The Deepening Rot And Decay In Public Universities In Nigeria, Federal Government’s Half-Measures, And The Response Of The Academic Staff Union.

Comrades, as I posted earlier on our Akada Development Watch Platform (Saturday, November 21, 2020), the inept and reactionary federal government has remained escapist. The offers or concessions made to our patriotic union, ASUU, are a clinical pointer to the escapism and irresponsibility of a government that was supposedly elected by the people. With difficulty, ASUU had made a major concession concerning Revitalization Fund; the Union had said it was willing to accept 50% of the second tranche of #220billion, i.e. #110billion. Yet the government has only promised #30billion or #35billion, depending on whether or not ASUU would be willing to sacrifice #5billion out of members’ Earned Allowances!!!

On earned allowances, the government has offered #30billion or #35billion, and promised additional #10billion to be paid in two equal installments in May, 2021 and January, 2022. All put together, these figures will barely pay the earned allowances for the year, 2013/2014! Yet, it will take the government the next two years to fulfill its commitment to pay.

Then, the government has said that the said amount would be for all four university staff unions. Why is the government not separating the unions and meeting its obligations to them as individual entities? How will the lump sum be shared among the unions? This clear divide-and- subjugate strategy is potentially problematic for harmonious coexistence of the unions of exploited varsity staff.

Besides, again, why is government proposing to pay earned allowances for one year, 2013/2014 over a two-year period? If ASUU’S frustrating experience with the federal government over the last three decades is anything to go by, what is the guarantee that the payment of the proposed May, 2021 and January, 2022 installments will not require another strike? In the event of another strike, will the public appreciate the fact that ASUU is not to blame?

If the government owes members their allowances since 2013/14, why are we concerned only about the allowances for one year? When are we going to be paid for the years, 2014-2020? How many strikes without salaries should members foresee and prepare for? Are there other categories of workers and staff in the country similarly owed their statutory or legitimate allowances for this length of time?

Now, last but not least, there is an urgent need to renegotiate the ridiculous salary structure that has not changed since the 2009 FEDERAL GOVERNMENT/ASUU AGREEMENT. It is important to note that, as provided for in the said Agreement, the salary structure ought to have been renegotiated and reviewed upwards three times, i.e., 2012, 2015, and 2018. If the federal government is a serious one, or if it is serious about ending the strike, it will have to resume the renegotiation of the salary structure of academic staff and expeditiously conclude it to enable the Union to suspend its eight-month old strike. It must be a major condition for the strike to be suspended.

If it would be recklessness and irresponsibility on the part of the federal government to unilaterally repudiate an agreement it had freely reached and signed with the Union, of course the Union would be far much more reckless and irresponsible if it allows the repudiation by the government.
However, as a union of scholars and intellectuals, ASUU has charged itself with the responsibility to ensure the survival of public university education. Thus, over the last three and half decades, since the imposition of the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, on Nigeria by Western imperialism and its institutional and ideological agents, the Union has remained focused on the protection, defense, and development of the public university system through constructive engagement with the federal and state governments.

On Friday, November 20, 2020, the minister of labour and employment, Dr Chris Ngige released to the public, the outcomes of the meeting held the same day between the representatives of the federal government and ASUU. If the token concessions to ASUU as widely reported in the media were all that the government could offer, and then it is most unfortunate. It would mean that, whereas the immediate past government of the federation led by Dr Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015) had recognized that there was crisis in the public varsity system, whereas the government had reached a comprehensive agreement with ASUU on how to address the crisis, whereas the government did the Needs Assessment and arrived at an interventionist amount of #1.3trillion, and whereas the same government had begun to address the crisis by releasing the first tranche of #200billion, the self-acclaimed messianic government of Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari which has only released the ridiculous sum of #20billion is promising additional #30billion or #35billion. This clearly shows how much his government appreciates the rot and decay in the public varsities.

The government has offered practically nothing. ASUU has now entered a crucial juncture in the current struggle. The government will do itself, the state, and whole society well and good by listening to ASUU as the Union cries that, the public universities are absolutely poorly funded and poorly equipped, and, consequently, no teaching or learning is going on in the varsities in the real senses of words, teaching and learning.

To end, I ask: should ASUU accept the token offers of the federal government and then suspend its eight-month old strike being prosecuted without salaries? My answer is double “No!” For, the federal government has practically offered nothing. Should ASUU suspend the current strike on the basis of nothingness, the strike and the loyalty and sacrifices of ASUU leaders and members would have been in vain. The obvious implication is that the Union cannot guarantee itself that again; it can effectively mobilize members as it has done in the last eight months for another strike. In the history of varsity teachers’ struggle for the survival of public varsity education in Nigeria, the current strike is the longest. The current inept and backward government of the federation should be ashamed of itself, that it can close its universities for eight months and pretend that all is well.

I salute ASUU leaders at the national level and the branches. I commend all members nationwide.

The struggle must continue with more and more vigour and animation. The government must fund its universities. When they are ready to fund the universities, they will know how to raise the funds.

Fraternal Greetings!!!

JGN Onyekpe.

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