ASUU Strike: Worsening Decay in Education
Fri, Aug 18, 2017 | By publisher
ASUU Strike: Worsening Decay in Education
The indefinite strike action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, which starts Monday, August 14, worsens state of university education in the country, leaving students and parents prostate
By Olu Ojewale
After about four years of hiatus, Nigerian university teachers are back to the trenches. Under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, the university teachers, whose six months of strike action left a lasting unsavoury memory in 2013, again embarked on an indefinite strike on Monday, August 14, thereby paralysing university education across the country.
Unfortunately, each time the ASUU goes on strike the Nigeria’s tertiary education suffers, experiencing a slow and painful death in human development, research, science and technology. This, perhaps prompted Adamu Adamu, minister of Education, to say that everything would be done by the federal government to get the strike called off in 48 hours. The two-day deadline passed without the union shifting its position on the strike.
Rather, it was the federal government that rued its carelessness in allowing the strike. Adamu admitted that much on Wednesday, August 16, after the federal executive council, FEC, meeting presided over by acting President Yemi Osinbajo. He said, indeed, it was the federal government’s failure to meet its own part of the agreement reached with the ASUU, last year which led to the ongoing industrial action declared by the union.
The university dons are apparently expressing their annoyance over the unfulfilled agreement on the non-payment of Earned Academic Allowances, EAA; the failure to complete modalities to set up the Nigerian Universities Pension Commission; withdrawal of funding from staff schools, and the non-injection of the agreed N200 million funds annually into the university system to support infrastructural development.
Notwithstanding, Adamu said the government was not happy that the union embarked on the strike without following due process by giving adequate notice. Adamu, who spoke with State House correspondents after the weekly FEC meeting, said the government had realised that it made some promises to the union which it had yet to fulfil.
Hence, he promised to be meeting with leaders of the ASUU on Wednesday, August 16, evening or on Thursday, August 17, and also expressed optimism that some agreements would be reached at the meeting and the strike would be called off as soon as possible.
The minister enumerated some of the salient points of discussion saying: “I am sure you are aware of the issues we agreed on. There is the issue of re-negotiation which is the only one they agreed government has done what it promised because we set up the re-negotiation team and negotiation is already ongoing.
“There is the issue of Earned Allowances and I think because of some miscommunication what we promised could not be done, but am I assuring ASUU and the whole nation that this is going to be done.
“There is the issue of registration for Nigerian Universities Pension Commission. I think on that one, there are a few issues that need to be sorted out with the Nigerian Pension Commission. I believe there will be no problem with that.
“On the issue of their staff school, I think the court has given them verdict to go ahead with it. They have requested that they should be allowed to stay off TSA and I think the government will not do this.
“But there are some peculiar funds in the university like endowment which are monies kept and all the interest they generate, prices and so on are given.
“Government will exempt that one only. But universities are part of the peculiarities. They just must log on. I hope later on when I meet them today, there will be total agreement.”
In any case, Adamu said the ASUU should give account of the funds it got for the Earned Allowances before more payment could be made. The government had released N30 billion to it in 2010, and that the government had the money to pay the balance of N23b after a forensic audit of the N30 billion released earlier.
Ahead of Adamu’s meeting with the ASUU, the leadership of the union and Chris Ngige, minister of Labour and Employment, had met at minister’s conference room, ministry of labour, Abuja, on Tuesday, August 14, and took some significant steps towards resolution of contending issues raised by the union.
According to Samuel Olowookere, deputy director, Press, m.inistry of labour, the meeting agreed on the forensic audit of the sum of N30 billion earlier given to the ASUU in 2010.
He said the meeting further agreed on monthly remittances to the ASUU, while the audit lasted.
The minister assured members of the ASUU and Nigerians that government was already at work to resolve all outstanding issues in line with the present administration’s commitment to prevent disruption of academic calendar in universities.
“The minister hence wishes to assure members of ASUU, indeed, all Nigerians that government is already at work to resolve all outstanding issues in line with the resolve of the present administration to cast any form of disruption of universities’ academic calendar into the dustbin of history,” he said.
