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The Suspended ASUU Strike – Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

 

The last ASUU strike which commenced on February 14th was suspended on October 14th following an Industrial Court order. Almost all affected universities have suspended the strike. Lectures and exam timetables have been released by the different universities. Lecturers have grudgingly gone back to the classroom. I taught a postgraduate class last Thursday. Morale was low both on the side of students and on my part. The students are back, yes. Some are yet to shake off the lethargy of eight idle months. Indeed, some are yet to return.
Generally, the campuses are busy. Food vendors are back. The resumption of academic activities has a multiplier effect on the economy of a university environment. It’s a chain. Government fails to recognize this or simply ignores the fact. Students bring and breathe life into the campus. A true teacher would let you know that he misses his students. We miss teaching. We miss the interactions. Also, most teachers would tell you that they do not miss grading 250 badly written exam scripts. It’s a mix, isn’t it as with everything in life? Conversely, students would say that ‘school is sweet, but exam the spoil am!
Resorting to the dubiety of judicial pronouncements to save its face and cover the federal government’s dirty backside was in bad taste. And bad faith too! For, as we all now know, the federal government has used the judiciary to arm-twist ASUU to return to the classroom. When an Appeal Court the federal government to set Nnamdi Kanu free, the latter did not comply with the ruling before going on appeal. But Nigeria is a place of double standards even in official and state matters. And the people are watching. The youths are watching. The people are on the side of ASUU.
The objectives of the strike have not been achieved. House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila’s late intervention seemed to have saved the day. He was the only one to keep a clear mind during the negotiations. It would seem that the President assured Mr Speaker of a gentleman’s agreement. Two weeks after the suspension, there has been no concrete word from the federal government. Salary arrears have not been paid. Lecturers, the highest collection of brain power in the country have not been paid for eight months. No definite statement on UTAS. No definite statement on salary review. While this was on, a proposal was sent to Wages Commission that the sum of N63bn would be spent on disengagement services of outgoing members of the executive branch. The government set out to battle ASUU. In the process, the University is worse for it. The effects will show gradually. A tooth does not decay and fall off in a day.

READ ALSO: Conversation Nigeriana (8) – Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

There is a spirit of disappointment among academics. It shows in their faces. It shows in discussions. There is nothing that kills the spirit as much as public humiliation. Or attempt at public humiliation. Certainly, Ngige, Adamu Adamu and their gang in the government will sing the halleluiah chorus that ASUU has been defeated. The loquacious and obsequious Ms Onochie has already boasted that the Buhari government has defeated ASUU, a feat which no other government had achieved. Well, ASUU has not been defeated. The Buhari administration has simply pulverized the university system.
Anybody who believes that academics are teaching students the way they ought to is in self-deception. It follows naturally. Though not declared there is a form of work-to-rule or there will be a form of work-to-rule. A lecturer who lives in Iyana-Ipaja in Lagos State cannot travel to the office twice a week to deliver lectures because the funds are not there to transport themselves. This will affect the quality of work. A lecturer who cannot feed his family or feed himself will lack the spirit to teach. On paper the strike has been suspended; but in the heart, the strike is ongoing. This is the greatest danger to the system. It will ultimately destroy public tertiary education as it has done to public secondary schools.
It is shocking that a political party that is canvassing votes in February 2023 could afford to treat a critical section of the population in such a shoddy manner. No conscientious academic will vote for the APC next year. Or no conscientious academic should vote for APC in the presidential election. No professor should serve as Returning Officer in the 2023 elections. ASUU being a democratic body will not legislate on this subject. Individuals will be left to their consciences. No undergraduate should vote for APC next year. If all persons in these categories cast protest votes against APC, a strong statement would be made.

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A nation’s overall well-being depends on the strength and resilience of its institutions. The government has weakened the education sector. No public primary or secondary school is worth that name. The descent into anarchical neglect started decades ago. No government has tried to halt the decline either through policy implementation or budgetary allocation. The Buhari people want to weaken ASUU. It will fail. The Union will come out stronger and better. I can bet ASUU leaders are working out alternative strategies to guide the Union in the struggle ahead. But how long academics will remain in the struggle to improve the education we are not prophets to tell. A time may come when academics would concentrate on their welfare and leave the question of infrastructure and equipment to the government. Once that happens, the university system will not be the same again.
As an insider, I know most very senior academics are disillusioned with the government’s approach to the universities and especially with the suspended strike. If ASUU summons academics to another strike next month because of the failure of the government to act the lecturers will drop their chalk without much ado. Too many lecturers are now searching for options abroad. The junior ones have no scruples about leaving. The mass exodus has started. Most of the bright graduates of the University of Lagos who were retained on account of their distinctive performance which the university administration had developed as a channel of training junior academics have moved to universities in Canada and America. It is a sign of things to come. And it is not good for the Nigerian university system.

