Monday, September 30, 2013

The Struggle Continues in Nigerian Higher Education

The Struggle Continues

30 Sep 2013

Adeola Akinremi writes that on the eve of Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960, students everywhere celebrated. But as the nation celebrates its 53rd independence anniversary, classrooms in the country's universities remain under lock and key due to the strike by its lecturers and non-academic staff. Is it yet freedom?

Tomorrow is 53rd independence day anniversary. But millions of Nigerians in higher institutions will not celebrate. Of course, their parents too. Grimaced, Joy Alumona, an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria, Nsuka, Enugu State, rubbed her tired eyes beneath her glasses. “I have lost a semester already. This is not where we should be at 53. I am sad that ASUU strikes have had no solution over the years,” she said.

Yes, the strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which started on July 1 has entered its 90 days and there may be a long walk to freedom for students who seek to return to the classrooms after three months of staying at home, away from the classroom environment.

On its website, ASUU president, Nasir Isa Fagge, a lecturer at Bayero University, Kano, insisted in a statement that the union will not call off the strike until its demands are met by the government.

“As the struggle to save Nigerian university system is being pursued, I'll like to salute all our members for their resoluteness in ensuring that the 2009 ASUU/Government Agreement is implemented in accordance with the Roadmap defined by the 2012 MoU. We believe very strongly that the rot and decay in the University System is not only arrestable but also reversible. We believe even more strongly that, the key to turning round the University System lies in the sincere implementation of the Agreement.

“What government has so far been doing is no more than a repeat performance of a one-act-play: all the deceptions, propaganda, lies, mischiefs and such other Shenanigans were tried by previous Governments, including Military Juntas, but our resolve to save the University System and our Country remained unwaivered. We will continue to carry the banner of this struggle to its logical conclusion. I urge all our members to maintain the spirit of camaraderie and remain firmly resolute in ensuring that our patriotic struggle succeeds.”

The federal government had offered N100 billion and N30 billion for infrastructure development in various universities and payment of verified earned allowances of lecturers respectively. But it is still not clear if the government made an improved offer to the lecturers who stuck to their guns that government implements fully the 2009 agreement.

In a letter to the Federal Government dated August 20, ASUU had expressed dissatisfaction with government’s offer of N100billion as a way out of the strike. A part of the letter reads: “We observe that the Committee is so far mentioning only N100billion. If the implementation is to be related to the funding requirements in the 2009 ASUU/FGN Agreement and the Jan 2012 MoU, what is due for 2012 and 2013 is N500billion not N100billion. Only the provision of this sum will meet the immediate needs of the universities.”

To be sure, Fagge at a separate forum had said, “We want the best for the students and calling off the strike without getting it will amount to a waste of time with all the protests. If the Federal Government doesn’t shift grounds, we’ll also remain here until we are attended to appropriately.

“We can’t call off the strike now and return to what we’ve been going through over the years. Or embark on the strike action again after three months or in one or two years’ time.

“Do we just continue deceiving Nigerians when facilities are not in place for proper learning? We want to address the problems once and for all.”

But in a response to Faggae, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) asked ASUU to end the strike so that students can return to the classrooms.

At a press conference in Lagos, NANS president, Yinka Gbadebo told journalists that as much as ASUU’s demands seemed justifiable, it is the students who are suffering the consequences of the strike the most, while the lecturers have little or no consequences to suffer.

He urged ASUU leadership and members to accept the funds the Federal Government had already disbursed to the various universities in the country and resume academic activities, while negotiations with government on the full implementation of the union’s demands was being made.

Gbadebo further said that NANS had no moral obligation to support the struggles of ASUU, as it was on no record that the lecturers had ever supported any students’ struggles in the past, such as “unjust” school increment and the likes.

He said: “We wish to categorically state here that it has become imperative for the government and ASUU to understand the position of Nigerian students in the tripod that constitutes the university community, which is management, teachers and students.

“Having taken a holistic review of the details inherent in the agreement as signed by FG and ASUU, it has become germane for us to call on ASUU to reconsider its present adamant stand on the continued closure of our universities.

“We must, as Nigerians, accept that the problem with our universities have developed over decades and would, therefore, be unimaginable that ASUU with its present stance want it totally resolved within the spate of four years that this agreement was signed.”

Also, Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State has urged ASUU to go back to classes while negotiations continue, instead of continuing to play politics with the negotiation by insisting that everything contained in the 2009 agreement is met.

Suswam, who is chairman of the Universities Needs Assessment and Implementation Committee set up by the government, noted that the Federal Government has done what was needed to be done to ensure that the strike was called off but regretted that the leadership of ASUU is misleading the public about the true state of the issues at stake.

History is full of instances where ASUU strikes in the past have impacted negatively on the progress of Nigerian students and their dreams.

According to information available on Wikipedia, ASUU was formed in 1978 as a successor to the Nigerian Association of University Teachers formed in 1965 and covering academic staff in the University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Ife and University of Lagos.

In 1988 the union organised a national strike to obtain fair wages and university autonomy. As a result, ASUU was proscribed on August 7, 1988 and all its property seized. It was allowed to resume union activities in 1990, but after another strike was again banned on August 23,1992. However, an agreement was reached on September 3, 1992 that met several of the union's demands including the right of workers to collective bargaining. ASUU organised further strikes in 1994 and 1996, protesting against the dismissal of staff by the Sani Abacha military regime.

And with the return to democracy in 1999, the union continued to be militant in demanding the rights of university workers and for almost all through the period when former President olusegun Obasanjo was in saddle, ASUU strike was a dominant part of industrial actions of those period. In 2007 ASUU went on strike for three months and in May 2008, ASUU held 'warning strikes' to press a range of demands, including an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers who were dismissed many years ago at the University of Ilorin. In June 2009, ASUU again ordered its members to proceed on an indefinite strike over disagreements with the Federal Government's on an agreement it reached with the union about two and a half years earlier. That strike was suspended after three months when in October 2009 ASUU signed a memorandum of understanding with the government and called off the industrial action.

Now, after many meetings that have not yielded positive result, NANS has threatened to disturb private universities so that the Federal Government would be more concerned about the ongoing ASUU strike.

Besides, vice-chancellors of universities are also feeling the weight of the strike. Last week, the Vice-Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA), in Ondo State, Prof. Femi Mimiko threatened to call his students back to school if the two parties involved fail to resolve before the end of this month.

According to Mimiko, “interruption of academic calendars is one of the problems we face with regards to this strike action. As you all noted, we manage to run the university for the past four years on an uninterrupted calendar. We are particularly concern about this strike because our academic calendar has been affected.

“We are hoping that ASUU will do the needful to call off the strike as speedily as possible. We have come into the conclusion that in our own interest as a state university, we must begin to find a way to bring our students back. So we are hoping that the strike will be called off before the end of the month, otherwise we may begin to take some steps that will enable us bring our students back to the campus.

“Well, we have a blueprint on the table that we are looking at. The important thing is that we are not going to allow our students to remain at home for so long than this. If the strike is not over within a few days, we may call back our workers.

He added: “Already, we are consulting with the lecturers because they are not employees of federal government. We do not have any substantive dispute with our workers on campus, so technically they should not have been on strike in the first instance.

“Though, we are consulting, talking to members and hoping that all of us will drive in the same direction. That is what is our strategic interest as a state university that is funded by the state government and not the federal government.”

According to analysts one factor the Federal Government is apparently banking on for not honouring the pact is the fact that the agreement is not legally enforceable but binding only in honour as gentlemen’s pact. So for how will students remain at home? only ASUU knows.

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