Unending ASUU Strikes: Is Court The Option?


Unending ASUU Strikes: Is Court The Option?

University undergraduates have continued to protest the disruption of academic activities due to the unending strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Lawyers, in this report by Eric Ikhilae for THE NATION, suggest that aggrieved students can seek legal remedy for the violation of their rights to education.

Public universities have been grounded since February 14, when members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) resumed the strike they suspended last year.

Unending ASUU Strike

They had planned it as a one-month warning strike, but it is now in its fourth month because of their claim that the Federal Government has been unfaithful to the implementation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement.

ASUU President Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke hinged his group’s decision on the Federal Government’s alleged failure to implement the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Memorandum of Action (MoA) signed between it and the government; the government’s poor commitment to the payment of academic earned allowance (EAA); the continued use of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and refusal to adopt the Universities Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), and proliferation of the universities in the country.

Osodeke said: “The imposition of this grotesque platform challenged our union to develop an alternative system to IPPIS – the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).

“This locally developed and cost-effective alternative payment platform has the distinct capacity to check corruption and preserve the hard-earned autonomy of Nigerian universities for the good of the country. Regrettably, Federal Governmen is still foot-dragging over its adoption, contrary to an earlier agreement with our union, thereby allowing the financial chaos heralded by IPPIS to continue.

“The Federal Government promised to mainstream the EAA into the annual federal budget in the various memoranda signed with ASUU and the government recently released N221 billion for payment of some EAA allowances. However, many years of unpaid entitlements are outstanding, serving as triggers for the industrial crisis in our universities.

“Sending Visitation Panels to universities on a periodic (five-yearly) basis is a critical evaluation requirement stipulated in our university laws. Our union had to embark on an action for the Federal Government to institute such panels. However, many months after the panels submitted their reports, the White Papers are yet to be released. We call for the immediate release of the White Papers to address numerous lapses in the administration of Nigeria’s federal universities,” Osodeke said.

While the lecturers were striving to justify their decision to down tools, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, presented a counter-position, insisting that the Federal Government was committed to the agreement.

Ngige noted that many of the items in the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA) had been exhaustively addressed, while others were being addressed.

“We have only one or two areas that are new. One of the new areas is the renegotiation of the Conditions of Service, which is called the 2009 Agreement.  An agreement was reached in 2009 that their Conditions of Service would be reviewed every five years. It was done in 2014.

“We started one in which the former UNILAG Pro-Chancellor, Wale Babalakin (SAN), was chairing the committee. After Babalakin, Prof. Manzali was in charge and the committee came up with a draft document, proposed by the Federal Ministry of Education and ASUU.

“The joint committee has ASUU, the National Universities Commission and the National Information Technology Development Agency as members. We told them to conclude the test by March 8. If they conclude, we are expected to work on it within six weeks,” Ngige said.

With each party seeing things from its perspective, the Federal Governmentt and ASUU have resumed what has become a ritual in the nation’s history since the creation of ASUU in 1978. Since its first strike in 1988 to press for “fair wages and university autonomy,” ASUU has consistently embarked on strike in its seeming perpetual war with the government.

Incidentally, while each of the parties strives to justify its position, nobody argues the case of the victims – the millions of students, who are locked out and denied access to education on every occasion that ASUU members turn their backs on the classrooms.

While ASUU has consistently argued its rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining recognised by the Constitution, the Trade Union Act, including international instruments, to insist on strike to enforce its agreements with the government, the Federal Government has often pleaded paucity of funds for its inability to meet the demands of the university teachers, despite the glaring evidence of profligacy in the deployment of state’s resources.

Many argue that the problem is not mainly about inadequate resources, but wrong prioritisation, which accounts for why successive administrations do not see the need to address the fundamental responsibility placed on the government by Section 18 of the Constitution to provide education for the citizens.

Section 18 reads: (1) government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels; (2) government shall promote science and technology; (3) government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy, and to this end, government shall as and when practicable provide: (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education; (c) free university education; and (d) free adult literacy programme.

Many students have ended up in bad gangs, while others have taken to other vocations other than academics as a result of the uncertainty that is now associated with public universities’ academic calendar.

Despondency could creep in where students are unable to complete their programmes within the stipulated period due to no fault of theirs. It becomes even worse when one is uncertain when he/she would graduate because of the frequent disruption in academic activities due to the teachers’ frequent strikes.

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