Ik Muo, PhD
On 14/2/22, when people were celebrating love across the world, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, in celebration of their love for our educational system, declared a rolling strike that would last for one month in the first instance and then be continuously ‘rolled over’ depending on the circumstances. I have been an observer and then a participant in ASUU ‘akshons’ and it usually follows an unusual pattern. Government will sign an agreement, treat the agreement with disdainful levity and ASUU will go on strike. Then government will wage propaganda warfare against ASUU, make some insignificant and tokenistic gestures as a ‘sign of goodwill’ and Nigerians will beg ASUU and promise to intervene. ASUU will succumb and all the promises will fizzle out (like the kind promises made to a mistress on the bed) and that is where the whole thing will end until the next strike. To buttress my point, I am reproducing an article with the above heading, which was published in the Business Day of 13/7/09. Read on..
‘When the axe first came into the forest; the trees said it is one of us; the handle came from our stock’. They thus assumed wrongly that the axe, being one of them, would definitely be for them. It is just left to imagination how the trees felt and reacted when the axe eventually went to work! That popular Turkish proverb exposes the bewilderment of ASUU members at the unfortunate turn of events in the educational sector under President Yar’Adua. Yar’Adua is not only our first graduate President, he is on leave of absence from the academia; just as Goodluck Jonathan, Sam Egwu and even the Minister of Talk-Talk, Madam Dora! Thus, ASUU and the academic community felt that their interests were well protected under his administration. So, they lowered their guards and that created the opportunity for that ‘original sin’ early in the day; the sin that gave a clear indication that this particular axe would be merciless!
On 1/7/07, ASUU called off a 98-day old industrial action because of a mere promissory note from the then new president Yar’Adua. The promises were that those issues that led to that strike-the UNILORIN 49, funding, autonomy, brain-drain & pension – would be resolved and that the ‘renegotiation process shall be completed speedily’. ASUU probably agreed because the president was one of them; they agreed because he presented a humane face and created the image of somebody who would keep to his promises. Well, he never did a thing about those presidential promises which ought to be acceptable legal tender in organized climes. He did nothing about the UNILORIN 49, arguing that justice should take its course first. But his government practices plea-bargaining regularly and, in any case, the matter was in court before he made that promise. And that ‘speedy renegotiation’ dragged on till December 2008, and the outcome has not yet been presented to the president-if we are to believe Dr Egwu! And those who scoffed at ASUU for accepting a mere presidential promise despite governments penchant to renege on promises and defaults on agreements would by now saying I told you so!(See Inspiring A Rethink on Tertiary Education; S Ubimago, Sunday Independent, 8/7/07,pB7-9).
Those who pleaded with ASUU then to call off the strike to provide enabling environment to quickly resolve the outstanding issues-including Senator Joy Emordi- are the same people asking ASUU today to also shelf the strike!
It is also unfortunate that the government has been peddling outright falsehood and declaring a propaganda war against ASUU. There must have been an agreement and that was what Dr Egwu asked ASUU to come and sign on 12/5/09; that is where all the false figures are being conjured from. Increased funding makes meaning within the context of the total budget and N200bn for the Ministry, all the educational institutions & parasitic parastatals is not any evidence of increased funding! Even the touted N78bn is not up to 10% of what was sunk into the power sector or constituency projects or 5% of political office holders’ allowances for 2009 or just one deal at the NNPC or what MDAs owe the government in un-remitted IGR for 2008! And Mrs. Akunyili knows very well that agreements are not reached at one-sided Federal Executive Council meetings or during NTA Network news. The melt-down is not even an excuse as that agreement was reached when oil was at about $45 per barrel!
The public reaction has been, as usual, dictated mostly by vested interests. Everybody agrees that ASUU has a solid case but students want to complete their programmes without interruption while parents want their children as far away from home as possible(whether they are learning or not!). NANS has however threatened to embark on a national solidarity demonstration. Ngozi Nwozo of the Nation abhors the punitive impact of the strike on the students, arguing that all is no longer fair in war(2/7/09); Obadere of Businessday condemned the Governments serial infidelity and averred that strike had become counterproductive and harmful to ASUUs long-term interests, advising the union to also fight other internal wars like quality of research and the declining scholastic ethic; Azu of Punch used uncharitable terms for all the officials involved but still argued that strike had developed reversed potency and that it was insanity to keep doing the same thing the same old way and expect different results. He holds that lecturers have become a part of the problem and that the strike would not solve any problem-for the teachers and for the educational sector(30/6/09 & 7/7/09) while Akpan of NewsWatch recalled that from 1981 to 2005, the Government reached 18 agreements with ASUU but did not implement any and called on the government to be responsible for a change(13/7/09)
Three things are clear. First, what is happening is seen as an ASUU affair/problem. But sincerely speaking, this is a national calamity. I left University of Ibadan in 1980; I visited the same UI this year (2009) and if they invested all the money in question in UI alone, it may not be enough to return UI to its 1980 state. And UI is among the Nation’s best. Secondly, everybody asks ASUU to soft-pedal but very few people are doing anything meaningful to ensure that the government behaves responsibly by keeping its words. ASUU should consider the interest of our children/students but who considers/protects the interest of ASUU and the university system? Thirdly, the government is not bothered about the development and that is unfortunate. ASUU, NASU & SSANU are on strike; NUT strike is on suspended animation; ASUP and ASUCOE are warming up and the government is busy dishing out propaganda and powdered lies.
