From one government administration to another, specifically in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the loggerheads between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has become an inevitable battle.
Although, other similar Associations such as Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) and host of others have also at one time or another, had cause to engage the government in a fierce disagreement over specific demands.
More often than not, the collective bargaining pendulum between these academic bodies and the Federal Government usually assumes a neutral position, with the former almost always resorting to Strike Action where everything else fails.
As the saying goes, when two elephants fight, only the grass suffers. Similarly, the effect of a strike action by ASUU on the University System is unarguably grievous and colossal. One of such known effects is the plunge of the universities into a state of operational paralysis, with the students as sacrificial lambs.
It’s on record that the ongoing indefinite strike by the ASUU was called after embarking on a prior two weeks warning strike. The bone of contention this time around, evolves around policies of the Muhammadu Buhari led federal government, on the operations of Nigerian Universities—a move the universities regarded as needless and calculated to allegedly reduce the administrative power of the Vice-Chancellors, among others.
Over the years, democratically constituted government have tried on different occasions, to use iron fist to handle the ASUU question. The most popular is the institution the infamous ‘No Work, No Pay’ policy or in the most extreme of measures, placing a blanket ban on the Association. These so called measures have been more of counterproduction than the anticipated long lasting resolution of the protracted conflict between the parties.
Speaking in an interview recently, ASUU National President, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi said any attempt to proscribe the Union will cause a Collapse of the Academic System of the Country.
According to him, 90 percent of the best hands in the Universities are members of ASUU and will be lost from the system if ASUU is banned.
His words: “Well, that is the worst case scenario, but we have seen it before. We have even had a case when the government said it banned ASUU.
“They proscribed ASUU and they declared all staff members disengaged but I can assure you that if they do that, they will lose over 90 per cent of their best hands, and the Nigerian university system will collapse. I can assure you of that.
He said “But ASUU is an idea; you cannot kill it. ASUU has taken root and it will take another 40 years for any group to get to the level of ASUU.”
While speaking on the disagreement that has led to the current, The ASUU President said ” Speaking on the demand of ASUU that resulted to the 2 weeks warning strike, the professor said “there are many issues and you saw the way I started the story that we have a Memorandum of Action of February 7, 2019, and we were tracking the memorandum thinking that this was the way to go and suddenly they brought in the IPPIS in July 2019.
“IPPIS is a distraction and you can see how it has distracted us from our MoA. So, what we are saying now is that let us go back to our MoA. If we go back to our MoA, we will even see the issue of the need to respect university autonomy there. We will see the issue of funding, revitalisation, outstanding entitlements, issue of state universities and their governors, and others.
“And by going back to the MoA, we will also be able to underline that IPPIS just came in through the back door and it is trying to erode the basis of university autonomy. So, IPPIS is a distraction because it has become amplified beyond reasonable levels of assumption and our primary objective of fixing our universities is no longer being discussed.
“And that’s why we said we need these two weeks of serious engagements to tell whoever cares to listen that we have been coming from the 2009 agreement. And we have had an agreement with the government on four key components of our university system. The first is funding; second, conditions of service; third, academic freedom and university autonomy; while the fourth component is related to issues of enabling laws and general operating environment.
“So every memorandum we have signed with the government – whether 2013, 2017 or 2019 – all emanate from the 2009 initial agreement because all issues we are still tracking have their roots in the initial agreement.” He said.
The reflection of the outcome of ongoing ASUU strike despite the lockdown and closure of all schools admist the novel coronavirus pandemic can be seen in the recent directive of the Federal government that all Tertiary Institutions should commence virtual learning. A survey carried out by this medium revealed that almost 90 percent of federal institutions didn’t comply with the Minister’s directive, while 10% are currently experiencing epileptic online lectures as a result of the ongoing ASUU Strike. Rather, only States and Private schools are the institutions complying with the Federal government directives.
It is however obvious, that two wrongs do not make a right. Both parties must understand that it is the nation that is suffering at this very difficult times, and Nigeria’s future is gradually being destroyed with these perpetual disagreements.
Moreso, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt heavy blows on the country’s economy. In view of the iminence of the post-covid-19 aftermath, a reasonable and objective person will agree with us that this is the right time for the ASUU and FG to sheathe their swords and put aside their differences, interests, and be united to reposition the education sector. The thorny issues should be resolved on a win-win basis in order to engender a new sense of commitment towards a better future for all in Nigeria.