The continuation of the strike by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) despite moves to settle the industrial dispute is not in the best interest of the nation’s university education system. It is inimical to teaching and learning. It is sad that the strike has entered the 7th month and there is no sign yet that the impasse is going to be resolved soon. The strike has adversely affected the academic programmes of students in the nation’s public universities. The indefinite strike is not in favour of the varsity teachers and other workers in the system, including those who do businesses in the campuses. The striking teachers had not received their salaries since February 14, 2022, when the industrial action commenced.
Strike is harmful to the teaching/learning process, as well as research and community service which varsity teachers claim they also do while on strike. It has also, directly and indirectly, led to brain drain and education tourism. It was based on the foregoing that the Federal Government, after several failed attempts to resolve the contentious issues, approached the National Industrial Court (NIC), Abuja, to decide on the matter. Specifically, the government in the application asked for an interlocutory order to compel ASUU to call off its 7-month strike. On September 21, the NIC sitting in Abuja, ordered ASUU to call off the strike and return to the classroom, in the interim, until the substantive suit before the court is determined. ASUU, through its lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has appealed against the ruling.
Earlier move by the government to reopen the universities did not work as ASUU remained adamant. That might be the reason the Federal Government withdrew its circular ordering vice chancellors to reopen the universities. Before now, some prominent Nigerians, including the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar II, and Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had urged ASUU to call off the protracted strike so that the students can return to classes.
ASUU should listen to these Nigerians and parents who also bear the brunt of the strike and call it off. ASUU should be willing enough to consider the offers made by the Federal Government and resolve the matter through dialogue and compromise. The prolongation of the strike can no longer be justifiable.
We believe that the court order is a soft landing for ASUU to call off the strike, which, hopefully, will hasten the resolution of all outstanding issues. Since ASUU has not vacated the order by NIC to call off the strike and resume work, the association should comply, to show that it respects the rule of law. ASUU must not see this move as a sign of weakness or capitulation but as a marker of strength. The strike option in settling ASUU strike has been overused and even abused. There must be an end to the ongoing strike before the nation’s university system is destroyed. This is about the 17th strike by ASUU since the inception of the current democratic dispensation in 1999.
Therefore, there is urgent need for a paradigm shift in settling industrial dispute. As researchers of repute, varsity teachers must come up with non-disruptive strategies in resolving disputes of this nature. Strike should no longer be contemplated in view of its deleterious effect on varsity education. The usual argument by ASUU that varsity teachers will make up for lost time is no longer feasible and defensible when the strike has lasted for over seven months.
On its part, the Federal Government should also demonstrate the willingness to really end the industrial action by prioritising varsity education. It should not see the NIC ruling as a victory. Let government use it as another window to finally resolve the matter in a win-win situation.
Also, government should think of pragmatic funding models for public universities, including granting them full autonomy so that they can charge appropriate fees for their services. Nevertheless, the universities should be nurtured to be centres of academic excellence and world-class researches and not for profit and frequent strikes.
ASUU and government must stop politicising the strike and settle this matter amicably. They should not toy with the future of millions of Nigerian students. However, it is doubtful that the ASUU/FG impasse will be effectively resolved by both parties being adamant to their demands or through the courts. The matter can be quickly resolved through a third party mediator, an alternative dispute resolution mechanism and ultimately negotiation.