In the past two months, university teachers have been on strike.
There is no sign of when the action will end, despite the Federal Government’s release of N100 billion for renovation of universities’ infrastructure and N30 billion for the payment of earned allowances. The money, the lecturers say, does not meet their demands. Parents and students are also urging the Federal Government to honour the agreement in full.
The Federal Government may consider the N100 billion it has released out of the N500 billion for infrastructural projects in 61 universities a big deal but university teachers think otherwise.
Despite pressure from various quarters that it should manage what the government has offered and end its 74-day old strike, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is not moved.
Members of the union in the public universities nationwide are insisting that the Federal Government must honour the agreement by providing the funds according to the timetable and conditions both parties set.
Ironically, many parents and students seem to be behind ASUU. They are urging the union to ensure they get all that was agreed upon so that there would not be another strike soon.
Journey to 2009
The 2009 agreement was a product of negotiations with successive administrations, beginning in 1992 with that of former military president Gen Ibrahim Babangida. There were also re-negotiations in 1999 (under Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar); and 1999/2001 (under former President Olusegun Obasanjo), until the agreement was signed in 2009 (under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua).
ASUU President Dr Nasir Fagge said through the agreement, the union seeks to make universities competitive by ensuring that conditions of service are favourable to academic staff so as to reverse brain drain; provide adequate funding to universities; and ensure their autonomy and academic freedom.
But, the pact’s implementation has over the years pitched ASUU against the government.
Two outstanding issues define the ongoing strike: the release of funds accruing up to N500 billion to improve facilities in 61 public universities (27 federal and 34 state); and the non-payment of earned allowances put at N92 billion.
In response to ASUU demands, the government set up a committee headed by Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam, to implement the recommendations of the committee on Needs Assessment of Public Universities which submitted its report to the National Economic Council (NEC) last November.
The 11-man committee chaired by Prof Mahmood Yakubu, former Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), in its report, recommended that “Government shall consider the provision of quality infrastructure for teaching and learning in all universities as a national emergency.” The panel noted that the classrooms, laboratories and hostels of the 61 universities had decayed.
The government released N100 billion for this purpose on August 21, almost two months after the commencement of the strike, to cover construction of classrooms, laboratories and hostels.
It also announced the release of N30 billion for the earned allowances.
However, the union is insisting on the full amounts stated in the agreement before calling off the strike.
Suswam has condemned the union‘s stand, especially as the government has released of some funds to meet part of the demands.
“There is nothing on the list of their demands that the government has not touched,” Suswam said when he hosted the National Union of Benue State Students last week.
Why ASUU is not impressed
Some lecturers revealed that accepting what the government was offering would only be postponing the evil day because the amount would continue to mount.
Chairman, ASUU, Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH), Dr Nsing Ogar accused the government of insincerity. He said the N100 billion the government is paying now should have been released in April last year – with an additional N400 billion this year. He said by 2015 the amount released should be N1.3 trillion.
He said: “Last year, there was an agreement between the government and ASUU that N100 billion would be injected into the university system to upgrade facilities. It was supposed to be released immediately. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in January 2012 and by April that sum of money was supposed to have been released. Also in that MoU there was an agreement that in 2013 another N400 billion would be released. Then in 2014 another N400 billion. Then in 2015 another N400 billion. That makes N1.3 trillion to upgrade facilities in the university system. We had tried to talk with government to ensure that these amount were released, they did not accept and that is why we are on strike. And if in 2013 they are releasing N100 billion, there is a shortfall of N400 billion, they have not told us, what next would happen in 2014 and 2015.”
On his part, Dr. Abdulkadir Mohammed, the branch ASUU chairman, Kano University of Science and Technology, Wudil, said members were irked that the N100 billion was recycled from the universities’ funds.
He said: “Even the N100 billion that the government is talking about, there is a recommendation of the Technical Committee on how the N100 billion should be disbursed, that has been breached by government. Secondly, Nigerians should know the source of the N100 billion because our MoU with the government clearly stated that this money should be sourced outside state fund; that government should scout for the N1.3 trillion from other sources outside the Tertiary Education Trust Fund but we realised that the government is trying to do now is to go and block all the money in the state fund, mop it up and channel it into financing the recommendation of the need assessment and that is also not acceptable.
“The union would not accept the effort by the government to mop the money belonging to universities within the Education sector for this purpose. The agreement is that they should scout for money elsewhere to finance this agreement and therefore if they fail to do that, this crisis will not abate.”
Dr David Nanson Jangkam, Chairman of the University of Jos (UNIJOS) ASUU Chapter, said the N30 billion the government paid as earned allowances was just a third of the debt it owes the lecturers.
“Let me tell you the level of insincerity of the government, the earned allowance, they are owing us is N92 billion, out of which the government has offered N30 billion, this is one-third of what they are owing us. Regarding the so called N100 billion they claimed to have approved for need assessment, they are taking that fund from the TETFund, which means they are robbing the university to pay the university,” he said.
Parents support ASUU’s struggle
Contrary to expectations, many parents urged ASUU to ensure the government fulfils its promise this time so that there would be no strikes in future resulting from the present issues.
Mr. Lawal Morakinyo, a business man whose son attends the University of Ibadan (UI), said the N100 billon does not even scratch the surface of the problem.
“The N100 billion does not solve the problem because the school laboratories and the other situation have been on ground for many years and if they (ASUU) had been persistent in the sight of the government it wouldn’t be as grave as this. The money they are putting on ground is not an issue; we have seen cases like this. The money the government is giving is just a waiver – that I am giving you this money to keep your mouth shut and stop your ASUU strike,” he said.
Another parent, Mr Fidelis Inde, who resides in Calabar, the Cross River State Capital, said he was not happy his children are at home. yet, he supports the strike because he believes the government can indeed meet ASUU’s demands.
