As another ASUU strike looms, will FG listen to voice of reason?

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Bankole Taiwo, Abeokuta

Except the federal government shifts grounds and heeds the long overdue request of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the union, which is the umbrella body of the lecturers in Nigerian public universities had in the last one week been making known its intention to embark on another round of indefinite strike.

Recall that ASUU had last year embarked on nine months strike resuming in December after various patriotic calls and appeals as well as promises by the federal government to look into their demands.

ASUU’s major demands during the nine months strike were proper funding of the universities as well as the scrapping of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) due to its ineffectiveness, violation of the principle of university autonomy and several other discrepancies

ASUU, had developed the University Transparency and Accountability Solution to replace IPPIS and had several meetings with the Ministries of Finance, Education, Labour and Employment, and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation before it was approved but yet to be implemented.

ASUU, however, said that nine months after suspending its strike, the Federal Government had failed to implement the December 22, 2020 Memorandum of Action.

Speaking with journalists recently,  Zonal Coordinator of ASUU, Benin, Prof. Fred Esumeh said: “For the record, that strike action was declared on the 23rd of March 2020 over the federal government’s failure to honour the terms of an earlier 7th February 2019 MoA in which the federal government had freely agreed to conclude the details of the renegotiation of the FGN-ASUU 2009 agreement.

“The specific issues remain that the federal government’s deliberate delay in deploying the University Transparency and Accountability Solution as the payment platform for university staff, the non-payment of the due tranche of Earned Academic Allowances.

“Others are the non-release of the earlier agreed N40billion fund for the revitalisation of public universities, the unwillingness to sign the draft of the renegotiated 2009 agreement, the continued non-payment of promotion arrears, the non-payment of withheld salaries and the non-remittance of deducted check-off dues of the union.”

Briefing the press in Lagos on Tuesday, the ASUU Coordinator for Lagos Zone, Dr Adelaja Odukoya, also accused the federal government of trying to cripple the union by withholding check off dues of members for over a year saying that the union had given enough long rope to the government and should not be blamed if it resorted to grounding activities in the universities with the impending strike.

He said that the Minister for Labour, Chris Ngige had also said that the N40bn revitilisation fund for the universities, part of ASUU’s demands had since January been deposited with Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) but eight months after, the universities have gotten no dime saying that this smacks of insincerity on the part of the federal government.

Adelaja said of the nine demands from the federal government, the government has done two which is setting up of visitation panels to universities and the second one is issues around promotion arrears that has not been done completely as some universities are yet to benefit.

The Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, in a report was quoted to have said that the government was working hard to ensure the release of the revitalisation fund by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, the National President of ASUU however dismissed the Minister’s promise with wave of hand saying that it appeared the government was not interested in the plight of the poor, who attend public universities.

“I don’t think they are honest with what they are saying. If they are interested in the children of the poor, who cannot afford private universities, they would have written to us that they are sorry.  This is the normal thing they should have done in a system,” he said.

Faulting the minister, Osodeke was quoted to have stated, “The CBN and the ministry are the Federal Government. They showed us a document that the money is with the CBN.  What is difficult in transferring money from one CBN account to another CBN account? That means the document they showed us was fake.”

As this back and forth continues between the federal government and ASUU, one thing that is certain is that anytime from now, the university academic calendar across the country could be disrupted.

The question on the lips of many is why will government always fail to implement the agreement it freely entered into without any form of coercion? What stops the government from releasing the N40bn revitilisation fund it said had been with the CBN since January to benefit universities?

Speaking with our Correspondent, Mr Segun Awoyomi, an educationist and CEO of Classique Group of Schools said it will be height of wickedness and grave insensitivity for the federal government to allow ASUU go on strike again on same issues that made them lock up the universities for nine months last year.

Mr Awoyomi said, “Why is it difficult for the federal government to honour the agreement it freely entered into with the lecturers nine months ago, this is also not a fresh issue except for the controversial IPPIS, why is it difficult for the government to be responsible and fund our universities?

“Why do they just like inflicting pains on the masses? When there are strike like this, the implications are far reaching. Students who ought to spend four years might spend six, some might not make it back to school after long strike…I just pray the federal government who is at fault here will quickly heed the request of the lecturers.”

Earnest Jones, while speaking on the impending strike said that the situation will further compound the deteriorating standard of the country’s education.

Earnest said, “I don’t know of any country that wanted progress and development and will be recalcitrant as federal government has been when it comes to funding our universities. The major demand of ASUU has been funding of our universities and until this is done, our universities will only be churning out half baked graduates.

“Strike too has its devastating effect on our worsening educational standard, it is not desirable at all because of the attendant loss of time among other consequences. I sincerely don’t wish federal government would allow another ASUU strike joined other plethora of challenges the country grapples with.”

Akin Okunade, a Psychologist while berating the federal over the impending ASUU strike said that the federal government was only bent on destroying public universities just as it destroyed the public secondary schools.

Akin said, “I think all well-meaning Nigerians should please talk to the federal government to listen to the voice of reasoning and attend to ASUU demands. The FG should stop being indifferent to the plight of our dwindling university education because their children are either schooling abroad or in private universities whereas 95% of Nigerian masses have their children in the public universities.

“It’s like the government is hell bent on destroying public universities just as it has succeeded with public secondary schools such that all of us will now be left with options of private universities.”

Dr Adelaja, Lagos Zonal Coordinator for ASUU speaking on the possibility of the union declaring another strike anytime from now said “it’s not that the union derives joy in going on strike but it is usually our last resort as patriots to salvage the collapse of our public universities.

“We are equally affected immensely by the strike. As parents, our children will be at home, we don’t also get paid during strike, we don’t get to attend training, conferences and when the strike is eventually called off, we have loads of work to do in order to meet up. We only pray well-meaning Nigerians will prevail on FG to do the needful on time.”