And as this is on, my brother, Dr Egwu had the temerity and peace of mind to organize a world-class party that was equally broadcast in the exclusive and expensive Bisi Olatilo Show of 6/7/09. In other climes he would have been sacked for criminal insensitivity by the government, roasted by the press and hanged by parents/the public. But by his behaviour, he is communicating the official position to the collapse of the educational sector: the government is on the indifference curve!
ASUU is on solid grounds. But since the strike does not affect those in government a new dimension should be added during the next round: a march to Aso Rock, the NASS, NUC & Ministry of Education with tattered academic gowns! That may be the beginning. And for those who see this as ASSU affair, well….
That was in 2009. Today, 2022, (13 years later), the same matters are still in the front burner and the government, with different operators, are still behaving as in their character and treating the contentious matters in the most cavalier manner. Mallam Adamu-Adamu, hitherto a staunch ASUU supporter and now on the other side as the Minister of Education expressed surprise that ASUU was on Strike and declared ASUU missing( ‘I am looking for ASUU’), walked out on NANS officials, repented and walked back and eventually declared that the 2009 agreement was not sustainable. If it was/is not sustainable, why has the government been signing various agreements, including MOUs and MOAs, all of which would eventually became MODs( memoranda of deception) because the government had no intention of implementing these agreements. They have also become MON (Memorandum of Nothing-nothing) and MOJ (Memorandum of Just-call-off-the-strike). My brother, Dr Ngige (who is eager to go on with his presidential campaign), after holding the Ministry of Education responsible for the complicated mess, declared that the lecturers are on leave, that the FG has paid N92bn to the ‘lecturers’ and that the strike would soon be over. Nobody pays revitalization fund to lecturers and the EAA in question is only paid to Federal ASUUists. He did not also answer the question: How does N92bn relate to what was agreed? The FGN agreed to fund university revitalization to the tune of N1.3trn between 2013 and 2018. President Jonathan paid 200bn in 2013 and PMB has paid 70bn between 2015 and today. Note that these humongous sums are not due to lecturers.
Some members of the press have also continued from where their predecessors stopped, asking ASUU to adopt other models, to have mercy on the students and reminding us that the government is broke, a position already taken by Ngige. Broke? But our governors’ wives had just gone to present a birthday cake to Aisha Mohammed at Dubai while a House delegation is currently in Romania to oversee and assist in evacuating Nigerians in Ukraine: As logistics experts, NEMA staff or ground-support for MazAir & Airpeace? The government also quickly coughed out about N200bn to clean up the dirty fuel imported by its agents and friends (and nobody has been held accountable since then) while our compassionate president has also just donated $1m ( out of our borrowed funds) to Talibanised Afghanistan. People also readily forget that about 98% our lecturers did and are doing their PhD programmes in Nigerian Universities and also have their children in Nigerian universities. ( my 4 children, my wife and I studied in Nigerian Universities: UI, ABU, UNILAG, LASU, UNIBEN, UNN, FUTMina and NAU).
And The Cable has tabulated the number and length of ASUU strikes since 1999 but did not bother about the number of FG-ASUU agreements that the government has breached; the miserable funding of education, policy infidelity and the precarious infrastructure situation in our universities. They did not find out that Nigeria has only 100000 lecturers for its 170 universities all of which are offering ALL possible courses, more out of mercantile interest than capability. They did not note all the tortuous fruitless meetings that ASUU leadership had held with PMB, Senate President, House Speaker, Nigerian Inter religious council, the proposed tripartite committees agreed 5 months ago and all the promises, which were all built upon sand.
As usual, the government has embarked on a flurry of activities, to confuse the public and divert attention from its unseriousness and dereliction of duties. It has just remembered to form a white-paper committee on the visitation to universities, which was completed 10 months earlier; it has set up another committee to renegotiate an agreement, which was concluded about 8 months ago; another committee to compute lecturers’ allowances within the next 3 weeks and forward to Madam at the Ministry of Finance, another committee on IPPIS and UTAS to report within 1 week… All with immediate effect Committees upon committees, forgetting that a committee is a group of the incapable set up by the unwilling to obfuscate and delay matters! What happened to all the previous committees and their reports? The government has also just found out the missing ASUU and held meetings with them. Why must the government wait for akshon before doing what it should have done earlier on?
