As the strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) continues to bite hard, Damilola Oyedele and Adebiyi Adedapo examine the implications for students and other stakeholders, with focus on University of Abuja
Adejumoke Oluwalope has finished her final year second semester examination at the University of Abuja. But like many of her fellow students, she has not been mobilized to participate in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). The marking of their papers are being delayed by the ongoing strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
She gained admission into the Faculty of Agricultural Science in 2007, and has now spent six years for a supposedly five year programme. If the strike is called off this year, she may be mobilized in 2014 but by then, she would have spent seven years in the university.
Ibrahim Iliyasu’s story is the same and his future is being affected by the industrial action. This is because, coming from a military family background, he had hoped to join in the Short Service programme of the National Defence Academy (NDA). But at 29, unless he is ready to falsify his birth certificate, he is likely to have exceeded the age limit by the time he finally concluded the NYSC which he has also missed this year.
“I came to the University of Abuja because by the time I started school, NDA was not yet a university, if not I would have gone to NDA. Now I am already 29 years. For Short Service, one must not exceed 30. That means by the time I serve next year (hopefully) I cannot be accepted into the SS program because I would be almost 31 or already 31. I cannot engage in birth certificate falsification,” he said.
Investigations revealed that the second semester results of these and other students have not been sent by their lecturers to the Senate of the university for approval. An official of the university who spoke off record said only students who had carried over courses in the first semester were mobilized for the NYSC.
“It also effectively means students who had second semester carry overs cannot also be mobilized. This is almost two years of their lives wasted,” she said.
The national strike started on July 1, 2013 after series of warning strikes by the members of ASUU over the non-implementation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement. Their demands, amidst other demands, are the rehabilitation and provision of infrastructure in the nation’s universities and the payment of earned allowances.
Sources gathered that N57 billion out of the N92 billion being canvassed for by the union as earned allowances actually belongs to the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU). While the government has handed over N30 billion to be disbursed as earned allowances, the lecturers are insisting on N92 billion.
The Chairman of the NEEDS Assessment Implementation Committee, Governor Gabriel Suswan, during a meeting with executives of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), had explained that the government handed over N30 billion for disbursement in the first instance after the calculation of the duly earned allowances.
The government also provided N100 for infrastructure in the universities. The criteria for the disbursement, was drawn up in collaboration with ASUU, Suswan said.
“What we said is that after calculations of earned allowances, if the N30 billion is not enough, we would give more,” he said.
An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was not right for the striking lecturers to insist that all N92 billion must be handed over to them.
“Earned allowances are earned; part of it is hazard allowance, so a lecturer who does not work in a hazard prone environment, for instance, a laboratory, cannot benefit from this one. Some receive allowances for the uniforms of special gear they wear for work. So it differs. For the lecturers to insist that government must give them all N92 billion, it’s like they want a windfall they can just share among themselves, deserving or not,” he lamented.
But the National President of ASUU, Dr. Nasir Fagge, said the N100 billion being disbursed to the universities was not part of the 2009 Agreement or the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding. He described the release of the money as employing half hearted measures to the problems of the education system in the country.
He explained that the 2009 agreement stipulates that within three years, the government would make available the sum of N1.5 trillion to federal universities amounting to about N500 billion per annum.
In the 2012 MoU, it was negotiated that the government would make available N1.3 trillion in four years for federal and state universities after the government said it was having difficulties implementing the earlier agreement, Fagge clarified, adding that ASUU reluctantly accepted the MoU.
“So this N100billion, which aspect of all these dialogue and issues which were documented is being implemented? Is it the agreement, the MoU, or the NEEDS assessment report? That is what we should be asking. We are asking them to implement the agreement, and they are doing something else which is not in it.” he queried.
Several interventions by neutral parties have failed. The unions shunned the pleadings of the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria and the Sultan of Sokoto to meet the government halfway. Several groups have also protested the prolonged strike.
NANS raised the alarm that crime rate and prostitution levels have increased with the lingering strike due to the level of idleness among students. Several chapters of the student body have protested in various parts of the country.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Non Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) however blamed the government for the spate of strike in the tertiary education sector.
