By Babatunde Ayedoju
rked upon by members of the Academic Union of Universities (ASUU) around that time.
Getting into the second week of February 2022, around the time lovers celebrate St Valentine’s Day and present gifts to one another, Nigerian undergraduates, especially the ones in public universities, received a bombshell which they are yet to recover from. The National Executive Council (NEC) of ASUU, after its meeting in Lagos from February 12 -13, 2022, declared a four-week total and comprehensive roll-over strike.
Following an emergency meeting of the NEC in Abuja on March 13, 2022, ASUU extended the strike by eight weeks, citing that the FGN did not treat the matters involved with utmost urgency during the first four-week strike. The union claimed that government failed to “satisfactorily” implement the Memorandum of Action (MoA) it signed with the Union in December 2020 on funding for revitalisation of public universities (both Federal and States), renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement and the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).
Other grievances of the union, as listed by ASUU, included Earned Academic Allowances, poor funding of State Universities, promotion arrears, withheld salaries, and non-remittance of third-party deductions and the release of the reports of visitation panels to federal universities.
Similarly, there had also been an impasse between ASUU and the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) over the practicability of UTAS proposed by the lecturers as a mode of payment. NITDA claimed that UTAS failed the integrity test the agency conducted, while ASUU disagreed with that claim.
According to media reports, though the FGN constituted a committee, led by a former Vice-Chancellor and Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics And Gynaecology, Nimi Briggs, to renegotiate the 2009 agreement with all the university unions within three months, ASUU said it had nothing more to discuss on the agreement but its implementation.
AS if to complicate the matter, Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Allied Educational Institutions (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), under the umbrella of Joint Action Committee (JAC), also joined the strike. On March 28, 2022, JAC directed all its members to embark on a two-week industrial action which it extended on April 13, citing that the FGN failed to address issues that led to the strike initially. In a letter dated March 16, JAC had accused the Government of insincerity in its implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Memorandum of Action (MoA) it signed with the union in October 2020 and February 2021 respectively.
THE strike was further extended by another four weeks on April 21, 2022. Meanwhile, members of the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) had also embarked on a two-week industrial action in March.
While addressing State House correspondents in Abuja last month, after a virtual meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said, “I wish that the ASUU issue was as simple as many of us thought it was. I don’t think it’s that simple, but I want to assure you that a lot is going on behind the scenes.
“I think probably the Minister of Education will be better positioned to give the details, but like any government, if we’re not concerned we would not set up all the committees which have been working on resolving the issue. If we are not concerned we will not be looking for means to even assuage the feelings of the union.”
The minister added, “We’re worried, we’re concerned and we’ll continue to work towards finding an early resolution to the problem.
It has been five months and the ivory towers are yet to be opened because the university unions are still on strike, with none of them showing any sign of going back to work anytime soon.
Reacting to the impasse between the government and lecturers, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) threatened last week Friday to sue the Federal Government. In a statement on its Twitter page, it said: “BREAKING: The ASUU strike which has kept poor children at home while the children of Nigeria’s politicians attend private schools, is a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY.
“We’re suing the Buhari administration over its violation of poor children’s rights to education and equal protection.”
Similarly, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, last week, said it would embark on a one-day protest to force the Federal Government respond to ASUU’s demands.
The NLC President, Mr Ayuba Wabba disclosed this at the opening of the Congress’ Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting in Abuja, according to NAN.
The NLC claimed that the purpose of the protest was to force the FG to find a close to the negotiations.
Wabba said: “You will recall that the last decision we took, we even went to the extent of writing to President Muhammadu Buhari. We gave a 21-day notice for them to converge a very high powered meeting.
“We demanded that the meeting should be chaired either by the Secretary of Government of the Federation (SGF), or the Chief of Staff to the President, for this issue to be resolved once and for all.
“That meeting was called, but from the reports that I have been receiving from all the unions in the education sector, progress has not been made.
“The timeline of three weeks that was given to the committees for all reports to be turned in, and for government to be able to take a concrete decision, has not been met.”
He added that “Therefore, the Central Working Committee has decided that there will be a one-day national protest. This is to call the attention of government to resolve the issues immediately.”
Professor Oluwatosin Fashina from the Department of Agricultural Extension and Communication Technology, Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA) stated that the future could still be bright if the government would come to terms with the right thing to do.
While saying that Nigerian universities had the right materials, the agricultural extension expert noted that if only the right infrastructure could be provided, Nigerian students would get the best from the system.
His words: “Many of our students are going abroad because of the infrastructure that are available there.”
Fashina advised that while at home, students should look for something doing because an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
His words: “They should look for some jobs to do for now. An example is teaching in a private school. They can also find some skills to learn to diversify their knowledge and be more marketable in future.
“While waiting, they should not just be sleeping and waking up. They can even go into farming, if need be. When we experienced things like this in my own time on campus, we kept ourselves busy, and the knowledge and skills we acquired then have helped us.”
Similarly, Professor Suleiman Salau from the Department of Mass Communication, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria pointed out that despite the prolonged strike, there is still hope for the students in the future.
While noting that many of the students are already frustrated, Salau said, “Of course, they are victims of circumstance. It’s not their making. They only happen to be the victims of the clash between ASUU and the government. Of course, they will graduate eventually. It’s just that they would have spent more time in school than they should, for no fault of theirs, but they will pick up in life and make up for the time they have lost. There is always hope in life.”
Elisha Arafin, an undergraduate, opined that the decision of the government of the day determines what the future will look like for the students.
He said: “There can only be hope for the undergraduates if we have a better government in the future. That is if the Lord has finally come to our rescue. I believe having a leader who is well educated and ready to support education as president would ameliorate things for the undergraduates.”
While expressing his frustration over the length of the strike, Arafin stated that he had seized the opportunity to acquire some skills and encouraged other students to do the same.
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