That the Academic Staff Union of Universities has been on another round of strike action for almost seven months now is no news. What is news, however, is the inability of government, a progressive government for that matter, to have acted quickly to address the causes of the strike action. The current strike action, like others before it, was caused because of government’s insensitivity to the sorry-state of public university system.
ASUU has drawn the attention of government to the poor state of infrastructure, poor condition of service, shortage of manpower which has occasioned excess workload and payment of earned academic allowances and the need to make money available to revitilise the system, among other legitimate demands.
There is also the fact that the agreement the government signed with the Union, with a condition for periodic renewal, was due for renewal. ASUU, in its previous meetings with government, had agreed to an MOU and an MOA to show its understanding with government’s position that it would look for money and be responsible to its obligations to public universities.
Unknown to the Union, however, government was not committed to actually implementing any of its promises. The government has also gone ahead to introduce a payment platform IPPIS which the Union saw as not being in line with the autonomy public universities enjoy.
It promised to come up with what it considered good to address the peciliarity of universities. With the understanding that government would appreciate the gesture, UTAS was developed and presented to government. In spite of several meetings with government, it is increasing becoming very clear that government is not to be trusted. Yet, the gates of public universities have been shut for this while and there is no hope that they will be opened soon.
While ASUU members have been on the receiving end and have been subjected to stoppage of their salaries for several months, other workers in the public service have been looking on helplessly as if there is nothing that they can do to show solidarity with ASUU. I am aware that ASUU is an affliate of the Nigerian Labour Congress, a congress to which JOHESU, NMA, NBA, NUPENG, PENGASSAN and several others are affiliated.
My worry is why have these unions not identified with the cause of ASUU in fighting for their children and wards in public universities? A question that comes to my mind is that do these Nigerians feel that it is ASUU members’ interest alone that the Union is fighting? Can it be said that the umbrella body, NLC, is waiting for invitation from ASUU before it lends a hand in the current struggle?
I have raised these posers and asked questions because of the fact that I know the combined effect that these unions, who are major stakeholders in the business of university education in Nigeria, will help the government to quickly come to terms with the seriousness of the current ASUU struggle. While the government can vacilate on the way it is handling the issues bothering on the well being on public universities the way it is doing with ASUU, I do not think it will do that when all the unions come together to give it ultimatum on the matter.
The way the govetnment held meetings with NLC and others during the planned labour and civil society organisations combined ultimatum to government on increase of the pump price of petrol and electricity tarrif increase recently comes to bind here. I feel strongly that if every Nigerian sees the battle that ASUU is fighting as a battle for them and join forces with ASUU, government will be more forthcoming in ensuring that adequate attention is paid to the demand of ASUU and that will fast-track the quick resolution of the crisis.
Can the leadership of ASUU cultivate the support of these other unions and civil society organisations in its current struggle with government? Though ignorance and lack of education will not kill an individial suddenly like Ebola and Covid-19, no serious government should toil with the education of its people because of the implication of that on the nation in the foreseeable future. Nigeria cannot afford to shut the gates of its public universities any further, particularly under a government that claims to be pro-people and progressive.
Clement O. O. Kolawole writes from University of Ibadan
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