■ Students beg FG to stop impending strike
By Sam Otti
Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) sent shockwaves across public universities in the country recently when they accused the Federal Government of failing to remit N605billion outstanding Needs Assessment Intervention as at the third quarter of 2016. Like a war drum that never sounds in vain, public universities have been disquieted by the union’s claim that parts of the 2009 ASUU/FGN Agreement have not been implemented.
Some students told Campus Sun that ASUU’s jeremiad presages an imminent crisis, considering the union’s penchant for industrial action whenever peaceful negotiation with the Federal Government collapses. They warned that another round of strike would be an irredeemable mistake that could provoke unrest in the nation’s ivory towers. Others maintained that another strike would strangle public universities and bring afresh the harrowing experiences of the six-month strike action of 2013, which frustrated many final year students and increased massive brain drain of seasoned scholars to foreign universities.
Rising from her National Executive Council (NEC) meeting at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, ASUU shouted from the rooftop, warning the nation of the cheerless situation in the nation’s universities. The union said Nigerian universities are sinking in financial crisis, with budgetary allocation to education sector dropping from 11 percent in 2015 to mere eight per cent in 2016.
ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, accused the Federal Government of violating the 2009 Agreement with impunity, with a staggering N128 billion arrears in Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) within three years of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding.
Ogunyemi explained that several aspects of the 2009 Agreement were yet to be implemented. He noted that out of the N30 billion disbursed in 2013, only N13b went into partly settling the claims of academic staff in the universities. According to him, government’s reluctance to implement the regime of allowances and other aspects of the 2009 Agreement has ignited fire of agitation on campus, which could lead to dire consequences.
Ogunyemi ruled out fears of an immediate strike, stressing that the union would only make such decision after wide consultation. However, he urged the government to douse the tension, otherwise ASUU should not be blamed.
“What we are doing now is to tell Nigerians what our members are saying. And they are saying that they are running out of patience. If their patience gets to the boiling point and they can no longer contain that, they will tell us what they do. At this stage, we have only been aggregating and articulating opinions and feelings of our members,” he added.
The union strongly condemned the shortfall in personnel emoluments of its members, who render full services in their universities but receive fraction of their salaries. The lecturers said such an approach was a recipe for disaster in universities and urged the government to reverse the trend.
The union also condemned the implementation of Treasury Single Account (TSA) in universities, noting that it has made it difficult for universities to draw research grant, run programmes based on endowment funds and transfer funds earmarked for staff development. The lecturers vowed to resist the continued implementation of TSA in universities.
The ASUU President also decried the infrastructural decay in state universities in the country, which he said were parts of the issues addressed in the 2009 negotiation and subsequent FG/ASUU Agreement. He said many state governments have refused to fully implement the provisions of the agreement.
He further explained that some state governments that failed to fulfill their obligations towards their existing universities went ahead to establish new ones. Citing Edo, Ondo and Bayelsa states, he said one common thread that runs through the story of the so- called world-class universities was their location in communities where the founding governors came from. According to him, establishing new universities in their hometowns has become a constitutency project for these governors.
The union urged the National Universities Commission to stop licensing more state universities, especially where a state is struggling to fund the existing ones.
Ogunyemi said the adoption of the World Bank/IMF sponsored neo-liberal policy of privatization and deregulation has brought massive devalue of the naira to N395 for a dollar. The union advised the government to adopt an alternative economic system.
ASUU also condemned the appointment of the former Vice Chancellor, University of Ilorin, Prof Ishaq Oloyede as the Registrar, Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), describing him as anti-democratic.
ASUU said its members would not attend any meeting where Prof Oloyede would be present, warning that his antecedents towards the union preclude him from heading a unit like JAMB, where he would interact with ASUU directly or through members of the union.
The union also alleged that the National Pension Commission’s (PENCOM) erected roadblocks to frustrate the registration of the Nigerian University Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO).
ASUU further demanded the release of the white papers on the special visitation exercise to eight federal universities and two polytechnics. “The committees have completed their work and reports of the investigation submitted to the Federal Government for upward of eight months. Our union was very vocal in demanding for investigation into the atrocities being perpetrated in these universities,” he explained.
Reacting to the development, a 300-level student of Delta State University, Abraka, Chenube Ejiroghene Emmanuel, pleaded with the Federal Government to honour the pact with ASUU, noting that an irretrievable breakdown of the 2009 Agreement would spill forth immeasurable suffering among students in public universities.
He called for a timely intervention to save the situation before it snowballs into a major crisis. According to him, the frequent disruption in academic calendar encourages Nigerian students to seek admission in universities in neighbouring African countries.
From the Northeast, Adewole Adebusayo, 300 level, University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), urged the government not to dismiss ASUU’s grievances with a wave of hand. According to him, reneging on the agreement entered with the union in 2009 could trigger an industrial action that would subsequently cripple the university system.
Another student of UNIMAID, Amita Jubril, urged both the Federal Government and ASUU members to return to the negotiation table for the interest of students in public universities. She warned that closing the gates of universities could open the doors of prison, with several undergraduates as convicts.
While expressing her worries, a student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Agaezi Utazi, pleaded with government to address ASUU’s agitation and allocate more funds to the education sector in order to improve the facilities for learning. She said adequate remuneration of lecturers and infrastructural uplift would improve the global ranking of Nigerian universities.
Another student, Ifeoluwa Lawal, explained that the effect of another strike in universities would be hard to bear and advise government to hasten up the process of meeting up with ASUU’s demands and possibly renegotiate.
Ifeoluwa, a student of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), said although the lecturers in her university do not participate in ASUU strike, she feels with sadness the frustration of students from other public universities that would be caught in the crossfire if ASUU members eventually return to their trenches.
In his reaction, Prince Onuoha, from the University of Lagos (UNILAG), said strike would reverse the progress of local universities, at a time when academic institutions in the world are waxing stronger in research and development. He warned that strike would do more harm to universities.