The Averting Future ASUU Strikes
The Academic Staff Union of Universities decided this week to call off its eight-month strike in defiance of its former stance that the government must first grant all of its demands before giving in. As stakeholders offer suggestions for how to avoid future strikes, Uchechukwu Nnaike analyzes the reason for the course change.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) went on a warning strike on February 14 in protest of the withholding of university revitalization funds, the failure to pay earned academic allowances to its members, the failure to release whitepapers containing the findings of presidential visitation panels, and the failure to implement the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as the preferred platform for paying university employees.
The union said that the IPPIS, which the government uses to pay the salaries of all governmental officials, is illegitimate and does not take into account the unique characteristics of institutions. Up until August, when the union declared an indefinite strike, ASUU continued to extend the strike. Several discussions between the union and the federal government came to a standstill.
Because ASUU requested that the government pay their salaries for the time they were on strike, the “no work, no pay” stance of the government exacerbated the problem. Some teachers asked for financial aid when they were struggling. Others, who were steadfast and unified in their struggle, started modest enterprises to survive.
Dr. Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Employment, approached the National Industrial Court (NIC), which ordered ASUU to halt the strike after all nonviolent means of getting them back to work had failed. When the union went to the Court of Appeal, it received a similar order.
Meanwhile, on October 4, the federal government registered two new academic unions in universities, the Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and the National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA) (NAMDA). A week after the registration, ASUU announced the suspension of its strike. The union stated that it ended its eight-month strike as a result of a Court of Appeal ruling, several appeals from President Muhammadu Buhari, Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila, and other well-meaning Nigerians, as well as the Court of Appeal’s order.
It instructed its employees to return to work on October 14 at noon.
The eight-month strike by ASUU was caused by difficulties that, according to its president, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, have not yet been fully resolved. But in addition to the justifications given by ASUU for calling off the strike, many people think that the registration of the new unions, particularly CONUA, played a role in it. The two unions’ registration, according to ASUU, is unimportant and does not pose a threat to the organization’s survival.
With the strike over (for now), it is expected that the management of the affected universities will start announcing resumption dates.
In a message to the students, the Dean of the Students’ Affairs of the University of Lagos, Prof Musa Obalola, said while the university senate will meet to adjust the academic calendar, the department will ensure that the hostels are in a ready state to welcome them back into the campus.
“I will keep you informed as soon as the adjusted calendar is ready and when you can move into campus and the hostel. Until then, accept my kind wishes and warm regards,” the dean said.
Stakeholders’ Take Some stakeholders have proffered solutions to the incessant strikes that have affected the country’s quality and reputation of public universities.
Interim government campaigner and former presidential candidate Rev Chris Okotie said he did not foresee an end to the frequent labor disputes unless aboriginal democracy is accepted as the new political order in Nigeria.
According to him, professional bodies should, by their competence, make laws that govern their spheres of influence, meaning ASUU should make laws for education, and the medical association will do the same for the health sector and so on, to engender economic stability.
Immediate past Pro-Chancellor of Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Chief Lawson Imokhodion, called for re-establishing the Nigerian Student Loans Board. He said only a federal loan scheme can bring a lasting solution to the recurring ASUU strikes, insisting that any solution without the loan scheme and allowing the council to do its work according to the law and the rules and regulations governing the university can only be temporal.
He said the loans will enable students to pay fees charged by universities, and the universities will pay lecturers, leaving the government out.
Aliyu Ibrahim stressed the need to convene a national education summit, where various stakeholders will develop and agree on a sustainable funding model in which public universities will be given subventions and generate additional revenues for their sustenance.
He said a reasonable increment in tuition is unavoidable but urged the government to provide scholarships to indigent students.
“Additionally, the business community should be encouraged to also provide scholarships to the less privileged,” stated Ibrahim. “The proliferation of public universities should be addressed; strict requirements should be put in place for any tier of government to fulfill if it so wishes to open a university.”
Ibrahim added that a database for academic staff should be established to control academics from taking up many visiting appointments at a particular time for quality control.
Universities should be permitted to set their compensation after “a minimal base wage should be established for each academic rank, which would be evaluated annually,” the author continued. This will reduce the exodus of talent from our public universities and increase their allure.
He suggested that to increase their revenue, institutions could also look for donations.
Vice-chancellor appointments need to be examined; simply holding a professorial position is insufficient, Ibrahim emphasized. “A significant need should be evidence of the candidate’s capacity to seek funds, as well as evidence of the candidate’s capacity to mentor young academics.”
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