Education

Obi Vows To Stop ASUU Strikes If Elected President

Presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi has said that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) will not embark on industrial action if he is elected president.

Obi spoke at a campaign rally in Owerri, the Imo state capital city, on Tuesday.

The former governor of Anambra said the future of any serious country is dependent on education and health, adding that he would invest in the two sectors.

“If you make me your president and Datti my vice, ASUU won’t go on strike. We will dialogue with them.We will work with the student

“The future of any serious country is dependent on their education and health sectors. I will invest hugely in those sectors if you elect us”, he said.

 

 

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Education

“We Were Not Part Of Strike”, CONUA Vows To Sue F.G Over Withheld Salaries

Rival Academic union, Congress of University Academics has expressed its disappointment with the Federal Government, especially the Ministry of Labour and Employment, over the non-payment of its members’ withheld salaries “even when the government knew that the union did not call for strike action and its members were not involved in the strike action that lasted for eight months and which shut down the university system nationwide.”

In statement on Tuesday by its National President, Secretary and Publicity Secretary, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, Dr Henry Oripeloye and Dr Ernest Nwoke, respectively, CONIA  argued that it was wrong for the FG to lump CONUA with members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities who went on eight months strike between February and October, 2022.

The new union of lecturers thereby viewed to sue FG for withholding its members’ salaries.

The statement partly read, “CONUA formally made its non-involvement in the strike known to the Federal Government in a letter addressed to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, in April 2022.

“In the letter, we made it clear that because CONUA constituted a separate and independent union in the university system, our members did not call for any strike. This was followed by a Press Conference in Abuja on August 19, 2022 at which it was categorically stated that CONUA was not part of any ongoing strike, and that the “No Work No Pay” principle ought not to apply to members of the union.

“CONUA’s expectation is that, due to the express and categorical declaration, the government would seamlessly release our members’ outstanding salaries when it resumed the payment of salaries to all university staff in October 2022. But to our dismay, CONUA members were also paid pro-rata salaries in complete disregard to the fact that we were indeed shut out of duties by the strike.

“Subsequently, we wrote to the Accountant-General of the Federatıon and the Ministry of Labour and Employment reminding them that it was an error to lump our members with those that declared and embarked on strike action. It was yet another shock for the outstanding backlog of salaries not to have been paid to our members along with the November 2022 salary.”

CONUA said the non-payment of “our withheld salaries” contravenes Section 43 (1b) of the Trade Disputes Act CAP. T8, which stated that “where any employer locks out his workers, the workers shall be entitled to wages and any other applicable remunerations for the period of the lock-out and the period of the lock-out shall not prejudicially affect any rights of the workers being rights dependent on the continuity of period of employment.”

“This provision is consistent with global best practices,” it added.

“From the foregoing and as a law-abiding union that pledged to do things differently, we have resolved to seek legal redress of the illegal withholding of our legitimate salaries by taking the matter to court in consonance with the rights enshrined in our laws,” the union said.

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Education

Again, ASUU Berates FG Over “Half-Salary”

The Academic Union of Universities (ASUU) has again slammed the federal government over non-implementation of its demands.

ASUU has been at loggerheads with the government over its decision to pay members half of their salaries after the union’s eight-month strike ended.

The national executive council (NEC) of the union held a two-day meeting at the University of Calabar (UNICAL) in Cross River state to review the development and other issues affecting members.

The national president, Emmanuel Osodeke in a statement said ASUU faulted the federal government’s policies on education including the proposed introduction of education loans.

The union said such policies are indication that the government is not ready to fund public varsities.

“NEC observed with concern the systematic disengagement of government from funding of Public Universities through the proposed introduction of education loan which has proven to be a monumental failure in our nation and some other countries where it was introduced,” the statement reads.

“We find it troubling that the proponents of the policy are so eager to foist it down the throat of Nigerians when they have done more to push the working people of this country into poverty through sheer incompetence in handling the economic fortunes of our nation.

“ASUU calls on Nigerians of goodwill to, in the interest of our students and the nation, prevail on the Nigerian government to urgently address all outstanding issues contained in the December 2020 FGN-ASUU Memorandum of Action.

“NEC rejects with vehemence, the current attempts to impose master-slave treatment as a mechanism for relating with Nigerian scholars under whatever guise by the ruling class. ASUU members are citizens, not slaves.

“Finally, NEC appreciates the resilience of our members and their families. Their understanding and perseverance, in the face of hardship and provocation occasioned by the government’s intransigence and insensitivity shall be rewarded by posterity.”

On half salaries paid to members, ASUU said: “As reflected in the pro-rated salaries paid to our members for the month of October 2022, as well as the continued withholding of our member’s salaries for the preceding eight months, even when the backlog of the work is being covered by our members in various universities.”

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