Nevertheless, the Nigerian universities’ academic calendar has already been disrupted as most of the public universities followed the directive of the ASUU with immediate effect. In many cases, classes were stopped abruptly, while ongoing examinations were suspended. In others, academic activities slowly grounded to a halt – with some schools cramping the examination timetable to conclude the academic session with minimal damage. Those badly hit were some institutions, which scheduled their examinations to start in a few weeks.
All these have given vent to various arguments on effects the incessant strikes have been having on the country in every spectrum of life.
Biodun Ogunyemi, president of the ASUU, who called his members out on strike, had early in the year, May 25, bemoaned the four percent reduction in the 2017 budget allocation to the education sector, saying it was detrimental to already bastardised standard of education in Nigeria. When he paid a courtesy call on Ayba Wabbba, president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Ogunyemi said such reduction was capable of destroying the nation’s educational system.
According to him, the decline in funding of education from 11 percent to eight percent in 2015 would do the education system no good. “The decline will also destroy the country because destroying the educational system of a nation means destroying the nation,’’ he warned.
Sadly, he said education had been relegated to the background because political office holders, now own private universities at the detriment of government universities.
“They build their own universities, and they do not care about government universities. The moment they destroyed government universities Nigeria will have none again because everything has been privatised,” he said.
Ogunyemi said the union had always engaged government on funding and provision of facilities to attract quality education that could bring development to the country.
Hence, the ASUU leader said the union went on strike to save the nation’s educational system and not to destroy it. Addressing a press conference, on Monday, August 14, Ogunyemi said: “Primary and secondary school system has already collapsed in Nigeria. But not all Nigerians have the funds to send their wards to private schools.
“Our members in state universities have experienced untold hardship owing to denial of salaries for several months in Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, LAUTECH, Ondo State University of Science and Technology, Tai Solarin University of Education, and Ekiti State University, among several others.
“A deliberate attempt to turn Nigerian academics to beggars and people of unsure footing must, therefore, be resisted by all who care about the future of our children and the transformation of our country.”
Michael Faborode, spokesperson of the committee of vice chancellors of Nigerian universities, blamed the government’s handling of its negotiation with the ASUU. He said the issues ASUU had raised were so cogent and that they should not be treated with levity.
Faborode said: “While serious apprehension persists about the state of our education from primary to tertiary level, the NEEDS Assessment conducted in 2012 did not tell a lie about how bad things were. Yet, government after government played around with the future and destiny of the country, while more and more government officials and the rich send their children abroad, including to West African countries, with the implied capital flight.
“It makes no sense, as in the health sector too, that we allow our own facilities and institutions to decay, while we scamper overseas draining the already dwindling resources to sustain other economies, and our own continue to rot.
“We are too eager to complain about quality of education and that no Nigerian university is highly-rated globally. The way forward is a visible pragmatic commitment to taking the issue of knowledge-driven economy that accords proper priority and focus on quality and functional education very seriously. It is very obvious that the nation is handling education with levity and disturbing insincerity and we have to face the reality. Pretending or hoping that we can continue to patch-patch without serious soul-searching and redefinition of purpose will be wishful thinking.”
On his part, Uzochukwu Onyebinama, the immediate past chairman of the ASUU, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, argued that contrary to insinuations by many that persistent industrial actions by the lecturers was having negative effect on the education system, it had brought huge benefits to the system.
Onyebinama, who accused the government for being insensitive to the plight of students and lecturers, said: “Well, the strikes are not the reasons for the fallen educational standards. The reason is really lack of facilities. You are here in my office and as you can see, I don’t even have light. I cannot even engage in any meaningful activity today. The essence of this strike is to redress these inadequacies to enable us perform. To stop persistent strikes, he advised the government to be alive to its responsibilities.
