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Seven months after the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, embarked on strike, the end is not in sight.
The industrial action, which the union usually reviewed on a monthly basis, is now indefinite, with both parties not ready to shift ground.
Lumidys Blog NG reports that the development has brought confusion into the education system with a set of students, whose admission processes were concluded last year, unable to resume, whereas another set of students sat for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, this year, 2022.
With the development, two sets of new students, 2021 and 2022 are now waiting for the resumption of their academic journey in some of the universities.
According to a university worker:
“as it stands now, we have two sets of students ready to resume the academic session. Those admitted in 2021 were to resume after the second-semester examination early this year, 2022, but their dreams were cut short by the strike.
“Now, another set of students sat for the UTME this year, 2022, waiting for admission processes.
“You know that universities have been trying hard to recover from the COVID-19 lockdown, during which schools were shut down, and now we have this prolonged ASUU strike. I really don’t know how this would be handled.”
ASUU has been on strike since February 2022 over the Federal Government’s inability to meet a 2009 agreement reached with the union.
In the agreement, ASUU is asking for funds for the revitalization of universities, and payment of backlog of salaries, among others.
Since the strike, representatives of the government and the academic body had met severally to negotiate the impasse, but such meetings ended in a deadlock.
Amid the breakdown of negotiations, the Federal Government had invoked the no-work-no-pay rule against ASUU members, which now appears to be the major clog in the wheel of dialogue between both parties.
Reacting to the development, a lecturer with the Department of Curriculum and Teaching of Calabar, UNICAL, said ASUU may not engage the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government in negotiations until the next dispensation.
The lecturer, Okey Samson, recounted how his colleagues have been suffering and some are dead due to the economic hardship caused by the lingering strike.
Speaking with us, he said:
“ASUU members won’t negotiate with any government representative again until a new government comes in. When a new government comes in place, ASUU will now start engaging the government.
“In my last branch congress, our chairman said those who can travel to the village should go and farm. My head of department is into fishery now in Calabar. To be honest with you, the hardship lecturers are facing is something else; my interest in this job has waned. You see a professor trekking, you can’t knock on the door of a professor and demand N500,000, but that is what people take to clubs here in Abuja.
“There should be hope in this system; look at the value of naira now. It is so high. For anything meaningful to be achieved, there must be a sacrifice. ASUU should be applauded. It’s only the earned academic allowances which are statutory and increments that have a direct bearing on members; every other thing does not. If you talk about revitalization funds, it’s in the interest of students.
“I teach some faculty courses, and I pity students due to where to sit, no public address system; you will have to shout. ASUU is not unreasonable; it’s fighting for the students.
“ASUU is ready to consider, the body had negotiated a 180 percent increment, but the federal government at some point was ready to pay 100 percent, but things changed. They will pay ASUU the accumulated earned allowance after the meeting, earmarking the meeting of 100 percent increment, paying backlog of salaries, paying at least 50 percent of earned academic arrears and money sunk into revitalization, which no member would benefit from, but we don’t know what changed that government is no longer interested.
“For the middle ground, they must pay that salary they have refused to pay; the government quoted international labour law, but what about human rights, which is fundamental?
“No refinery in Nigeria is working, but their workers have been receiving heavy salaries; their pay package is better than what they are paying ASUU. Government must pay the salaries owed ASUU members, implement the new salary scale of at least 100 percent increment, pay 50 percent of the old earned academic arrears, and do the revitalization as they can before universities open. If the government refuses, universities will not open, lecturers have died, and others will also die.”
The lecturer insisted that the Federal Government is not interested in meeting the demands of ASUU.
He stressed that the impasse would have been resolved if the government was interested in meeting the demands of ASUU.
“Government is not interested in ASUU’s demand because it has no direct bearing on them. When the aviation union went on strike, they resolved their issues because they don’t travel via road. When electricity workers shut down the power grid for one day, they resolve the problem because it directly affects them.
“Tell me one public office holder whose son or daughter is schooling in a federal or state university in Nigeria, the ones in Nigeria are in private universities. This government appears insensitive; they don’t care.
“Hold the president responsible, Ngige, and Adamu Adamu are all answerable to him. During the birthday of Bishop Kukah, former President Goodluck Jonathan shared an experience where he set up a committee and it appeared things were not working he stepped in and invited the minister of Finance and others, the strike that lasted for four months then was resolved that night. But, I don’t know if Buhari is reasoning well, even as ASUU is saying they are not ready to meet with anybody; let the president as a father step in and resolve the issue. My colleagues don’t have food; they don’t have Garri to sip.”
Speaking on the issue, ASUU branch Chairman in UNICAL, Edor Edor, said the body is open to negotiation with the Federal Government.
Edor said the academic body would call off whenever the government is ready to implement the report of Professor Briggs.
“We are open to negotiations with the Federal Government of Nigeria, and whenever the government deems it fit to invite ASUU for negotiation, we will attend the meeting and see how to resolve the lingering issues.
“It will be suspended as soon as the government implements the professor Briggs report,” he added.
The branch Chairman also stressed that the Buhari-led government should be held responsible for the lingering strike.
“The president, Minister of Labour and Employment, and the Minister of Education are all government officials representing the Nigerian people. The president was voted in by the Nigerian people and is holding the Nigerian people’s mandate.
“He appointed the Ministers of Labour and Employment and Education to assist in the discharge of the responsibility of governance, so we are holding the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria responsible, we are not personalizing this action.
“We can’t hold Ngige, Adamu Adamu responsible, but we are holding the Federal Government-led by Muhammadu Buhari responsible,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has said it agreed to a 23 percent increment in the salary of the university workers, a condition rejected by ASUU.
As a way of re-opening the discussion, the government, on Tuesday, at a meeting with pro-chancellors and vice-chancellors of universities, constituted a 14-member committee, to among others, review its decision not to pay the striking lecturers for the period they have been at home and other contending issues.
It is left to be seen what would come out of the committee.