There is this belief in the corridors of power that the ASUU agitation is self-serving and has nothing to do with the business of teaching and learning.
From the blues on November 30, 2018, the federal government, through the National Universities Commission (NUC), directed vice chancellors to implement the ‘no-work-no-pay’ industrial policy with regard to striking lecturers.
It should not come to anyone as a surprise because over the years the government had never shown any commitment to scholarship and all other associated scholastic accountabilities that impact on the teaching-learning process.
Obviously, what the government has done is to box the striking lecturers to a corner that will inevitably compel them to resume work without any resolution of the critical challenges illuminated by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Overall, this last resort by government has confirmed the holistic nonchalant attitude of the authorities to issues concerning education in the country. There is this erroneous belief in the corridors of power that the ASUU agitation is self-serving and has nothing to do with the business of teaching and learning.
If it were not so, how would anyone come up with such a vicious policy of starving lecturers in the conviction that they would retreat? What government ignores is that it is not the academic staff that will suffer but the entirety of our educational system.
It is disgraceful that despite owing university teachers upwards of seven years’ earned academic allowances, the government still had the effrontery to direct vice chancellors not to pay any striking member of ASUU from any source whatsoever. Also affected are staff of inter-varsity centres. This is happening amid a life of obscenity and squandering of national wealth by the Presidency and the National Assembly, among other governmental wastages.
The implication of this latest viciousness towards the academic community is that public education will degenerate in quality and global competitive standards. Already, there is a global misperception that Nigeria’s educational profile is nothing to write home about in terms of these variables: poor funding, lack of autonomy, dearth of research, unstable calendars, policy somersaults and general paucity of commitment by the government.
Intimidation by government cannot solve the problem—it will only fuel the crisis. The unfortunate aspect of the whole matter is that it is the masses who cannot afford to send their children abroad for studies that will continue to bear the brunt of this current muscle flexing between the government and ASUU. The country has once again been thrown into a rash of avoidable strikes from two major sectors of our national life. First this time round was the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), followed by the ASUU.
One common thread runs through all the agitations by these pressure groups: non-implementation of agreements reached by the disputants either with their employers or the federal government. It is regrettable, to say the least, that parties to a resolution renege so easily without qualms which culminate in the resort to strikes. This is as far as the general scenario goes.
It is pertinent to also look at what gives rise to the demands by unions and professional bodies, the management of the issues raised, what accounts for not keeping to promises based on agreements and whether indeed strike is the last option in addressing sore areas vis à vis its socio-economic consequences on our national life in its entirety.
We believe that strike should not be a weapon for addressing industrial matters because it is an ill-wind that does not blow anyone any good. Rather, most times, it complicates issues without any solutions amid soured relationship instead of critical harmony. In the same breath, once an agreement is reached, it behoves signatories to such decisions to show responsibility by complying with the provisions of the accord.
As we have had cause in the past to say, we also do not believe that strike should be deployed at the slightest opportunity. There are other noble mechanisms for the management of industrial disagreements. Calling out workers as a strategy for ensuring compliance with demands has proved to be deleterious over time. It is always better to talk things over than adopting wild-cat measures that turn out to be unproductive at the end of the day. Strikes, if need be, should a last-resort strategy when all other mediatory interventions had failed.
In the case of the academic unions, their agitations had always bordered on funding, autonomy, infrastructural deficiency and government’s educational policy somersaults, The latest addition to the long list of usual demands is the non-payment of “earns allowance”, which represents extra payment for lecturers who supervise postgraduate students in addition to their main lectureship assignments. As we stated above, if government had accepted to pay this special allowance, why back out or hesitate? It is more honourable not to agree on issues for good reasons and not to sign agreements with clear eyes only to default! It shows irresponsibility in the act of governance. On the other hand, too, while the matter subsists, it is not tangible enough to warrant work stoppage by lecturers and disruption of academic calendar with all the dire consequences for all stakeholders.
With regard to NUPENG, we equally do not understand why oil companies should similarly break conventions entered into with oil workers which result in strikes. If, as NUPENG alleged, that there is an agreement to regularize casual workers’ status after six months of engagement, why should oil companies foot-drag on such a clear matter? This fundamental employer-employee relationship should be expressly stated and clear to both parties from the outset and should not be a source of dispute at all.
We also do not comprehend the allege refusal of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners to implement the signed collective bargaining agreement with petroleum tanker drivers, a development that contributed to the recent three-day warning strike by NUPENG. There is the issue of bad roads amid governmental nonchalance and non-attendance of NUPENG-convened stakeholder meetings by oil and gas companies for the resolution of mutual issues.
We call on ASUP, ASUU, NUPENG and the federal government to show maturity and concern for the country in the management of all the contentious issues. Dishonouring of agreements and embarking on strikes are antithetical to our national growth.
This intervention will end with an extract from the chairman of the University of Ibadan chapter of ASUU, Dr. Deji Omole, in his reaction to FG’s asphyxiating no-work-no-pay rule: “We have passed this road before. It is a familiar terrain which we can navigate with our eyes closed. We shall triumph any attempt to destroy the common patrimony. The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”