By Abdelghaffar Abdelmalik Amoka
We woke up Monday morning to meet the bold Newspapers’ headlines of ASUU’s 3 weeks ultimatum to FG after the NEC meeting. In response, FG through Ngige promised to disburse the withheld 2019/2020 EAA on Wednesday. Another promise and Wednesday is gone. Of all the none implemented agreements, it’s EAA that came to their mind. Is the 3 weeks ultimatum all about EAA or they feel that another promise of a meager allowance called EAA will calm the nerves of those “poor lecturers”? I guess they are thinking they have impoverished us to that level that we jump on a promise of little “change”.
In December 2020 and a few days before the suspension of the 2020 edition of the ASUU Strikes, an agreement was reached, and with a clause that the failure of the government to fulfill the signed 2020 MoU with the agreed timeline, the strike will resume without any notice. It’s almost 11 months when the strike was suspended and some of us can’t really figure out the part of the agreement that has been implemented.
After 11 months, UTAS is on voicemail and ASUU members have been tactically dragged into IPPIS using their BVN. 11 months and still counting, no information on the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement that involves salary review. While no information on the accumulated EAA till 2019, the 2019-2020 EAA that is part of the 2021 budget is hanging and the year 2021 will end in about 6 weeks.
This reminds me of the last meeting for the strike suspension referendum at the branches. A senior colleague stood up during the meeting to pour out his mind that with his experience from the ASUU and FG negotiations, suspending the strike based on the usual promises and signing of MoUs will be a regret. The opinion of the colleague and other factors may have possibly made the ABU Branch of ASUU to vote against the suspension of the 2020 strike.
After the strike was suspended, I had an encounter with Dr. Salihu Lukman, the DG of Progressive Governors’ Forum on the ASUU strike. He made a comment that is still in my head since December 2020. That statement featured in the conclusion of my book titled: Nigeria’s university industrial unrest and poverty of sincerity. Dr. Lukman said, “We should not deceive ourselves to imagine that simply because there is an agreement, leaders will voluntarily implement it”. Hate him or like him for that statement, the statement has been true and is still true.
It is 11 months after the strike and ASUU members are on IPPIS, directly or indirectly. I doubt if there are any visiting professors in any federal universities, UTAS has been under test for the past 11 months with all the delaying tactics. The highest-paid Professor in 2009 received a net salary of about N450,000, including all the allowances. The salary remained that till January 2020. From February 2020 till date, and despite the minimum wage implementation, the net salary of the highest-paid Professor with all the allowances dropped to N416,000. With the inflation since 2009, the salary of academics was static till January 2020 after which it start to decrease.
And to attain the level of highest-paid Professor with that net salary, you must have been employed as an Assistant Lecturer with a Masters degree on a salary of N115,000 per month (all allowances included), worked for a minimum of 15 years to be promoted to the rank Professor and be on that rank for 9 years. So, to earn N416,000 as a Professor in any Nigerian university, you must have worked for a minimum of 24 years.
In the book that was recently published, I described the 2020 strike suspension as just like a temporary “ceasefire” and that FG will have to be forced to implement the signed agreements with another strike as usual. That is exactly where we are today with another ultimatum that may very likely lead to another strike.
But most colleagues are actually tired of strikes. Despite the 9 months of torture during the strike without salary, nothing seems to have changed and we are struggling more than ever to get home with our take-home pay. Are we ready to go for another round of months without a salary? Will the coming strike be focused on the revitalisation as number one on the list of demands? Or be silent on revitalisation for now and focus on 2009 renegotiation and pursue the review of salaries and welfare of lecturers to a logical conclusion?
The question coming from younger Academics is this: Why the continued fight for the system by academics while most others are fighting for themselves? They are saying that it is time for ASUU to focus on the welfare and conditions of service of their members. They said they feel more comfortable for their salaries to be withheld for a demand for improved salaries and welfare than for the fight to uphold university autonomy and funding which parents and students don’t even think is necessary.
A graduate of physics working in a bank visited the department last week and we got talking and the issue of salaries popped up. I told him our salaries which include all the allowances from Graduate Assistant to Professor and he was like that is unbelievable. He opened his mouth in disbelief. He thought my salary was like N700,000 and a Professor earned something close to a million naira. I could not stop laughing at his thoughts. I told him that those figures only exists in his head and that the reality was the figure I just rolled out. He felt that way because he is about 2 years in the bank and his salary is higher than the salary of a senior lecturer in the University. It made no sense to him. He can’t believe he earned more than a senior lecturer, a PhD holder, that has spent a minimum of 9 years in the University.
Dear ASUU President and ASUU NEC, convincing some ASUU members, especially the younger ones to vote in favour of another strike that will not prioritize their salaries and welfare may be a hard nut to crack. We have suffered enough and still suffering. We are meant to be solution developers but we are definitely not in the right frame of mind to develop solutions. How do you expect an academic to think when his brain is filled with the thought of how to get home with his salary? We need to set our priorities right. This is 2021 and we are living on a salary that is lower than the 2009 salary table. That is not sustainable.
Dear Federal Government of Nigeria, university lecturers don’t need that EAA that they are not sure when it will come but an academic living wage to live a life. Having refused to fully implement the 2020 MoU as Dr. Lukman postulated and some of us expected, ASUU members will be more than willing to embark on another strike to get that academic living wage from the conclusion and implementation of the 2009 renegotiation.
Abdelghaffar Abdelmalik Amoka writes from ABU, Zaria.