“Although our children staying at home is not in the best interest of anybody, but I believe the right thing should to be done. If there was an agreement, then that agreement should be honoured. I believe it is high time we stopped cutting corners in doing things. It would not turn out well for us in the long run, if we continue like that. What the people have demanded is not impossible to achieve. You just don’t dangle N100 billion before ASUU when you know that was not the initial agreement. It is important for ASUU not to set a bad precedent and ensure the agreement is honoured to the letter. Government, I believe can meet ASUU’s demands if it is sincere.”
A trader in Akure the Ondo State Capital, Mrs Margaret Okeke, who has two children in the Adekunle Ajasin University at Akungba-Akoko (AAUA) in Ondo State, recalled that the government and ASUU face off had been rocking the education sector since the late President Yar’Adua administration, urging President Goodluck Jonathan to find a lasting solution to the problem.
She urged the lecturers to shun appeals to resume when their demands have not been met.
“Urging University lecturers to resume work is just like suspension of a battle that must be fought. The issue of the strike had been lingering on for so long in the higher institution and this is because the government has failed to implement the 2009 agreement it has with the workers.
“If the ASUU should call off the strike, it will someday return to the battle field with the government since its demands have not been met. I think the government should fulfil its own part of the agreement. The PDP-led government spent more money on its convention, President’s wife’s women’s rally. It can easily dash out billions of naira to some dubious politicians in order to secure or remain in power. We can see and hear how they share the “National Cake” with their families and friends leaving us to grow in abject poverty.”
Pastor Andrew Ayinloge, who stays in Akure, urged the government to curb waste elsewhere and meet the union’s demands.
He said: “I will advise ASUU to go on with the strike until the government is ready to fulfil the agreement because if they should call off the strike and its demands are not met, they will one day go back to the strike.
“Nigeria is rich enough to pay the workers. Let the government reduce the allowances of senators, governors, commissioners, House of Representatives and State Assemblies members if that will bring the solution to end the issue of strike in Nigeria.”
Mr Remi Agunbiade, another parent agrees Nigeria is rich enough.
He said: “If you look at the history of ASUU problem or history of education in Nigeria these are all the tricks government is using, ASUU demands for something, they will give them part of it and ask them to go back so it is still better for government to do the right thing at the right time. N100 billion is nothing to write home about when you consider the decay in infrastructure in our system; there is nothing N100 billion can do.
“Mere organising PDP convention they will spend more than 100 billion so let the government do the right thing and solve the problem once-and-for-all, and I as a person I cannot blame government and I cannot blame ASUU. Why I cannot blame government is that most of their children are in private schools or overseas. So the children of the poor masses are in government schools. So the government officials don’t feel the pain.”
A Lagos-based parent, Mr Abiodun Phillips, said he does not believe that the government has even released the N100 billion. “They are saying that they have approved the money but I don’t believe. That was how they signed an agreement in 2009 and they didn’t keep to it,” he said.
Some parents are appealing to ASUU to suspend the strike for the students’ sake.
Abraham Dalyop, a resident of Jos, Plateau State, said ASUU should give the government a chance.
“Since the government and ASUU are discussing how to solve the issues, ASUU can suspend the strike and continue with negotiation. There is no point insisting on contnuing the strike; it is not healthy for our children,” he said.
Another parent, Obinna Nwosu, who resides in Nnewi, described the situation as preposterous. His three children at home when they should be busy with their academic work. He appealed to ASUU to consider going back to their duty posts and urged the government to ensure that the agreement is kept.
Students for and against
Some students support the strike, while others are against it.
Julius Ona a 300-level undergraduate of English University of Ibadan said he is for the strike but does not believe government will yield ground.
“Though I see ASUU demands as genuine, but is it not possible to appeal to ASUU to accept the N100 billion now and continue negotiation later? Nobody in this country should pretend not to know government attitude to public education. ASUU demands had been for long and if government still turns a deaf ear, why should they believe government would answer now?”
The President of National Association of Ondo State Students, Comrade Afolayan Awoloda advised the lecturers to remain on strike until the government fulfil its promise.
He noted that the government was not blindfolded before signing the agreement in 2009, stressing that President Jonathan’s action has dealt a big blow to education at the international level.
Awodola said: “Mr president should prove to Nigerians that he is worthy of leading us and stop embarrassing the nation. I still maintain that if there has been an agreement since 2009 and there has not been any modality on ground to fulfil the sealed agreement.
I think ASUU, should remain on strike till the government fulfill diligently the content of the agreement since the government was not under duress or blindfolded when it signed the agreement.
But, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) representative in Akure, Gbenga Ayenuro appealed to the lecturers to resume in order to save the future of Nigerian students. The strike, he said, had rendered the students idle at home, warning that such act is dangerous to the country’s future.
“NANS appeals to both ASUU and Federal Government to work towards resolving the present ASUU strike that has kept Nigerian students at home for over two months.
“We are not happy with the way both parties are playing with the life and future of innocent Nigerian students. They have rendered us useless being at home, caused us hardship to survive and our parents to cater for us and caused more havoc by exposing Nigerian Students to social vices most especially our ladies.
“At this point, we urge ASUU to shift ground for the sake of Nigerian Students and return to the classroom while deliberation continues on the earned allowance claims and we also appeal to the government to reconsider ASUU earned allowance claims.”
A student of UNIJOS, Monday Philemon said: “We know our lecturers are fighting a genuine cause but they should consider that they will ruin the future of students if the strike lasts longer than this. These lectures are holders of master and PhD certificates, most of them are professors, so they dot care much about going to school again but we are in school and we also need to acquire the certificates they have acquired, they should not frustrate us please, the government has done enough.”