Speaking, the Acting General Secretary of the NLC, Comrade Chris Uyot, blamed the spate of strikes by ASUU and other unions in the tertiary education sector on the failure of the government to honour its agreements.
“The essence of negotiations for collective bargaining to bring about an agreement is to ensure that there is peace and harmony in the workplace, to bring about better understanding between employers and employees. So if we decide to manipulate agreements, agreements that have come through mutual negotiations, we are distorting the very concept of industrial relations which is the foundation of peace and harmony and stability in the workplace. It means we are trying to distort our own laws that guide these things,” he said in a telephone conversation.
The Secretary General of NASU, Comrade Peters Adeyemi, shared the same view. But the biggest indictment of the Federal Government came from a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Muzanli Jibril, for the incessant strikes embarked on by ASUU.
Jibril said successive governments had ignored a document of funding by the NUC stating that the universities only get 34 per cent of what they need and are therefore ‘chronically underfunded’.
Jibril, who was ES between 1996 and 2001, said ASUU had been able to link significant improvement in funding to strikes translating to “one ASUU strike, one major increment”.
“The success of every ASUU President is measured by the amount of increment he gets out of the Federal Government. So what are you telling ASUU: if you want more money, go on strike. The union does not just embark on strike, they give notice, and they embark on warning strikes. Once an ASUU strike is on, you cannot easily get them to call off,” he said.
Government, he said, does not listen to its own agencies as the NUC had appeared before several committees on the need for proper funding of the universities adding that government enters into negotiations with ASUU unprepared by not engaging former academicians who hold or have held positions in government to better understand ASUU strike and its strategies.
Meanwhile as this impasse lingers, students continue to suffer.
Many would not forget the crises that accompanied the quest for accreditation for the Medical College and Engineering Faculty of the University of Abuja. Several times in the past years, the affected students shut done the institution. Late last year, the affected students again barred their counterparts in other faculties from sitting for their second semester examinations resulting in a shut-down that lasted almost four months.
In June 2013, the Medical College finally secured the approval and accreditation of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN). The students were overjoyed, but their joy was short-lived as the ASUU strike commenced.
Abdul Oloruntoba is a 300 level medical student at UniAbuja. Now he and others cannot take their Medical Board (MB) exams organised by the MDCN because some of their lecturers are part of the examiners who prepare the questions and mark the answers.
“Our fate is the most painful, because after the long struggle, we were finally accredited by MDCN. The accreditation is here and now we are facing another stumbling block. If the strike was not on, the first and the second set would probably have written their MB examination, I would also have been preparing for mine. This school in particular has lost a year. Remember we had this issue of internal ASUU strike for about four months and just as we resumed, this national ASUU strike started again, so it is like a year gone by in our lives” he lamented.
The lost time on the academic calendar is not his only loss. Toba like many others reside in private hostels and accommodation off campus. He pays a rent of N100, 000 per annum. Their annual rent continues to run whether or not school is in session.
Students are not the only victims bearing the brunt of this industrial action. Campus businesses have severely been affected by the strike. When visited the normally bubbling and lively SUG area at the Mini campus of UniAbuja, it was a picture of quiet and despair.
A restaurateur, Mrs. Akin George, lamented that sales had drastically dropped with the continued shutdown of institutions by the union. When visited, she was seen sitting with a neighbour and just chatting. There was no customer during the duration of the visit.
“This strike has really affected us; we just pray that the Federal Government will do something about it, because our businesses depend on students. I am here alone with my neighbour, there are no customers, and everywhere is just dry. We do not even make three-quarter of our regular sales, we only make sales of about N2000 daily as against the over N15,000 regular sales when the students were around, and I do not have any other business elsewhere,” she said.
Another shop owner, Mr. Onah Emeka, who sells soft drinks, snacks and provision, did not even bother to open his own store.
“My shop is locked because the students are not around, they are my major customers. Opening the shop without them is just a waste of time. I have been running the shop since 2005, if students were to be around, I make sales of over N20,000 daily. But at the moment, I hardly make sales of N1000. That is why I had to close the shop, and that is why most of the shops are locked.”
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