By Ismail Omipidan It was a Wednesday morning, February 17, 2010, to be precise. There was tension everywhere. The then President, Umaru Yar’Adua, had been out of the country for 72 days, on medical grounds, without handing over to the then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan. But there was no one courageous enough among the cabinet…
By the time this article is being read, the strike action embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) would have entered its fifth day. The University lecturers had earlier embarked on strike since the past three weeks and there seems to be no end in sight to their strike as negotiation is still ongoing. By Monday, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) would join the strike train. A notice to this effect was given during the week by Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), NASU and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT). Theirs also promises to be a total strike with all activities paralyzed. It’s a season of industrial action.
From the foregoing, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige would have his hands full, moving from one negotiation table to the other. In all these, one major grouse of the striking workers has to do with their allowances and remuneration. For the Resident doctors who had a meeting with the federal government’s delegation, the only condition for the call off of the strike is the payment of their salary shortfall. They had tabled seven demands. Apart from payment of outstanding and shortfall in salary which top the demand, the doctors also want to be enrolled into the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) which had been on since 2003 and for government to have a look into the non-implementation of the House Officers’ entry grade level, promotion of those deserving of promotion, the implementation of the National Health Act, improvement of facilities in the health sector, among others. They also want the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole and a former health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu sanctioned for activities inimical to the welfare of the association, whatever that means. Hopefully, the strike would be called off by today as the government is set to fulfill one of the major conditions, which is the payment of salary.
For ASUU, their demands are quite similar to the NARD’s, apart from government not meeting their obligations to the university lecturers, the thrust of the strike is also the inability of government to improve education through the provision of facilities in the various universities in the country. Presently, Nigeria has over 44 federal government-owned universities and 44-state owned universities, most of them are centres of excellence in theory. In practical terms, some private secondary schools are better equipped.
I recall one professor in the Chemistry department in the University of Ibadan in the 90s who refused to allow any of the students to graduate because they had only been taught the theory of their course. None of them had experienced the practical aspect of the training. He was a professor, professing with a conscience and would not want the students to graduate without the requisite knowledge. The present sets of lecturers are not different. They equally want improved conditions in the universities which had grown from bad to worse. The 90s were even better, things are far worse today. The joke then was having half-baked graduates; today’s graduates are not even baked. They are raw and revel in their ignorance. There isn’t much to engage them in the university system. Their focus today is how to make quick money. There is preponderance of yahoo yahoo and Badoo boys in our higher institutions, their focus is not education but to acquire certificate of attendance. That is why an undergraduate would kidnap a teenager for money-making rituals.
When NASU begins their strike on Monday, their demands would not be too different, apart from remuneration; they would also be agitating for improved conditions in the system. In January, they had embarked on a warning strike to give notice to government to look into their grievances, but several months after, they had been pushed to take action because government still sat on its back without taking action. No government official engaged them in discussion. That is not strange. It is the typical Nigerian fire brigade approach to issue. You only take action when the issue becomes untenable. Proactive measures do not seem to be in their manual of operation. You now ask yourself what some of these ministries and civil service officials, who are supposed to take action, do in their offices.
fections in the system, I still want to appeal to the striking workers to reconsider their stand. The time is not too right for the industrial action as a result of the economic situation in the country. They are fighting for justice and equity as workers should not be owed their entitlement especially people who are in the crucial sector of the economy- medicals and education. At the end of the day, the government would not be able to do much because the economy is unlikely to support any action they would be willing to take. The aggrieved university workers should be willing to meet government halfway. ASUU has tabled many demands most of which centre on breach of the Memorandum of Understanding on the 2009 FG/ASUU agreement which focused on condition of service, funding and autonomy of universities, financing of state universities, honouring the Earned Academic Allowance (EAA). As good as these requests are, there are some that would meet brick walls that would be impossible to realize. One of such is the autonomy for the universities. To what extent can the universities be autonomous when these universities still depend on government for sustenance/funding? ASUU should critically look into these requests and make more realistic and easily-met demands.
That apart, in the demands of ASUU, I did not see any that focused on the problem of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), which had been closed for more than two academic sessions, is facing. The owner states are comfortable with the closure of the university.
Incidentally, one of the owner-states, Osun has another state owned university, while Oyo state, the other co-owner is contemplating the establishment of another university. What is the sense in that when the existing institution is still crying for attention? This is a battle that ASUU should take up. They have colleagues in LAUTECH who had not been paid for upwards of nine months, this should be of major concern to ASUU? What about the students, whose education had been suspended, their plight should be of concern to all the stake holders?
ASUU should fight its battle for improved academic condition, we support that, but they should also be realistic and focus on winnable battles. They should consider the economic situation and be ready to shift ground on the understanding that when situation improves, government would do the needful, especially for the sake of some of us that that cannot send our children outside the country.