ASUU strike and the imperatives of ‘Change Begins With Me’ -By Oludayo Tade

Filed under: Educational Issues |

 

For the next few weeks or months, the already suffering public tertiary education in Nigeria will be grounded to a halt courtesy of the insensitivity of our leadership to the future of Nigeria which lies in proper investment in education. The Academic Staff Union of Universities had at an emergency National Executive Council meeting of August 12, 2017, discussed among others the abysmal level of implementation of the 2009 ASUU/FGN agreement, 2013 Memorandum of Understanding and the shortfall in salaries leading to fractional payment of staff salaries. After exhaustive deliberations, the NEC of ASUU declared a total comprehensive and indefinite strike action beginning from Sunday, August 13, 2017. This means that while the strike lasts, there shall be no teaching, no examination, no supervision, no attendance of statutory meetings of any kind and other matters.

This withdrawal of service will bring suffering to the lives of the lecturers and their families (promotion delays, truncated examinations), the students (elongated stay and frustration) and their parents (more spending, more troubles and delayed rest), those whose livelihoods directly depend on a functional university (printers, typists, photocopiers, barbers, campus cab drivers) and the entire nation (national and international embarrassment, loss of man hour, and other costs etc). If these consequences are known, why do we keep allowing strikes to happen? Why will a government breach trust most of the time? Why do we have to ‘struggle’ and sweat to get legitimate things in Nigeria?

Aside from the one-week warning strike in 2016 to make government to do the needful, the major strike which lasted about six months started on July 1, 2013 and did not get suspended until December of that same year. I should not talk about the lives of students lost to accident and that of ASUU former President, Festus Iyayi, who died in a fatal accident while going to attend ASUU meeting where a decision to end the strike was to be taken. The strike was to force government to fully implement the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement. This agreement has provision for the payment of Earned Academic Allowances for postgraduate supervision with Lecturer I (N15,000), Senior Lecturer (N20,000) and Professor (N25,000) per student respectively. Unfortunately, since these years, students are being supervised on humanitarian grounds without pay. Till date, a majority of lecturers are owed up to seven years by the Federal Government to the tune of about N128bn. While the agreement made provisions for the payment of N80, 000 for examining a Master’s thesis and N105,000 for PhD (external) and for internal examiners (Master’s thesis/N45,000 and N65,000) respectively. But here in the South-West, top universities, for instance, pay N10,000 and N45,000 and yet owe for upward of five academic sessions. In the same Africa, a professor at the University of Ibadan assessed a PhD thesis from South Africa and was paid close to $1,000!

Another major grouse is the underfunding of the tertiary education as evident in the downward review of education budget. President Muhammadu Buhari has not done well in this regard. In a Vanguard newspaper report of May 28, 2015 entitled, “What Buhari promised Nigerians”, the paper quoted him as promising to “Fully review provisions of the Universal Basic Education Act with emphasis on gender equity in primary, secondary school enrolment whilst improving the quality and substance of our schools, through outcome based education, that addresses the individual, family, and societal roles in education; and the associative skills and competencies that go with these responsibilities; Targeting up to 20 per cent of our annual budget for this critical sector whilst making substantial investments in training quality teachers at all levels of the educational system”. This however has not been the case. In 2011, education got N306.3bn, it moved to N400.15bn in 2012, to N426.53bn in 2013, to N493bn in 2014, to 492bn in 2015, and nosedived to N369bn in 2016. ASUU had thought the National Assembly would input their demands in the 2017 budget but they got a shock as only six per cent was allocated to education. It was therefore obvious that they were deceived into thinking their interests would be incorporated into the budget. While the agreement reached provided for the Federal Government to inject N1.1tn in six years to be paid in phases starting with N220bn in 2013, government has yet to make any other injection to make university education worth pursuing.

The registration of the National University Pension Management Company is another reason for the strike. The union claims that rather than the usual N150m, it was asked to pay N1bn for a licence but two years down the line, the Federal Government has failed to release the licence while holding on to the money. They believe it was a strategy to make retirement life difficult for their members. To them, the money would have yielded interest wherever it has been fixed by the Federal Government.

While successive governments continue to say there is no money, recovered looted funds run into trillion of naira while exotic cars go to the National Assembly. It is hypocrisy for public office holders not to honour agreements freely entered into by unions (and this includes other unions) particularly those claiming to be better than the PDP government. But why should they care about the plight of children of the masses mostly attending public institutions? The leadership of the country from the Presidency to the National Assembly have proudly published pictures of their graduating children who studied abroad on the social media. These children are to benefit soon with the enactment of the “Not-too-young-to-run” law. Yet, they cannot provide the same for their countrymen. Why will the Federal Government take ASUU to court on the issue of university staff school and lost the case in favour of ASUU and find it difficult to obey court ruling on the same issue?

Having those with university education steering the leadership of the country has not been beneficial to public education. Remember Dr. Goodluck Jonathan? The current administration has a Professor as Vice President; a man who has benefitted from all that ASUU has consistently fought for. But what will he do? Look the other way and be pleading for understanding as usual. What about those governors who rather than fund their existing universities would rather embark on establishing new ones? Why should a lecturer be supervising students on credit as being presently done? How else can the Federal Government encourage corruption other than denying people their entitlements? What more can we say about a government that prefers to recover looted funds while creating loopholes to further corruption? ASUU fights for the future and not for today but those in government are interested in what they will see today while securing only the future of their families. Those the leadership failed to cater for in the past are the ones kidnapping and terrorising the country.

In the days ahead, we should therefore expect increasing social deviance and crime and other cadres of social problems should the Acting President not re-write history by commencing the implementation of outstanding issues with ASUU. If those at the National Assembly are graduates, they should show further commitments to education. Whether ‘too young to run’ or ‘not too young to run’, the political class must carry along the masses if they hope to have peace in the future. As ASUU says, a time will come when the children of the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich. It is shameful not to honour agreement. As stated by ASUU president, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, in his press conference of July 18, 2016, “total implementation of the 2009 ASUU/FGN agreement especially the funding for revitalisation and other service-related conditions, registration of NUPEMCO will not only increase access but also ensure industrial harmony and sustainable scheduling in the system”. Now that the Federal Government through the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has taken responsibility for the ongoing strike, let the change begin with the Buhari government for a positive turnaround in public education.

Dr Tade, a criminologist, wrote in from Ibadan via [email protected]

 

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