BY ESTHER AKPOTOHWO
After the eight months battle between the Federal Government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the academic strike which was called off on Tuesday is a welcome development and great news to students who are wary of the long stay away from academic activities as well as all stake holders in the universities across the country.
The end of the scuffle between the two factions became a reality as ASUU agreed to accept government’s total payment of N70bn. The strike which has been said to be the longest strike action embarked on by the union since its conception began with a warning strike on the 9th of March 2020 and metamorphosed into a long strike action which grounded all academic activities in Nigerian university amidst the covid-19 lock down.
Although, the National Universities Commission had ordered universities across the country to close down for a month due to the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic with effect from 23rd March 2020, the academic staff union of universities (ASUU) despite meeting with federal government twice decided to declare an indefinite strike action due to the failure of the federal government to meet up with their demands after the expiration of the two weeks warning strike.
According to Biodun Ogunyemi, the national president of the union, the indefinite strike action became necessary as the Federal Government developed cold feet in responding to the union’s refusal of the move by the federal government to enroll the union members into the integrated payroll and personal information system (IPPIS).
This was orchestrated by the refusal of the federal government to pay the salaries of the union’s members who had failed to enroll into the federal government’s IPPIS. The IPPIS is payroll software mandated for all public officials. The union argued that it was impossible for workers whose salaries are being withheld to return to work hence the holding on to the strike action.
Several meetings held to see the end of the strike met dead end as the Federal Government refused to shift ground on her decision to pay salary through the integrated personnel and payroll information system (IPPIS) despite the union’s effort to convince the Federal Government that there are other legitimate means to pay withheld salaries.
As at the time of the strike over 70 percent of ASUU staff were yet to be enrolled into the IPPIS which led to the non-payment of their salaries. The union argued that the period of enrollment into the Federal Government payment platform will take about three to six months. If this is the case, it implied that such act will mean that the eight months withheld salary will continue to linger.
The union also stood against the offer by the government to enroll the staff of the union into the IPPIS and then migrate them to the University Transparency and Accountability System (UTAS). The union argued that the process was too long. It emphasized the fact that the federal government has the option to pay directly through the UTAS.
Other reasons why the union decided to embark on the strike include payment of Earned Academic Allowances (EAE), more funding for public universities, renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASSU agreement, constitution of visitation panel to the universities, proliferation of universities by state governments, revitalization of the university system, amongst others.
ASUU also called for a five year state of emergency in the education sector during which 20 percent of the budget and same percentage of the state’s budget will be allocated to education.
Despite the easing of the lockdown and subsequent opening of the educational sector the ASSU strike continued to heighten.
Students were left to either wander around or make good use of the opportunity to add skills to their lives. While some embarked on self industrial training to avail them of the practical aspect of their chosen career, others went into business and sales as well as enrolled to train in catering, hair making and the likes.
Consequently, some people believe that the various protests held in the country were spiked off as a result of the strike action held by the union. This is obvious as the truism that an idle mind is prone to mischief came to the fore. Many criminally minded students had the opportunity to unleash mayhem in the society as there were no classes to curb their excesses.
It will not be surprising that many female students are now raising a new generation or are on the journey. These and many more are the ills of the numerous strike action embarked upon by ASUU.
Various strike actions organized by ASUU have, no doubt, led to the delay in the graduation of students from the university. As such, many Nigerian parents who have the financial capacity opt for private universities or send their wards abroad.
It is hoped that the demands of the union will always be met in round table discussions rather than waiting for the future of the nation to be on standby before their needs are met. Or are there people who gain from the strike actions?
ASUU which is a successor to the Nigerian Association of University teachers formed in 1965 was formed in 1978 has embarked on several strike actions.
The union embarked on a strike action during the military regime to obtain fair wages and university autonomy in 1988. This led to its proscription and seizure of all its properties on August 7, 1988. The union was granted release to resume operation in 1990 but was banned after it embarked on another strike action on August 23 1992. Fortunately for the union, an agreement that met the union’s demands which included the right of workers to collective bargaining was reached on September 3rd 1992. Subsequently, while protesting for the dismissal of staff by the Sani Abacha regime, ASUU organized strikes in 1994 and 1996.
In 2007, ASUU went on three months strike. Subsequently, the union pressed a range of demands which included an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers who were dismissed in 2008 and embarked on two weeks warning strike.
ASUU ordered its members in federal and state universities to embark on an indefinite strike in June 2009. The reason for this strike was due to lapses on the part of the government to implement agreement reached by the two factions about two and a half years earlier. This strike action lasted for three months. After a memorandum of understanding with the federal government was signed by the union and other staff union; the strike was called off in October 2009.
Another strike which lasted for 5 months 15 days was embarked on by the union on July 1, 2013. The union claimed that the reasons for the strike actions were centered on funding and revitalization of Nigerian public universities and certain earned allowances which it claimed to be in arrears of 92 billion naira. This strike was called off on 16 December, 2013.
As the 2020 ASUU strike has been finally called off and students wait the announcement of resumption date, it is important that they begin to gather all that they need to resume full academic activities.