But there have been some developments around this current rolling strike. On that same 14/2/22.lecturers in UK under the aegis of University and College Union also went on strike over pay increase, pay injustice and unmanageable workload. University of Benin students embarked on rolling demonstration in support of ASUU while another group of students blocked the Akure-Abuja highway while students across the country have been taking to the streets. ASUP and SAANU are warming up for their own strikes TUC threatened a solidarity strike while NLC has asked the government to implement the renegotiated agreement.
ASUU has however declared that this is not time for agreements and memoranda but a time for visible and tangible ACTION. That is why Prof Osodeke, the Chief ASUUist had declared that ASUU will not be a party to any renegotiation with FG because ‘We don’t know what they are talking about,As far as we are concerned, we have concluded negotiations with them’. How can you renegotiate what was renegotiated a few months ago? Meanwhile a side-attraction is playing out as FUTO has threatened to sue ASUU over its stand on its pantamised professorship.
So, why should the FG meet with ASUU, sign agreements it has no intention of keeping, set up sterile committees and ‘refer everything to the drawer’ immediately ASUUsuspends its strike? Why should stakeholders always call on ASUU to give peace a chance and promise to get the government to be reasonable and then go to sleep immediately ASUU yields to their requests? Why should people call on ASUU to adopt other models when the government ONLY listens whenever ASUU goes on strike? How many of those pillorying ASUU will be comfortable, in 2022, with a salary regime fixed in 2009? Why should those who know all the solutions to all the problems do a 190 degree turn once they join the government? Why does our ASUU-in-Government, including Prof Osinbajo, always turn their back on ASUU? Is it because it is bad table matters to talk while one is chopping? Will the leopard ever change its spots and will this change-full government behave differently this time around by making and fulfilling commitments in support of education?
People were shocked when it was revealed that a Nigerian Professor at bar earns about N500000 before tax and other deductions. Why should an academic general earn a minute fraction of what other Nigerian generals( army, civil service, public service et al) earn? Is it an offense to offer to light other peoples’ candles? A situation in which the lecturers are teaching the nation and the nation is cheating the lecturers is far from ideal. There is Godooo We are watching and waiting.
Those who want to savour the full story about ASUU strike should read the following: In defense of my varsity-lecturer friends( Joel Nwokoma, 3/2/22); The amazing working condition of a Nigerian University Lecturer(firstname.lastname@example.org); Falling apart: How students live and learn in dreadful conditions in Nigerian tertiary institutions (thecable.ng/falling-apart); Is strike action the only approach adopted by ASUU( Sani Idris); ASUU vs FG (@Amoka) and Defend public universities, defend the future of Nigeria( The Peoples Alternative Political Movement, TPAP-M).
Read these and shed tears for the lecturers, the University system and the educational sector. However, those who sincerely want to know why ASUU is always on strike and how ASUU should strengthen its position should do should look no further. One Adamu-Adamu has given succinct answers, excerpts of which are provided hereunder:
In essence, the struggle by ASUU is to force the Nigerian government to make this type of investment. Obviously, it takes concern to understand the nature of what is going on, and it takes real public spiritedness to want to do something about it; and it takes uncommon patriotism to then go ahead and do it, especially for lecturers who face a barrage of insults, the prospects of possible job loss or pay withheld. This nation owes a debt of gratitude to ASUU and the strike should not be called off until the government accepts to do—and does—what is required. This is why ASUU is always on strike. The goal for ending the strike shouldn’t be to save parents anxiety or to take pity on students or to save lecturers’ jobs or to graduate students: it is to save the university system so that it becomes what it is supposed to be—a system for producing a culturally literate society, and for generating and harnessing ideas and knowledge, initiating and driving social and economic innovation, and ensuring national competitiveness on the global scene.
Calling off the strike is no big deal nor yet a cause for celebration; it is not just it’s calling off that is important, what is more crucial is what eventually happens to the university system as a result. It is a hundred times better for this nation not to have graduates at all than to continue producing this army of half-baked (actually unbaked) graduates, 89 percent of whom, according to the boss of the National Youth Service Corps, cannot communicate in English, a charge that is as bad and shameful as the failure itself is deplorable and unacceptable—that Nigeria is still talking of communicating in English. This was written by Adamu Adamu, the current Minister of Education on 15/11/13. You may wish to read the full article,
Two issues as I conclude. First, I have also led a group of academics to design a new model for ASUU members so that we should stop going on strike, at least, over salary matters. Our proposal is that lecturers should now establish ‘private clinics’, so that the students admitted into our universities are diverted to the private clinics where they receive first class attention and pay first-class fees. This is a workable new model. Is it NOT? Secondly, as I suggested in my 2009 article, we should organize a march to Aso Rock, the NASS, NUC & Ministry of Education with tattered academic gowns! If we are too old to occupy, we should be able to MARCH. Before then, those who know the government or the people in government should ask them to be reasonable for a change; after all this is a government of Change. Till then…
Ik Muo, PhD. Department of Business Administration, OOU, Ago-Iwoye. 08033026624