Impasse of ASUU-FG tussle: The purview of declaring emergency on the education sector

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The row between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government appears not to be having any headway. The stalemate on the burner of affairs regarding matters of disputes between both parties have left students of public higher institutions to remain in the walls of their homes, rather than learning within the four walls of the classrooms even after the COVID-19 lockdown. These students may not be having any stuff to sniff for hope on any resumption near in sight, as both the Federal Government and the Union are still at loggerheads on the matters informing the over seven (7) months old strike.

Despite various engagements, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on Wednesday said that the Federal Government has not demonstrated any willingness to end the strike as it (Federal Government) has refused to meet any of its demands to warrant students resumption. The Union accused the Federal Government of peddling lies and misinforming the public about the Union’s demands in order to paint the body of intellectuals black in the eyes of the stakeholders.

The Zonal Coordinator of ASUU Ibadan zone, comprising the University of Ibadan, University of Ilorin, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Osun State University and Kwara State University, Professor Ade Adejumo in a press conference in Ilorin on Wednesday, called on the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) to stop what it described as “the blackmail” and attend to their demands. The Union “dismissed as lies, contradictory claims by federal government spokespersons, including Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige and Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education, Mr. Sunday Echono at different occasions that federal government has met some demands of the union, they couldn’t specify for mischievous reasons.” Adejumo who spoke on behalf of the Union, reiterated ASUU’s demands in the current strike to include: “The need for appropriate officers to obey universities laws and abide by collective bargaining agreements; The need for the implementation of all outstanding provisions in the 7th February 2019 FGN/ASUU Memorandum of Action; The need to re-commence and conclude the Re-negotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement, based on ILOs collective bargaining principles within the six-week timeframe originally set for it; The need for Mr President, as a visitor to the Federal Universities, to constitute and activate Visitation Panels to all Universities and direct that the outcomes be fully implemented.”

Against the backdrop of threats by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige that “there are other options available to government to deal with the Union for non-acceptance of their dictatorial offers”, Professor Adejumo said: “We have decided to weather the storm until the needful is done. ASUU is proud to be the last Union standing against tyranny and impunity of power in Nigeria as we are beyond intimidation, being cajoled or bought over. It is instructive to note that the FGN has not offered anything meaningful apart from what is presented and was rejected by ASUU at the meeting of October 28, 2020. Instead, the FGN has continued to callously use hunger as a weapon to fight the Union. Apart from stifling the Union of funds by refusing to remit the check-off dues, they deducted from members’ salaries on behalf of the Union between February and June 2020, the FGN has deliberately starved members by withholding their monthly salaries. Members are owed between four (4) and eight (8) months salaries as at now. Government should welcome ASUU’s ongoing innovation of a more robust system of human resources management and compensation, called the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which will address the peculiarities of universities and end inappropriate recruitments in the system. However, lackadaisical attitude of Federal Government of Nigeria towards education had shown (and is showing) that good and quality education is being taken away gradually from the children of the poor. Primary and secondary public schools in Nigeria were systematically destroyed by the government. The University education is also decaying and this is one of the ASUU demands that the FGN remain adamant to fulfil her promises. Obviously, ASUU members are ready to work at any time, but FGN is not ready by not putting in place a conducive environment for learning for students and lecturers. The N20 billion offered by the government to be paid by the end of January 2021 is intolerable to the union. This is because N220 billion has been agreed upon on since 2013 MoU. ASUU has insisted that the government should show more commitment by the reduction to 50 per cent of N220 billion which is N110 billion. After all, this money is meant for the uplifting of its universities.”

