The present industrial peace in the nation’s public universities must not be disrupted by the rift occasioned by the payment of half salary to university teachers for the month of October. The lecturers, under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), suspended their eight-month strike in October following the order by the Court of Appeal and the National Industrial Court as well as the intervention of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and other notable Nigerians.
While suspending the strike, the President of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, said: “The issues that led to the eight-month strike are yet to be satisfactorily addressed.” And some weeks after the strike, the issues have not been addressed.
Although the Federal Government through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, had explained that the varsity teachers were paid pro-rata, that is for the days they worked, the action of the government may lead to another wave of industrial action or sit-at-home by the lecturers if it is not quickly resolved. The President of ASUU has decried the new development, which, he says, amounts to casualisation of Nigerian scholars.
Without preempting the next action ASUU members will take, resorting to another strike or sit-at-home as being mooted in some quarters, is not a good option at all. We still believe that the matter can be amicably resolved. Disrupting the university calendar again will have dire consequences for the nation and the university system.
ASUU members went on strike in February this year over welfare issues, revitalisation of universities, the payment of earned academic allowances and backlog of salaries owed them and the replacement of the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS) with the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), among others.
However, Femi Gbajabiamila has appealed for calm over the half payment of their salaries by the Federal Government. He also promised that President Muhammadu Buhari will soon intervene on the matter. Earlier, the government has promised to map out N170 billion in the 2023 budget to enhance welfare package for university teachers, N300 billion revitalisation fund to improve infrastructure in federal universities. The Speaker sais: “The House of Representatives has convinced the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), the ASUU and other stakeholders to facilitate the adoption of elements of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).”
We call on ASUU members to remain calm as Speaker Gbajabiamila has promised for the intervention of the president. However, the government should quicken the pace and finally settle this matter once and for all. Nigerian teachers, especially university teachers must be treated with respect and dignity.
The application of the principle of work-to-rule as the minister of labour and employment is insisting may not apply in the universities because of the peculiar nature of their work. Those in government should consider the fate of Nigerian varsity students in taking any decision in the system that will affect them. Any disruption of the university system now may lead to nationwide protests by the students. Such protests may likely have some unpalatable consequences. That is why the Federal Government should resolve this matter without any delay. The lamentable brain drain in the sector can be traced to frequent strikes in the system. Besides, strike has encouraged education tourism.
The use of strike to settle any industrial dispute in the university system has done more harm than good. Apart from disrupting the academic calendar, it has contributed to the lowering of the quality of Nigerian university graduates. Already, some employers of labour are reportedly not comfortable with the quality of some of our varsity graduates.
Strike has been overused as a strategy in resolving trade disputes in the varsities. ASUU members should think of other strategies to resolve their welfare and other issues without resorting to strike. Therefore, everything must be done by the government to avert the looming strike in the nation’s public universities.