“This strike is to get the outstanding agreement of 2009 implemented. If they have done that, we won’t be talking about the strike. They should address the issue of salary shortfall. It began in 2015 actually, but since this January, we have not received our salaries in full. It is eight months as we speak. Our earned allowance from 2014 till date hasn’t been paid. When we were on a week strike last year, the leadership of the National Assembly intervened and made an offer to clear the arrears after they concluded the forensic audit of the money already released, we said that we don’t want the money to be paid in piece mill, that we will wait for the next
six months to allow them finish what they were doing, that ended in June and government hasn’t written to tell us if they have concluded with the audit.”
In as much as some students and parents would want to sympathise with the position of the lecturers, they are also caught in the web and are also feeling the pain. In fact, most of the students have viewed their lecturers’ strike action as unfair, and perhaps, unwarranted.
Silver Dada, a student of the Bayero University, Kano, said: “These ASUU people did not consider the hardship our parents are facing in this economic meltdown. For a course of five years, with this strike, which is indefinite, I may end up spending six years in the university. They are doing this because all their children are schooling abroad. Please, help me to tell ASUU and the federal government to settle their differences because we are going for another round of suffering. I cannot just imagine what is actually happening in the academic system and education system of Nigeria. This is quite unfair.”
Similarly, Jane Okwocha, a student of the University of Calabar, said it was disheartening that while the students were preparing for examinations, the ASUU members proceeded on strike. “We came to school on Monday morning for lectures but no one came to teach us. There were no academic activities the entire day. Today, Tuesday, again nothing is happening. Some of us you have seen are those who belong to study groups or have tutorials among themselves. I think it is quite unfair to the students. What this means is that there is hardly any academic session that does not gets disrupted by these strikes.” Okwocha said she would be leaving for home in absence of anything to do at school.
If Angela Obodo, a mother, who has three daughters at the University of Port Harcourt, would have her way she would prefer her children to remain in school, but she also feared the danger they would be exposed to.
Obodo said she almost collapsed when her children called to inform her that they might be returning home because of another strike. She said: “This is sad news for me. I cannot afford to have them at home. What is the problem? If they owe the lecturers, the government should settle them because at the end, it is our children that will suffer. They are about to write their exam; they should allow them to finish this semester first before anything.”
On his part, Paul Adebamito, another parent whose daughter attends the Ekiti State University, EKSU, said: “What pains me most was that the lecturers went on strike a week the students were supposed to start their examination. With this situation, many of the students will be doing a lot of negative things.”
Expressing similar disappointment was Archibong Andinam, a parent with a child at the UNICAL, who urged the government and lecturers to resolve the impasse to limit the negative effect on students.
“These issues have lingered for too long and it is never a pleasant experience when our children have to come back home and just stay like that. The negative impact is so much. The constant disruption of their academics is not the best for their entire
teaching-learning process. There is a calendar that should be adhered to for effective teaching and learning, but with the constant disruptions, I really wonder how effective the whole process would really be.”
Indeed, the fear of both the parents and students are real. The ASUU’s incessant strikes have been responsible for many a student’s ambition being cut short, while years wasted and more financial burdens imposed on the parent through strikes.
For instance, whenever there is strike, suspending learning for a long period is capable of reducing the students’ reading abilities, and that the knowledge acquired during the learning period could be easily forgotten by some students. This, it is being argued would simply turn some of the students into certificate seekers rather than knowledge seekers.
Besides, protracted strikes have been responsible for distortion of the academic school calendar, thereby causing prolonged school year that exceeds stipulated period as academic activities for the school year are distorted.
This means that students who are supposed to do a four-year programme for course may later end up spending five to six years in school, while those who are supposed to spend five years in school might end up spending six to seven or eight years in the school for a programme.
Not only that, the strike period if not properly handled tend to lead some undergraduates into some social vices like prostitution, yahoo-yahoo crime, robbery and other vices, thereby giving meaning to the say: “An idle man, is the devil’s workshop.”
Indeed, Chinonso Obasi, president of the NANS, at a press conference in Abuja, on Wednesday, August 16, said incessant strikes would translate to the distortion of learning, unnecessary delays and waste of time in the completion of a course of study, risk to the students for having to travel back and forth and waste of non-available resources and pressure on the part of the parents and general loss to the economy.
