance to the national directive at the University of Calabar, as lecturers were seen in lecture halls. Local leadership of the union reportedly agreed to commence the action on Wednesday last week, giving their students two days of grace. However, there was mixed reaction at the University of Ibadan, where most lecturers remained idle in their offices all day.
Although some lectures were held across the university, majority of the students were found playing away their time. Others formed small groups, where they discussed the sad fate that had befallen them. Some students also took advantage of the crisis to pay courtesy visit to a prominent traditional ruler in the area. It was gathered that a meeting of the UI ASUU chairman and students’ representatives was scheduled on Thursday last week to educate the students further on the reasons for the strike.
The meeting became necessary to forestall possible breakdown of law and order, as the strike came barely few days after the students returned from the first semester holidays. One of the students, Hamzat, said most students were worried by the sad development because they wouldn’t want to spend longer time than necessary in the pursuit of their academic programme.“Some of the students resumed on Sunday after the first semester break. With this strike, they would be forced to stay back at home.
This sad development is already fuelling the anger of so many, who returned to campus two days ago but they have to go back again because of the strike,” he said. Meanwhile, unlike the other universities mentioned above, there was total compliance at the University of Lagos, as lecturers shunned classes and turned the institution into a ghost town. Few students were seeing loitering about the campus and discussing the development in small groups. The UNILAG ASUU Chairman, Dr Karol Ogbinaka, had in an earlier statement, ordered his colleagues to down tools with immediate effect. He said that the strike was comprehensive and total, adding that there was no going back until their demands were met.
AWAY WITH ASUU
It is interesting to note that there are those who are opposed to ASUU and its barrage of demands. For instance, Oyeola Akin, a public affairs analyst, condemned the leadership of ASUU over its penchant for incessant strike. According him; “ASUU’s continued strikes have their greatest effects on students, the very same ones it claims to be fighting for.
There is a well known proverb that says it is only a fool that does the same thing the exact same way every time and still expects a different result. ASUU has been striking consistently for over 20 years now. Has anything changed significantly over the years?
If not, why on earth would it suddenly change now? Has ASUU ever turned its spotlight on itself and challenge the vice chancellors of the various universities for accountability? The sector may be poorly funded, but there is room for better management of available resources”. In the same vein, Tayo Demola, a Public Affairs Analyst and Director/CEO, Book Editors Nigeria, Lagos has called on both ASUU and the Federal Government to always apply dialogue in resolving their differences rather than resorting to strikes.
Demola submitted that strikes could only paralyse education activities at the detriment of all and sundry.