What the ASUU struggle means for the education sector

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By Momoh Emmanuel Omeiza

For Nigerian workers especially those in the civil service both at the federal, state and local levels, the lexicon “minimum wage” is one which has been used severally and at countless times.

This is because this is a lexicon which determines their tale home packages. While the importance of this wage cannot be overemphasized, it has always been a bone of contention between labour leaders and the government.

The recent strikes between the academic staff union of universities have been a lingering crisis which if care is not taken will be a posterity. From the days of yore, the Nigerian academic environment had been characterised by strikes and academic instabilities of both academic and non-academic staff unions.

Current Nigeria’s minimum wage when placed side by side with one of the other countries truly proves that Nigeria’s minimum wage is nothing to write home about. No wonder many Nigerian workers complain that their minimum wage cannot take them home.

Coming home, ASUU has always been at the forefront of struggles and upheavals for a better educational system especially from the late 70s when the union was formed. It was ASUU’s struggle that gave birth to the ETF, now known as TETFund, at a time when the FG was bereft of ideas on how to fund public universities.

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Shortly after the return of Nigeria to Democracy, many were hopeful that the incessant faceoff between the government and ASUU will cease. However, this was proved invalid as ASUU staged a nationwide strike that spanned a duration of five months. Also in 2001, when the same Obasanjo described university lecturers as a lazy and ungrateful bunch (weapon of name-calling and put-down syndrome), the strike that was meant to last for a couple of weeks took three months before it was suspended.

Again, in 2003, after several failed attempts for ASUU to get FG to implement the letters of agreements (which included better university funding, age of retirement etc), ASUU embarked on a nationwide strike that lasted for six months. It was during this struggle that the FG introduced the “No work, No pay” ideology despite contravening the International Labour Organisation (ILO) law. The threat did not stop the Union from demanding a better university system because the struggle was premised on a clear ideology.

The year 2009 witnessed another upturn as ASUU went on another strike. This forced the government into signing the popular 2009 agreement. However, just over a decade, it is as though the contents of the agreement were more of theory than practicals. The demands haven’t been met.

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Several factors account for the incessant strikes by ASUU. This include:

  • Insincerity on the path of the government
  • The poor state of infrastructures in universities making reading and learning activities an impossibility
  • Appointments of inexperienced politicians as education ministers and ministers of labour and employment.
  • The imposition of the integrated payroll and personnel information system IPPIS on ASUU which is a militating factor against university autonomy.
  • The IPPIS initiative has been criticised for irregularities in salary payment, excessive deductions among others.

A question that keeps bothering the minds of Nigerians is that is ASUU strike an endless phenomenon?

The ludicrous issue about the incessant ASUU strike is that both the students and lecturers are in for it. Many of the lecturers have had to endure the pangs of hunger. Students too have endured an elongated period of study. Many who were admitted for a four-year course have stayed close to a decade.

At a time when other countries of the world are making plans to enrol students for studies, Nigeria’s tertiary institutions are at loggerheads with the government over trifle issues.

The government must understand that Nigerian workers especially those in the educational sector need a living wage and not a minimum wage. The issue of the integrated payroll and personnel information system (IPPIS) which the government is proposing should be implemented to allow both parties to enjoy the benefits.

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Educational institutions must be upgraded and given a facelift to make them stand vis-a-vis their counterparts in the private sector and in the Western world.

It is in the best interest of the government to give attention to the demands of ASUU. What ASUU is asking for isn’t something that is beyond the scope of the government. It is therefore important for the government to give in to these demands as the failure of this could spell a lifetime doom for Nigeria’s educational system.

Not until the demands of ASUU is when the Nigerian educational environment will know peace.

Until then the struggle must continue until the final victory is won.

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