There is a great anxiety among students and parents in Nigeria as ASUU rebuffs pressure on it to call off its six-week-old strike
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Aug. 19, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
AS THE indefinite strike embarked on by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, enters its sixth week, there is palpable anxiety among students, parents and members of the academic community when it will be called off. The lecturers have turned down pleas from various quarters to return to work, insisting that they will only return to the classrooms whenever the federal government implements the agreement it entered with the body in 2009.
Briefing newsmen in Abuja, last week, Nasir Fagge, national president of ASUU, said the union would not succumb to pressure to suspend the strike which began on July 1. He said the lecturers would remain out of the classroom as long as “government refuses to do the right thing.”
Since the strike began, the body has held several meetings with the government but no decision has been taken. At the first meeting which held on July 15, members of the federal government appointed University Needs Assessment Implementation Committee and executives of ASUU failed to reach a resolution. Gabriel Suswam, governor of Benue State, who led the federal government delegation, told newsmen that the federal government had “made useful progress”. He expressed optimism that the meeting the following week would be productive and the lecturers would soon return to work.
But more than two weeks after that meeting, Suswam’s optimism that the strike would end soon is turning into a forlorn hope as the lecturers have stuck to their guns and universities remain shut. There have been several other meetings after that but not much has changed.
At the last meeting which held on Thursday, August 1, both parties still failed to reach a compromise. Many had thought that the meeting which was attended by governors, ministers and some lawmakers, would yield meaningful results but their hopes were dashed when the representatives of the federal government and ASUU failed to agree on some contentious issues.
After the meeting Fagge told reporters that nothing positive came out of it. He said the body was waiting on the government to come up with ways of implementing the Needs Assessment Report which addresses the issue of funding of Nigerian universities. “Nothing much was discussed at the meeting. We talked about implementing the Needs Assessment Report which is just an aspect of the agreement. We will wait and see whatever government decides to do with the agreement, until then the strike continues.”
Worried that the strike may continue if both parties fail to reach an agreement soon, parents and students and other stakeholders have called on President Goodluck Jonathan to intervene in the matter. Some students who spoke to Realnews said they looked up to the president to personally intervene in the face-off so that they can return to the classrooms.
Lewis Osahan, a 300-level biochemistry student at Delta State University, said: ‘’His intervention into the ongoing crisis will lead to a timely resolution of the impasse and resumption of academic work.’’ Kelechukwu Anyigor, a 200-level student of Geography and Regional planning, said ASUU will listen if the president personally intervenes in the matter. “I believe that if he personally intervenes in the matter, ASUU will listen to him in the interest of the students and the nation at large”.
President Jonathan has responded by taking steps to resolve the impasse. The president on Tuesday, August 6, met with Gabriel Suswam and some ministers over the strike. The ministers at the meeting included Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, minister of education, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance and Emeka Wogu, minister of labour and productivity. At end of the meeting, the federal government appealed to parents and students to bear with it as it seeks ways of ending the dispute with ASUU.
Labaran Maku, minister of information, who made the appeal, said the government had resolved to end the crisis because of the damage perennial strikes had inflicted on the nation’s education sector. “We are appealing to our people, particularly parents and children of this nation to bear with us; to show more understanding and we pray that this type of strike will not recur because the public school system suffers a lot of damage with the perennial strikes.”
Maku expressed the confidence that the ongoing negotiations spearheaded by the Wogu, and Rufa’i, would soon produce the desired result. “The Federal Government has been far more worried than you think concerning the strike in tertiary institutions because of the disruption of the school calendar. So, the government is concerned and very worried, and since the outset of the strike, the government has been negotiating with ASUU.
Despite ASUU’s hard stance, there are some of its members who are also not comfortable with the strike. To such people, the strike is a jaded approach that doesn’t achieve much at the end of the day. A lecturer at the University of Lagos, who wishes anonymity, said even though the demands of the union are important, the plight of the students who are always at the short end of the stick, must also be taken into consideration before any industrial action.
“Let’s tell ourselves the truth, any time ASUU goes on strike, it is the students who bear the brunt. They are the ones who are sent packing from their campuses and wander about town doing nothing. The children of the government officials who are supposed to implement the agreement we are clamouring for are all abroad. As a lecturer and a member of ASUU, I want the executive to always show concern for the plight of these innocent students. We can get our demands without necessarily punishing them and disrupting their academic programmes.”