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Abigail Anaba: On ASUU: Is this strike action still justified?

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Abigail Anaba: On ASUU: Is this strike action still justified?

by Abigail Anaba

There has been a long running battle between the Nigerian government and the Academic Staff union of Universities (ASUU) over the years. From the days of military rule, ASUU has always used strike actions to force the government to meet demands.

READ:  #TheScoopDebates: Should The ASUU Strike Continue Until FG Bends? (Join The Conversation)

The latest imbroglio is based on an agreement purportedly reached between the federal government and ASUU in 2009 and signed by the Federal Government on the 24th of January 2012. Unfortunately, finding a copy of this agreement has been more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack.

However, the following demands by ASUU in 2009 could well provide insights into what the possible content of the agreement was. ASUU demanded:

  1. Funding to help revitalize Nigerian universities
  2. Establishment of NUPEMCO (Nigerian Universities Pension Management Committee)
  3. Progressive increase of education budgetary allocation to 26% by 2020
  4. Payment of earned allowances
  5. Upward review of pension/retirement age for professors to 70 years
  6. Reinstatement of Governing Councils dissolved prematurely
  7. Transfer of Federal Government landed properties to Universities
  8. Setting up of Research development Council and providing research equipment for universities
  9. Federal Government Assistance to State universities

As it is, there are only two issues that have not been resolved from the said agreement:

  1. Injection of funds to revitalize Nigerian universities (N400 Billion annually)
  2. Payment of earned allowances. (N92 Billion in owed allowances)

Of the N400 billion, government is offering 100 billion. ASUU is finding this a hard pill to swallow as 400 billion over the last 3 years should have yielded 1.2 trillion naira. 100 billion seems like a drop in the ocean. Also government has offered 30 billion of the 92 billion accrued allowances which is less than a third of what is expected.  This offer has been on the table since August but ASUU does not seem interested in it.

Yet, in a press conference held in August 2013, ASUU has this to say about the 2012 MoU:

“With the coming of the MoU in January 2012, Government promised “to stimulate the process of revitalizing the university system with an initial sum of N100 billion for 2012 which will be built up to a yearly sum of N400 billion in the next three (3) years (2013-2015) as intervention”

The N100 Billion government is now offering ASUU seems to be in line with this 2012 agreement. Yet, ASUU is not happy that government hopes to “divert the regular yearly allocations to universities by TETFund to make at least 70% of the N100 billion”.  Also, ASUU sees this as short of the 800 billion that should have accrued between 2012 and 2013. (I am still unsure if this math is totally correct) if the agreement was an initial sum of 100 billion in 2012 and a yearly 400 billion, then government should actually be owing 400 billion for 2013, not so? Plus what does the agreement say about when these funds will be released and where the funds will come from?

As with every dispute, people are wont to take sides. Certainly, no one would fault ASUU for seeking more injection of funds into the university system. Education costs money; funding is essential. It also does seem like the government is being insincere. If indeed a document had been signed just last year that agreed to certain terms, what really is the governments excuse for not keeping to the agreement?

The government is asking for a renegotiation of terms. The claim is that government cannot afford to meet ASUU’s demands. ASUU claims that as long as government did not sign the document under duress, it should not be requesting a renegotiation of the 2009 agreement. I am not a lawyer, but it could be argued that strike actions are a weapon of fear and if you threatened someone with a strike action and said, ‘if you do not sign this we will not go back to work’, they could be said to have signed under duress, no?

Yet, the question remains: can the government realistically meet ASUU’s demands?

Again, it depends on who you ask. ASUU seems to believe so. In the press conference held in August 2013 it was stated :

“How could the same Federal Government that, within the last three years, generously supported private concerns like the Airlines and Banks with trillions of Naira from the public vaults as “bail outs” suddenly turn round to say it has no fund to conscientiously revitalise its own public universities? The Government largesse which was extended to the Nollywood is also still fresh in our memory. Again, we ask, why should the funding of education, and university education for that matter, continue to be treated with levity?” ASUU and others that support ASUU have also pointed out that political office holders seem to earn so much more and so government should give them what they want.

When I hear these kinds of defenses, it sounds like ASUU is simply asking for its own share of the ‘National Cake’. It sounds like a child who is jealous because his father bought his older brother a toy and therefore is demanding that he too must get what he wants. Of course, it may not logically follow that because your father could afford to buy your sibling a toy, he should be able to afford to buy you one too.

Or perhaps ASUU is actually alluding to the fact that they seem to fall below airlines, banks and Nollywood in the Nigerian scale of preference. If I do understand the term bail out correctly, it is a loan offered to a company which faces bankruptcy or serious financial challenges to enable it either regain its footing. I doubt that ASUU actually qualifies for a bailout package.  Is ASUU asking for a loan that it will later repay? Has the development in the education sector been commensurate with the government investment in it so far?

Perhaps, ASUU should put certain things in perspective.  ASUU claims that “the key to the development of any nation is its education”, I agree.  However, I personally disagree that “university education is the master key”. The foundation is the master key and that foundation is basic education. If there is a level of education that should be issuing the level of threats ASUU is issuing by virtue of importance, it is the primary schools.  It is funny, that NUT is not agitating for improvement in quality of education from their various state governments, and instead they were touting an ASUU solidarity strike!

Yes indeed, “the greatness of every country is determined by the quality of its education”. Isn’t it really about time ASUU became more concerned about the quality of students it is fed from the foundational levels of learning? Even if the Federal Government gave ASUU all the money it is demanding, would this really improve the Nigerian education system? Isn’t it time, the burden of funding tertiary education is unbundled so that other stakeholders can participate in it? Are the other countries Nigeria strives to reach her level of education wholly funded by government? Do they return to government each year making demands of government and downing tools when their demands are not met? Why is ASUU not seeking funds and grants from their alumni and the corporate world like tertiary institutions in other lands? Already, the proceeds from education tax is going to tertiary education. According to the government spokesperson, the N400 Billion yearly that ASUU is seeking is outside of the Tetfund. Another question: if ASUU did not have strikes at its disposal, how would it get funding for tertiary education?

It seems to me that none of these bodies, not even the government seems ready to address the problems facing education in Nigeria. They are bent on cosmetic changes while the rot deepens. The way things are now, no one is really fighting for real changes in the education sector. If real change is to come, the conversation needs to change to reflect that. Perhaps, what we really need is a national dialogue on education.

PS: After sending in this article, the proverbial needle was exposed courtesy of this blog post by Feyi Fawehinmi. Perhaps after reading the content of the 2009 agreement you will ask yourself again: Who is ASUU really fighting for?

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