By Oji Odu
Why must government only understand the language of strikes and election? Why is it that it is only within this period that government listens and tries to be people oriented? And why should it be that it is only at this period that actions of Nigerians make government to either do the right things or repair damages?
The recent agreement by Federal Government to pay the N30,000 new minimum wage as agreed between it and organised labour is one of the cases in the Nigerian history as labour had threatened to embark on an indefinite strike and shutdown the nation in order to make sure that the 2019 elections do not hold.
The Magazine’s findings reveal that had government called labour’s bluff, the country would have been grounded for N30,000 minimum wage which it could pay. Nigeria would have been thrown into deeper crisis because the fuel situation would have worsened, nobody would be able to fly because of non operational aviation sector, the schools would be closed with the out of the classrooms, thereby leaving helpless and vulnerable students to loiter the streets, which would definitely increase the rate of vices in the society.
Unfortunately, the lecturers under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have continued their strike even when other members of organised labour had called off theirs. The body is pressing for government to honour its 2009 agreement to provide about N1.5 trillion to fund the higher institutions spread over three years from 2009-2012.
From ASUU’s body language and utterances, they have made it abundantly clear to anyone who cares to listen that they are ready to continue the strike even if it takes years. They insist that their decision was taken in a bid to revitalise the rotting Nigerian universities.
The 2009 agreement stated that all federal universities would require a total sum of N1.5 trillion spread over three years (2009-2011) to address the rot and decay in the universities. However, in the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, signed between the union and the government in 2012, FG decided to extend the gesture to include both federal and state universities.
After the 2012 review, it was agreed that instead of N1.5 trillion, FG would infuse a total of N1.3 trillion into the universities over four years. It is now six years down the line, FG has refused to fulfill its end of the bargain. Rather than respond to the issues raised by ASUU which would ensure quick resolution to the issue, government boycotted ASUU to summon a meeting with Pro-Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors of universities, offering them N130billion with a matching order to lecturers to resume work immediately. But the union is insists that by throwing money at universities in that manner, government has dishonoured the 2009 agreement it entered freely with the union and the 2012 MoU.
In a bid to encourage ASUU to call off its nationwide strike it embarked upon on Sunday, the federal government has, again, promised to release N20 billion to the Union and to encourage it to return to the negotiation table.
Speaking on the issue, Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu attributed the delay in meeting some of the demands projected by ASUU on weak financial base of the federal government, noting that previous administrations made bogus promises to the academic unions when the economy was quite buoyant, and when there was oil boom.
National President of ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi had buttressed the necessity of the strike when he said the release of a paltry N20 billion revitalisation fund was despite the fact that the same government released N1.3 trillion to a distressed bank recently.
Ogunyemi also argued that the government was not interested in public universities as the children of the top politicians and rich men in the society patronise private universities at the detriment of public institutions.
The Magazine’s investigations reveal that University students, especially those in final year do not see the strike funny, although they sympathise with the lecturers and support their fight. “We are the ones that will suffer the whole thing. With our parents struggling to pay our fees and upkeep, any extension or delay would spell disaster. Government should do something to improve the educational sector and stop this strike,” Adeola Banjo, a final year student of University of Lagos (UNILAG) told the Magazine.
In a similar vein, Faith Udom, also a UNILAG student regretted the situation which she described as ‘a shame to Nigeria’. She opined that if the strike is allowed to elongate, “whenever we are called back, everything will be rushed. This is why we will continue to have half-baked graduates,” she added.
But, Professor Msuh Kembe, Vice Chancellor, Benue State University (BSU), lamented that the ‘incessant’ strikes by ASUU was rather crippling university education in the country, regretting that the incessant industrial action was already affecting academic calendar of universities.
“Let me emphasis here that due to ongoing strike by ASUU, we have asked our students to go back home and this will surely truncate academic calendar of the university.
“The random strike is causing a lot of disservice to Nigerian Universities because in one of the requirements of assessing the standard of the university is the presence of foreign students.
“For instance, when a student is coming from Ghana to study in Nigeria, let us say for two years course, he is expected to to spend the two years and go away but this is no longer the case, this is causing disservice to the universities, particularly, the public universities.
He, however, called on Federal Government to resolve its issues with the ASUU so as to save tertiary institutions from academic decadence.
For Johnson Kaliwo, a political analyst: “ The whole scenario that it is only during election period that government can do things rightly or are forced to do right shows that we have selfish leaders in this our country. It is a pathetic situation which did not start with this administration. Nigerians need to rise up more otherwise we are in real trouble, because this breeds corruption.”
With organised labour getting the new N30,000 minimum wage, ASUU pushing for the implementation of the 2009 N1.5 trillion funding of both federal and state universities and the 2012 MoU, who will next to agitate for government to right another wrong before the 2019 general election? Time will tell.