“It is high time we all realised that the universities do not belong to the staff unions but to the Nigerian people”.
“Lecturers are employed to teach and not dictate education policy e.g. how the university system is to be financed and whether it is better to spend more on subsidizing students to study Religious Knowledge, Linguistics or Business Administration or whether the funds should be invested in children’s healthcare or primary school education. ASUU should leave these questions to the government and Nigerian voters!”.
Today, August 14 makes it 180 days since the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on the strike that has paralysed Nigeria’s public universities. The ongoing strike is already one of the longest strikes of the union and is only three months away from becoming the longest strike ever. Here are the main issues and contours of the strike and the so-far failed negotiations to end it:
- A Failed Presidential Order: After four months, it seems someone eventually informed President Muhammadu Buhari of the strike as he, on July 19, ordered the Minister of Education to end the strike within two weeks. The following day, the president also ordered Minister of Labour Chris Ngige to step away from the negotiation process with ASUU as the union has claimed Ngige has constituted himself into a stumbling block. Sadly, neither the two-week ultimatum nor the removal of Ngige has helped and the strike continues four weeks after. Like his orders to his security chiefs, the president’s order here has failed to have the desired effect.
- 180% Salary Increase: Currently, a major demand of ASUU is a 180% salary increase the union claims the federal government has already agreed to this increase through its negotiation team led by Professor Nimi Briggs. The Briggs-led committee was tasked with renegotiating the 2009 agreement and the committee had, among its other recommendations, proposed a 180% salary increase for academic staff. If this increase is implemented and extended to nonacademic staff, the federal government would have to triple its annual budget for universities. One can be certain that this would have a domino effect that will at least double the personnel cost of the federal government as other workers are not going to just ignore such a dramatic increase for university workers. It is therefore not surprising that the government is reluctant to sign the renegotiated agreement.
- State Universities: An interesting feature of ASUU strikes that many Nigerians struggle to understand is the involvement of state universities in the strikes. While the ongoing strike is essentially a fight between federal government and employees university of the universities established and funded by the federal government, ASUU has managed to coopt state universities into the strike. The argument according to ASUU is that the public university system is one and the government must negotiate with them as such. The problem with this argument is that the federal government has no power to force state governments to implement any agreement between ASUU and the federal government. In any case, many state governments, e.g., Kaduna State, are already charging sizeable sums as school fees. Hence, there is little scope for increasing revenue to fund the lecturers’ pay rise. Nonetheless, the ASUU of Kaduna State University has joined the strike. This has led to a big crisis between the state government and the ASUU in the state. It’s hard to justify ASUU’s perennial attempt to force the federal government to fund the universities that have been independently established by state governments. What if state governments decide they are not going to pay the striking lecturers for the period they were on strike and doing no work. The blanket support for ASUU is disappearing with more Nigerians calling for a reform of the funding and governance of the university system. One of Nigeria’s Twitterati, @andrewfootie, describes ASUU’s strike as “economic sabotage”.
4. One-sided agreements: The federal government has a penchant for entertaining one-sided agreements with ASUU, starting with the 2000 agreement that promised ASUU “that the Federal and State Governments shall allocate to education a minimum of 26% of the annual budgets with effect from the 2001 budget, subject to an upward review from 2003; 50% of the 26% Annual Budget Allocation shall be allocated to the Universities.” The government eventually abandoned this proposal as it has done with proposals and agreements it has reached with ASUU. It’s important the federal government should not propose or sign any agreement it has no intention or ability to implement.
The government currently has three options, namely (1) give ASUU everything it wants as usual, and then deal with consequences as they come up (2) stand its ground and stick to only terms it can (afford to) implement, managing the fallouts (3) take initiative by proposing and implementing its own far-reaching reforms to the university system, with or without ASUU’s cooperation.
I am in favour of 3 as it is high time we all realised that the universities do not belong to the staff unions but to the Nigerian people. Therefore, it is entirely in the remit of the government representing the Nigerian people to chart a new course for the university system. As suggested by the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, the federal government can convene a multistakeholder forum to work on a new sustainable framework for the university system. The entire nation cannot afford to continue to be held hostage by unions and by outdated and unworkable ideas of running public universities.
ASUU cannot decide on the courses to run in Nigerian universities and how many students to admit to study the courses i.e. the resources the system requires while refusing to consider alternative ways of financing the system e.g. government-guaranteed student loans. Lecturers are employed to teach and not dictate education policy e.g. how the university system is to be financed and whether it is better to spend more on subsidizing students to study Religious Knowledge, Linguistics or Business Administration or whether the funds should be invested in children’s healthcare or primary school education. ASUU should leave these questions to the government and Nigerian voters!