Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) began a one-month warning strike on Monday February 14, 2022 to compel the federal government to honour the agreement it signed with the union under a Memorandum of Action (MoA) in December 2020. Two years after ASUU suspended the 9-months strike it embarked upon in February 2020, the federal government had not fulfilled a single promise in the agreement it signed. The pact include renegotiation of the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement, deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) in place of IPPIS, payment of Earned Academic Allowance (EAA), settling promotion arrears and withheld salaries of its members, and addressing the non-remittance of third-party deductions.
Few weeks into ASUU’s warning strike, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, on Monday March 7, 2022 inaugurated a 7-man committee under the chairmanship of Prof Nimi Briggs, Pro-Chancellor of the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, to renegotiate the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement even though a previous committee of this nature had, under the chairmanship of Prof Munzali Jibril, carried out the renegotiation and had a draft Agreement pending since May 2021. ASUU, which has a lot of respect for Malam Adamu Adamu which no education minister had hither enjoyed from the union owing to his unreserved proactive stance, expressed surprise when the new committee was given three months to submit its report even as ASUU’s warning strike was only to last for one month.
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Many Nigerians insinuated that the 3-months period defined by government for the new committee to complete its assignment was that it did not matter to it how long ASUU remained on strike. If it really made a difference, government wouldn’t have given the new committee 3-months for the assignment knowing very well that the renegotiation of the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement is a major aspect of the demands for which ASUU proceeded on the warning strike, and without which resolution, the warning strike would not be suspended.
On Monday March 14, 2022, the then one-month-old warning was rolled over for another two months; extending the period of the strike to three months. Osodeke blamed the Union’s decision on the insincerity of those representing and speaking for government. Thus, ASUU felt government probably needed enough time and hence, announced further extension of the strike.
Explaining why it has been difficult for ASUU and the federal government to reach a compromise on the lingering industrial action, the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, said at a press conference in Ilorin to mark the 40th anniversary of the Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS) said ASUU strike involved dispute of rights and dispute of interests. He said “It is embarrassing for a professor to be receiving N350, 000 as monthly salary”; adding that he fully supports proper wages for lecturers, which is an issue of right.
It is time the President realized that some government officials who should be sincere as they represent him and national interest do not actually care about how the negotiations ended. Rather than resolve the industrial dispute, the public utterances of some of his appointees only seek to worsen it. For instance, Dr. Chris Ngige as the (out-gone, out-going or serving) Minister of Labour and Employment said university lecturers are on leave because their strike is illegal. He also recently accused the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, of not being forthcoming in dialoguing with ASUU; adding that he is only a mediator in the matter. Ngige’s brazen sophistry few weeks ago on the NTA programme, Tuesday Live, where he featured along with ASUU President Emmanuel Esodeke, demonstrated former’s incompetence, immaturity and insensitivity as a public officer.
Even when you have honest officials representing government, they have their limitations especially where some of the issues concern finance. This may explain why all recent prolonged ASUU strikes were resolved only with the direct intervention of Mr. President. A fast resolution of the on-going ASUU strike would, thus, require President Muhammadu Buhari’s direct intervention. For the same reason, former Presidents Obasanjo, Yar’adua and Jonathan (who chaired a 13-hour meeting with ASUU where the Union’s executive members refused to drink the water offered them at the presidential villa) each had to dialogue directly with ASUU.
Although President Buhari had also held meetings with ASUU in the past, it has again reached a point that requires his direct intervention, which this writer believes would end the on-going strike. Besides, Nigerians expect him, as a leader with whom the buck stops, to take responsibility for whatever happens to the country’s wellbeing including education. Buhari should not ignore ASUU when situation called for his intervention.
While ASUU may be humbled by appeals from respectable Nigerians, it’s unconventional even in the purest world of modesty and un-African too for a President to beg his country’s citizens over a matter that he holds ‘the meat and knife’ in his hands. In Igbo culture in Nigeria, it’s considered a recipe for curse when an elder begs a younger person. This writer humbly appeals to President Buhari to, in the overall national interest; invite ASUU with a view to addressing all issues in concrete terms no matter how many hours or days it would take. Buhari’s support for ASUU’s resolve to make this strike the last in its history of industrial actions would remain one of the precious legacies of his administration. Indeed, ASUU is tired of embarking on strikes as much as government and Nigerians also seem to be fed up. May Allah guide us out of all our critical national challenges including ASUU strike, amin.