By Prof. Abdelghaffar Abdelmalik Amoka
The parents are angry over the strike. I can understand their frustration. Nobody can be happy seeing their kids at home while they are supposed to be in school studying. Some of the affected students are supposed to have graduated but can’t because of the strike. So, who should the parents vent their anger on? The government or the union of lecturers?
It is called a public university, funded with public funds, and we are all stakeholders. We are all meant to be concerned about the state of our universities. But they have been closed for the last six and a half months. Meanwhile, there are questions we are not asking as we take the side of the government or the lecturers.
Why is ASUU on strike? Where is a fund for other things but education? Why will the government set up committees, invest resources in them for weeks to work, and reject the report after the conclusion of their work? Why is FG not bothered about students spending months at home instead of being in school? ASUU is on strike. Why will it take FG 6 months to make an offer? What is the content of the Nimi-Briggs committee report that they are hiding? Why are they not ready to make our universities attractive to international students and scholars like they used to be in the 80s? The VP recently told people below him that “we” need to do something about the ASUU strike and the only person (the president) that he should be talking to was not there. So, who is the “we”? Are we in a hopeless situation?
Why are we not asking these questions? Let me review the situation.
There was a strike in 2020 just before the COVID-19 lockdown. The government refused to and did not solve the issues that led to the strike till after the lockdown. After a series of negotiations, ASUU and FG had a signed agreement they both called the Memorandum of Action (MoA). One of the items on the signed MoA was the renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU-FGN Agreement. Then, the Emeritus Prof Munzali’s renegotiation committee was inaugurated in December 2020. The committee concluded the renegotiation and submitted the report around June 2021.
There was no action after the committee submitted the draft agreement. ASUU lobbied for the implementation of the 2020 MoA and to take action on the submitted report by the FG renegotiation committee without result. ASUU reached out to NASS leadership. They promised to intervene without any result. ASUU members in December 2021 wanted the strike to be declared, but the executives pacified the members to exercise patients as religious leaders (NIREC) were intervening and a meeting scheduled. The intervention did not yield any results in January 2022.
Since all the lobbying failed, ASUU re-activated its last option. “Strike”! Then, ASUU declared the four weeks warning strike on the 14th of February. The government did not take it seriously. On its expiration, it was extended by 8 weeks. That was when they picked up the Munzali’s committee report to have a look at it and later said it is not implementable. They inaugurated the Nimi-Briggs’s renegotiation committee for another round of negotiation.
ASUU agreed. By then, the guys in the government were more concerned about the APC internal crisis and the primary elections. The 8 weeks elapsed without anything serious, and it was rolled over for 12 weeks. By the end of the 12 weeks, the Nimi-Briggs report was ready with the Minister of Education.
Shortly after then, Ngige and Keyamo were everywhere, blackmailing ASUU of some N1.3trn that nobody knows the source of the information. They were even blackmailing the committee that the FG set up. It was so embarrassing that the renegotiation team had to respond. I am sure you read the paid advertorials on national dailies.
Then, the Nimi-Briggs committee report was also set aside. And the minister came up with an “awarded” of N30k to N60k salary increase on gross for the lowest to the highest level, respectively, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. It was an arrogant presentation, like he was talking to small boys. The ASUU team politely said they would present the offer to members for deliberation and revert even though it was obvious that it would be rejected outright by all the branches. The withheld salary was not discussed as it was not seen as an issue. You can only discuss that after the members accept the offer.
Adamu Adamu was a fan of ASUU and had written several articles justifying the previous strike actions by the union. He is very familiar with how ASUU operates. ASUU usually doesn’t disclose any discussion with the government to the Press till the offer is presented to members at the branches for deliberation. The minister took advantage of that principle and attempted to blackmail ASUU to the public. You are aware of his misinformation during the press briefing. He surprised everyone.
Meanwhile, for these last 6 months, the public was supposedly with ASUU on the struggle, support they said ASUU is losing. So, the public supported ASUU but watched FG drag the strike for 6 months before making an offer. There was no outcry from the public. So, what is the impact of public support then? If that public support is withdrawn, what will be the effect? It is not very likely to have an impact. ASUU seems to be in the fight alone.
In March 2022, after the strike was declared, a member of the House of Reps raised a motion to make it compulsory for public servants to patronize public schools for their kids. His reason was that if that happens, attention will be given to public schools. The motion was rejected by the House instantly. There was no outrage from the public. Unlike the rejected bill on women that attracted protest from women for weeks in the NASS complex, there was no protest from the public or the students to sustain that motion on education. It appears we are enjoying the slave-master relationship that is between the public and the supposed public servants.
But then, has the public ever been on the side of ASUU during any strike? What steps did they take for a quick resolution? The public never really supported ASUU’s struggles for the universities, and I feel their pain. They want their kids to go and get a degree. They are unconsciously not bothered about the quality of teaching in the university. The state of their lecture rooms, lecture facilities, available learning resources, and hostels; are not all important. They are expected to MILT. After all, as long as they know somebody or have the cash to buy a job, the kids don’t need to know anything to get a job. They just want a graduate to be celebrated. You can’t be happy seeing that your child at home due to the ASUU strike. Since you can’t afford a private university and those emperors in the government are too big for all of us to fight against, it’s natural to transfer the anger to the oppressed side, the lecturers!
Dear parents, ASUU did not keep your kids at home but FG. If FG is sincere and does the needful instead of threats, ASUU members are willing to return to classes tomorrow. The whole crisis is shrouded with insincerity. If the government is sincere, the strike would not have lasted a month. They know the minimum to offer that will be acceptable if they want the strike to end. As Dele Ashiru, the Chairman of ASUU Unilag, rightly stated, the Federal Government declared war on ASUU, and lecturers in the public varsities are only responding to the unacceptable treatment with the indefinite strike.
To my colleagues, there is an invitation for a meeting in Abuja on Tuesday. Expect anything. But whatever happens in Abuja, you have 2 choices: to give up, get nothing after the 7 months of hardship, lost your withheld salaries, or endure and get what you are on strike for and get your withheld salary released.
Dear Malam Adamu Adamu, please remind Mr. President that Nigeria is still a developing nation and education is key to our development pace and must be placed on the priority list. No serious government will keep their universities inactive for 6 months and still counting. That displayed ego that shocked everyone must be set aside for a serious discussion to end this crisis. The declared war against ASUU won’t end it but dialogue.
Education must be properly funded, sir!