The extension of the lingering strike in the universities by another four weeks is an indication that the Federal Government (FG) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are insensitive to the plight of varsity students and the development of university education. The seeming unwillingness of both parties to resolve the industrial action is regrettable.
According to the National Executive Council (NEC) of ASUU, the union took the decision following the failure of the FG to meet with its demands. On the part of ASUU, the extension of the strike by four weeks is to enable the government and the striking union to resolve all the outstanding issues. The unfortunate closure of the nation’s public universities for almost six months stems from the failure of the government to honour all agreements reached with ASUU as well as lacking the will to address issues raised in the 2020 FGN/ASUU Memorandum of Action (MOA).
The decision to extend the strike is unfortunate and will further lower the quality of Nigerian varsity graduates and our human capital development index. With the extension, the face-off has entered the sixth month. The strike began on February 14 following the failure of the Federal Government to renegotiate the agreement it signed with ASUU in 2009, the demand by the teachers for the replacement of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) with the ASUU version known as the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), as the preferred payment platform in the university system. The university teachers have maintained that IPPIS has never been implemented in any university system anywhere in the world, arguing that it will shut the door against foreign scholars, contract staff and researchers to be poached from the existing universities to stabilise new ones.
But the Federal Government has insisted that the IPPS, which will ensure transparency in the system, is neither intended to remove university autonomy nor designed to subsume the university into the civil service. The prolongation of ASUU strike does not bode well for the students, the varsity teachers and the nation’s universities. Besides, the impasse will further stall research in the universities and affect the quality of instruction. With the strike, the academic calendar in the varsities is no longer predictable. It is sad that a programme that normally takes four years can now take up to six years or more to complete. In all of this, the youths, the adjudged leaders of tomorrow, are the major victims. Therefore, we sympathise with the students and their parents that are bearing the brunt of the avoidable strike. This is one industrial action too many. We implore the FG and ASUU to quickly resolve all the outstanding issues in the negotiation within the one-month period and ensure that the students return to the campuses. They cannot continue to stay at home because of government’s lack of political will to end the strike.
Let the government start the implementation of some of the agreements it entered with ASUU as a show of goodwill and its preparedness to end the strike. Asking the striking teachers to resume when the government has not done anything meaningful to resolve the industrial action is hypocritical. At the same time, we urge ASUU to be flexible in its approach to the outstanding issues. The indefinite closure of the universities on account of the strike is not good for ASUU. Instead of strike, ASUU should evolve a new strategy, a non-disruptive approach, in resolving any trade dispute with the government. Strike can only be deployed when other approaches must have been exhausted.
Though a legitimate instrument of expressing grievances by workers, strike can also be counterproductive if abused. Dialogue remains the best way to resolve the crisis in the universities.
Nigeria cannot afford the prolongation of the strike in the universities. In 2020, nine months were wasted on strike by the lecturers. The ongoing industrial action has entered the sixth month. Some months were also lost during the restrictions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cumulatively, the university system has lost two academic sessions due to the closure. Let FG and ASUU use the one-month period to wrap up all negotiations and end the strike. The strike must not be allowed to be interminable. In the interest of the students, the varsity teachers and the government should end the strike forthwith.
Though Nigerians understand and appreciate the demands of the lecturers, they should not stress it to the point of losing their support. We call on other stakeholders to wade into the crisis and ensure that it is resolved once and for all. President Muhammadu Buhari should demonstrate enough political will to end the strike.