The student leader, thus called on the federal government to consider the monumental risk of millions of idle and redundant young people to urgently address the lingering issues that led to the current indefinite strike by the ASUU to enable students return to school. Besides, the leadership of the NANS also questioned the imperative of the more than N1billion expended to develop the recently launched National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan which does not have provisions for addressing the critical challenges of Nigerian universities and its students.
Aruna Kadiri, a factional leader of the National Association of Nigerian Leaders, NANS, said while the ASUU had the right to embark on strike, it must take into cognizance the present state of the nation’s economy and the fate of students, particularly those writing their final examinations.
“While it is expected that government should be alive to its responsibility of funding university education and at least meet some part of the FGN/ASUU agreement, the union must also take into consideration the state of our economy which is presently in shambles and opt for dialogue. Besides, the striking teachers should note that whatever action they take does not directly affect the government or the union but students because the truth is that salary of ASUU members would be paid while academic activities suffer.
“Our plea as NANS is that both parties should go back to the negotiation table,” Kadiri stated.
However, the Education Rights Campaign, ERC, would want the students to look beyond the strike saying it would benefit them, if well implemented. Akorede Dhikrullah, coordinator of the ERC at the Lagos State University, LASU, in a statement, accused public servants of spending money that would have been used to meet the lecturers’ demands.
The statement said in part: “For us in the Education Rights Campaign, ERC, we find it unacceptable that while the government finds money to buy exotic cars for lawmakers, finance the outrageously expensive treatment of President Buhari in London, and guarantees insanely luxurious lifestyle for political office holders, it is unable to find money to fund public education and meet the needs of academic staff.”
In any case, not all public universities have joined the strike action. The Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife; the Delta State University, DELSU, are not on strike because of problems in the local chapters of the union; while the University of Ilorin, UNILORIN, which has a tradition of not joining the ASUU strikes for almost two decades now is in not support of the strike.
Perhaps, not willing to falter in its agreement with the ASUU, about a couple of months ago, the federal government announced the appointment of Wale Babalakin to head a 16-man committee that would renegotiate the 2009 federal government agreement with the union. According to the minister of education, the committee was constituted back then to engender sustainable peace and industrial harmony in tertiary institutions.
During the inauguration of the committee, Babalakin had said: “A conducive environment in the tertiary institution is the bedrock for the development of a nation’s intelligentsia. A nation’s development can be seriously enhanced by the active participation of the intelligence in the pursuit of the country’s developmental goals.”
With the current ASUU indefinite strike, it became apparent that there are knotty issues beyond the powers of the committee to resolve on the 2009 agreement. The Babalakin committee said it had no idea of the strike.
Ogunyemi said that much. The ASUU boss explained: “Issues outside Babalakin’s negotiation committee are what we are discussing. We are saying that the government did not continue the implementation of the existing issues from the 2009 Federal Government-ASUU agreement. The government has abandoned the implementation.”
The ASUU boss said the struggle for the union is to make sure that the Nigerian universities and educational institutions are developed to the level of those that Nigerians stop sending their children to abroad.
“That is something that should be done. But saying that students should not go to other countries, that I think is not going to be good for us.”
“Babalakin is mixing up negotiation with implementation. If government wants to make Babalakin head of the Implementation panel, it should let us know,” Ogunyemi said, adding that the union was still talking with the government to resolve the issues that led to the strike.
That notwithstanding, Amiso George, professor of strategic communication, Bob Schieffer College of Communication, Texas Christian University, Texas, USA, in an interview with Realnews at Pan-Atlantic University, PAU, Lagos, said the strike was not good for the Nigerian education system.
Additional Report by Anayo Ezugwu
Aug 18,2017 @ 10:20 GMT
Tags: Academic Staff Union of Universities Adamu Adamu ASUU Strike: Worsening Decay in Education Bayero University Chris Ngige Earned Allowances Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Michael Faborode Minister of Education