Recall that ASUU had on March 23rd, 2020 begun the indefinite strike over the insistence of the Federal Government  on implementing the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), which it designed as the system for salary payment to its employees.  ASUU which has frowned against the new IPPIS order had pushed for its own design system; the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as an alternative to Federal Government’s IPPIS. The Union had moved ahead to submit a document on UTAS for onward submission to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) for evaluation and testing of the software. Last month, the Intellectuals had declared their resolve not to suspend the strike if the Federal Government fails to pay their withheld salaries and meet the demands of the grounds that necessitated the strike. Among ASUU’s demands the Federal Government objected to was the insistence that the N30 billion Earned Academic Allowances offered by the Federal Government would be solely for the Union’s members. Following negotiations since the strike commenced in March, it has been disclosed that the government had offered N30 billion to all the unions in the universities and another N20 billion as revitalization fund, totalling N50 billion during their meeting on October 15.

The showdown between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has for a time too long lingered on the tables of failure of the government to meet demands and promises of years. The insensitivity of the Government to the concerns of deficiencies in the education sector in Nigeria, particularly with emphasis on higher institutions of learning remains a bane of weird tales. As controversies continue to trail the ongoing ASUU industrial action, fears that the over seven (7) months strike may linger close to a year has begun to surface.

All appears to be on the wrong side of the wing in the relations between the Federal Government and various architectures of the Nigerian masses. Clamour upon clamours from various quarters have continued to justify the fact that all is not well in the accord of that which the Government is rendering pari parsu the popular expectations. The knowledge of what government is and what it should provide as the case is known to be in other parts of the world, has continued to put Nigerians at the angle of grievances, since it is believed that Nigeria has all that is needed to make life comfortable. The resources within the Federation’s reach have been weighed to be more than enough to nurture an organised society virile in standards of top notch conditions of living.

It is essential for the Government to note that while it may think it is making enough efforts, such may not be the best that can be offered. The approach of the Government goes a long way in determining how critical issues would be handled. The years of reneging in promises made to principal demands in the Country, with emphasis to Academic Unions, has done nothing but to present the Government as a renegade who is pragmatically unwilling and always staging itself on the path of breach of agreements. It is demanding on the Federal Government to start building its wall of integrity to attract respect from the masses by retracing the modus operandi of making bogus promises it is not ready and comfortable to fulfill. The need for students to resume their academic sessions which administrative calender have been severely altered, cannot be over-emphasized and underestimated. It is instructive that the Government at this time come to the rational table of thoughts to strike the best possible resolution, feasibly achievable for academic activities to fully resume with enthusiasm on the part of the intellectuals.

It is essential that the Federal Government give a credible, unbiased and non-sentimental assessment to the possibilities and efficiency of ASUU’s UTAS to consider its potency and integrity in juxtaposition to IPPIS. Where its veracity and virility is proven, it is essential for the Government to consider its adoption. The Minister of Communication and Digital Economy based on his approval for NITDA to subject the Software to test, should muster efforts towards ensuring that such examinations are done with alacrity without vested interests.

The need for the Federal Government to set the grounds for constructive reforms to make provisions for excellent allowance system with the ingredients of sensibility to give enthusiasm and motivation to the intellectuals who are moulders of thoughts in the society is essential. In addition, the Federal Government should take more convincing and pragmatic moves towards ensuring all past promises made and agreement reached with the Union are effected without delay. Such moves should be embodied with vitalities that shows readiness and profound political will, convincing to the concerned stakeholders to resume to the walls of learning institutions.

It is high time the Federal Government declared a state of emergency on the Education sector, with reflections of how to build the sector finding appreciable expression in budgetary allocations spanned across a number of years. While such move finds expression in the budget, forceful and coordinated efforts must strategically be mustered to ensure the desired objectives are achieved. The directions toward achieving these goals must be well drafted to find succinct expression in clearly defined aspirations structured into appreciable, feasible and workable plans, convincing enough to effect the spur of hope and fulfillment to transform the sector. It is essential for the Federal Government to demonstrate the convincing political will of navigating efforts toward salvaging the Education sector from the prevailing state of shambles it is presently lying within. This will go along way to address the ongoing impasse; thereby giving some ray of hope to stakeholders who for long have been aggrieved over the years of failed promises by the Government

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