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The recent two weeks ultimatum by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, to the Federal Government to fast track and conclude all issues relating to the protracted strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU and three other unions in the university system should be a matter of serious concern to all Nigerians considering the grave consequences it portends for the country.
As a prelude to the deadline, the congress had called out all workers in its affiliate unions to observe a two-day national protest in solidarity with the striking unions in the ivory towers as part of pressure on government to urgently meet their grievances and pave the way for the over two million students in public universities who had been on force holiday since February 14 return to classrooms.
We wholeheartedly welcome the intervention of the NLC in seeking urgent resolution of the crisis that had rocked the nation’s university system for close to six months even though the move is belated given its negative effects on the students, quality of education and the economy of the country with some of the idle youth already turning into criminals in the society.
Consequently, we demand that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration should treat the NLC’s ultimatum as a wake up call and a matter of urgent national importance to address some of the grievances of the striking unions led by ASUU in order to avert a national strike that will paralyze socio-economic activities in the country already grappling with myriads of challenges especially insecurity.
It is unfortunate and regrettable that education which is the bedrock of socio-economic and technological development of any country had been neglected by successive administrations to the point that government cannot honour agreements it voluntarily and legitimately entered into with both academic and non-academic unions.
The Nigerian scenario has become very pathetic and disappointing in the sense that all four unions in public universities, ASUU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), the Non-Academic Staff of Education and Allied Institutions (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT)have been on protracted strike over the inability of the Federal Government to improve condition of service and adequately fund tertiary education.
At the heart of the ASUU demands are the 2009 Agreement with the Federal Government that had been renegotiated since 2021 which contains several issues ranging from remuneration that had remained stagnant for 13 years, the promised revitalization of public universities, establishment of new universities by state governments when they are unable to adequately fund existing ones, the release of the white paper report on the visitation panels to federal universities as well as the adoption of the home grown University Transparency and Accountability Solution, (UTAS) as opposed to the current Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
For its part, the Federal Government had consistently maintained that she lacked the resources to fully implement the 2009 Agreement, it inherited from the previous administration on the ground of shortage of funds, competing and daunting challenges including insecurity, as well as provision of major infrastructures and public utilities.
However, we observe rather sadly that government’s stance of lack of financial resources seems to reflect the continued profligacy of most public office holders and the outright looting of Nigeria’s commonwealth by few officials, the latest case been the alleged N109bn fraud involving the former Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris who reportedly used the instrumentality of the controversial IPPIS to siphon the money which resulted in his arrest and prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Similarly the high cost of governance associated with presidential system of government since the return to civilian administration in May 1999 in which jumbo salaries and allowances are paid to elected and appointive officials has remained unchanged despite repeated outcry by Nigerians. For instance each of the 109 senators pocket at least N14.2million monthly as salary and allowances in a country the National Minimum Wage is N30,000. This is a monumental injustice that requires immediate attention and appropriate action in our view.
In other words the point we are making here like this board had canvassed in the past is that the time is fast running out for government to block all leakages in revenue generation and considerably reduce the salaries and allowances of senators, the 360 members of the House of Representatives, members of State Assembly as well as federal and state appointees to be able to conserve enough funds to meet some of the demands of ASUU and other unions in the universities.
And given the recent deadline issued by NLC chairperson in Lagos state, Funmi Agnes Sessi, on behalf of the Congress, President Buhari should take the bull by the horns and do all that is humanly possible to end the protracted crisis that had defied any solution before now and the looming indefinite national strike.
Announcing the two-week ultimatum during a protest in Ikeja, she said if the Buhari administration “fails to conclude all the ongoing negotiation and agreement” with the striking lecturers, they will witness the “anger and frustration of Nigerians”, further threatening that there will be more protests and rallies nationwide as this“ government has pushed so many Nigerians into depression. We say enough is enough, we can no longer bear this hardship again”.
It is regrettable that at a time there is a near consensus that the standard of education has taken a plunge and striking lecturers ought to be providing solutions to the nation’s challenges which include militancy, banditry, kidnapping, unemployment, over 10 million out of school children and poverty, ASUU and other unions are forced to continue their 6-month-old strike thereby disrupting education of students, who are the leaders of tomorrow and putting their future in serious jeopardy.
We strongly appeal to the four aggrieved unions to immediately suspend their strike for members to return to work once the Federal Government extends an olive branch and start addressing some of their grievances in order to save public varsity system from imminent collapse.
Similarly, they should hence forth embrace technology and emulate their peers in saner climes where universities are reputable solution providers, addressing the needs of the societies in which they operate, whether individuals, businesses, government and its various institutions.
The unions should also shun unhealthy rivalry among themselves which in our opinion had compounded their problems in the past as well as unite under one umbrella and speak with one voice when engaging government officials on their demands.
More significantly, we welcome recent suggestion by the Registrars of Universities asking the striking four university based unions in the country to change their approach when pressing home their demands rather than shut down tertiary institutions because of the grave consequences associated with the incessant closures of public universities due to strikes by teaching and non-teaching staff.
Specifically, despite acknowledging “that the struggles of the unions have brought about significant benefits to the Nigeria University System (NUS), however, in view of its negative effects”, they recommended the German Model of ‘co-determination approach whereby Work Councils would be established for universities adding that such “Councils will comprise representatives of employees and governments” with a mandate to promptly address issues of conditions of services and remuneration without disrupting academic activities.
Both the government and the aggrieved unions are further challenged to embrace peace and adopt a steely resolve to end the crisis as soon as possible not only in the interest of students, their parents but the nation’s socio-economic and technological development which are presently at grave risks even as we remind the warring parties of the words of former South African President late Nelson Mandela that: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Truly, experience has shown that no investment in education is wasted.
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