By Ifeanyi Maduako
The impasse between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government is not a matter that should be resolved by the National Industrial Court. Even if the courts were to intervene, they should give orders for the Federal Government of Nigeria to comply with the agreement reached with ASUU in 2009 and not to direct ASUU to return to work in a most unhappy condition.
The recent order handed down on ASUU by the National Industrial Court does not bode well for peaceful resolution of the crisis. The Federal Government has doubled down on its recalcitrance by insisting on a no-work-no-pay policy. The government says that it would not pay ASUU the arrears of seven months salaries since the union shut down tools in February. How do the National Industrial Court and the Federal Government expect a hungry and frustrated ASUU to return to the classroom in empty stomach? How do they expect ASUU to give their best teaching in this aggrieved and frustrated state of mind? Which human being or civil servant would give his/her best services in a frustrated, despondent, dejected and hungry state of mind?
How could the National Industrial Court order ASUU to return to the classroom while the substantive matter may linger in the various courts for years without resolution? The danger inherent in the Federal Government’s no-work-no-pay policy is that future governments may allow ASUU to go on strike for years so that the government would evade the payment of salaries for the period the strike may last. The Federal Government should be compelled to pay ASUU so that successive governments will be wary of allowing ASUU strike to linger for months knowing full well that the government must pay the salaries whether ASUU teaches or not.
Is it not a shame that the government is reluctant to implement the agreement reached with ASUU since 2009? The value of money at the time was not the same with its value today. In a saner clime, the government should be talking about increasing the level of agreement from that of 2009 to the present realities of 2022 because the value of the Nigerian currency has depreciated for the worst in Nigeria’s history.
Take for instance, assuming the agreement of 2009 pegged the minimum wage for the lowest level ASUU member at N30,000 in 2009, this minimum wage negotiation at the time could buy a bag of rice for N5,000 with a balance of N25,000 for other essential needs of that salary earner. But today, that minimum agreement of N30,000 entered in 2009 cannot buy a bag of rice let alone other needs of that lowest level ASUU member.
Therefore, ASUU is even considering demanding for the implementation of the 2009 agreement instead of seeking for a fresh or upward review of the 2009 negotiation.
The Federal Government must pay ASUU the seven months arrears of salaries.
On the part of ASUU, they should know that education is just one of the various sectors of the economy, even as important as it is. Therefore, other sectors are seeking attention as well. So, the ASUU leadership and members should reach a compromise level with the Federal Government and end this protracted strike.
Education is the mother of all sectors because it’s from education that other professions are derived, but health, infrastructure, other sectors are also very important. If the government gives ASUU 100 per cent of its demand, other sectors would also demand for their own agreement or negotiation with the government.
Granted that past and present governments have been plagued by massive corruption, but the government is faced with many competing needs that require attention.
ASUU should be ready to accept at least 50 or 60 per cent of their demands to call off this strike.
ASUU should be ready to accept the old salary structure for the seven months it has been on strike while the new agreement should take effect from January next year. The Nigerian government has been receiving the Abacha loot since 1998 till date. If the government has been altruistic, the Abacha loot should have been enough to fix both the education and health sectors, after all this recovered loot was never budgeted or expected.
Telling Nigerians that the Abacha loot would be channeled to the construction of roads when ASUU has been on strike since February is deceitful.
*Maduako, writes from Owerri