Once again, the Federal Government’s refusal to honour an agreement it reached with lecturers of public universities has forced the Academic Staff Union of Universities to embark on industrial action on Monday, SEGUN OLUGBILE reportsWhen the Academic Staff Union of Universities suspended its two-month strike in February 2012, many had thought that the last had been heard of national strikes in public institutions. This optimism was hinged on the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Federal Government and the lecturers on how to resolve funding challenges, infrastructural decay and welfare problem in the nation’s public universities.
But this is not to be, as the union on Monday stated that it has returned to the trenches to fight government for its alleged refusal to honour an agreement it reached with lecturers. Specifically, ASUU said it has resumed the suspended strike from Monday (yesterday). This action, the union’s National President, Dr. Nasir Fagge, said was taken after the Federal Government allegedly failed to implement the agreement.
Fagge said the action, though painful, would be total, comprehensive and last for as long as the government implements the details of the Memorandum of Understanding that both parties signed in 2011. Consequently, the semester examinations going on in some universities would be disrupted, while admission processes would be put on hold. Final year students writing their projects would be hit hard, as their supervisors would not attend to them. By this, academic activities in public tertiary institutions, particularly in universities and polytechnics, which had been on strike in the last three months, would be paralysed.
The decision to embark on the action was taken during the National Executive Council meeting of ASUU at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State between Sunday and Monday. All the 53 chapters of ASUU were represented at the meeting, during which 51 chapters of the union overwhelmingly voted in support of the action.
Briefing the press about the outcome of the NEC meeting at the University of Lagos on Monday, Fagge said the union decided to suspend the action in January 2012 after the Federal Government and ASUU signed the MoU, which contained how all the issues of funding, pension scheme, retirement age and payment of earned allowance for qualified lecturers would be handled.
The Federal Government, the union stated, had only implemented the extension of the retirement age of professors to 70, but had failed to pay the earned allowance for lecturers who are assigned other duties apart from teaching, research and community service. The earned allowance is the money paid to lecturers who are assigned to administrative duties such as heads of department, hall wardens, student project’s supervision and examination duties and pay for extra workload on lecturers.
Under the student projects’ supervision allowance, a professor is expected to be paid N15, 000 per theses. Also, under the extra workload category, the lecturer/student ratio in Arts, Social Sciences and Education faculties is one lecturer to 50 students, one to 35 in Faculty of Sciences and one lecturer to 25 students in Colleges of Medicine. Lecturers are supposed to be paid if they have more than the national lecturer/student ratio.
“When we signed the MoU, it was stated that N100bn had been set aside to pay the earned allowance. But I can tell you that no lecturer has been paid since 2009. Yes, the government has extended the retirement age of professors to 70 as agreed, earned allowances have not been paid while little has been done to raise the level of infrastructure in universities,” he said.
Although he explained that the union had met with government over the matter many times, government has refused to respect the agreement. Rather, he said, ASUU was told that the government forgot to include the earned allowance in the budget.
The Chairman, ASUU, UNILAG chapter, Dr. Karo Ogbinanka, who had earlier briefed the press about the readiness of his chapter to start the strike after a congress on Monday, explained that the strike was called because government had never shown enough commitment to the development of the sector.
He explained that after the MoU was signed, a NEEDS Assessment Committee on the State of Public Universities was set up to look at the state of infrastructure of the institutions.
“The report has been submitted and all of us know that our universities fall short in physical development, but our concern is government has not done enough to revamp these institutions and the modalities for the injection of funds into these universities have not been followed. That is why there has been increase in the rate of agitation for improved municipal facilities in our universities which has unfortunately been leading to the deaths of innocent students,” Ogbinaka said.
But why is the union embarking on strike when it has not given the government the required ultimatum, Ogbinaka explained that the union had done a warning strike before now.
“Anyway, we don’t even need to give them ultimatum because it is clearly stated in the MoU that we signed with them that we (ASUU) will go on strike without warning should they fail to honour the agreement. They have reneged on the agreement and so there is nothing that can stop us from embarking on this comprehensive and total strike,” he said.
On when UNILAG would join the strike, Ogbinaka said that immediately after the press briefing, a congress would be called and the university management would be informed. “It’s a national strike and UNILAG has joined the action,” he said.
Also the National Treasurer of ASUU, Dr. Ademola Aremu who is also the former Chairman, University of Ibadan chapter of ASUU said the action, being a national one, would be fully supported by lecturers at the premier university. “We are not fighting management of the university, it is the Federal Government that should be blamed for pushing us to the wall to make this painful decision,” Aremu said.
Most of the students our correspondent spoke to on this new development expressed sadness at the action. They called on the Federal Government to honour the agreement by giving their teachers their due. “I’m in the final year, if this crisis is not urgently resolved, it will dislocate my career and that of the other students,” Wale, a student of Political Science at UNILAG said.
But before ASUU finally resorted to go on strike, the House of Representatives had few weeks ago summoned the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i and officials of the union with a view to ensuring that the crisis did not degenerate. The duo were invited to meet with members of the House Committee on Education as part of the moves by the legislature to avert the looming strike.
It followed a motion of urgent public importance sponsored by Mr. Bashir Babale (PDP/ Kano) and unanimously endorsed by his colleagues.
Babale said it had become worrisome that university lecturers frequently embark on strikes to compel the government to meet its obligations.
This, he noted, was not good enough as the issues at the root of the crisis were matters that had been agreed upon by both parties.
The lawmaker urged the House to intervene in the crisis and avert the impending strike.
Other lawmakers who contributed to the debate, argued that democracy cannot survive without good education.
They warned that it would be wrong for the government to continue to treat its 2009 agreement with ASUU with levity. But this intervention was fruitless, as government said it had no money to pay the earned allowance.
“We even agreed to sacrifice 20 per cent of the earned allowance but government said it could only pay 50 per cent. We were even shocked when they said they had forgotten to include the money into the budget. So, since 2009 no lecturer has been paid the earned allowance and all of us can testify to the fact that our universities whether old or new are still being underfunded,” Ogbinaka said.
The ASUU officials, however, pleaded with students and parents to bear with the union as they could no longer stand government’s lack of commitment to education.
The last time ASUU embarked on a national strike over the same issue was December 5, 2011. The union was prevailed upon to suspend the strike in February 2012 after the Federal Government signed the now contentious MoU with ASUU with a promise to accede to the lecturers’ requests. President Goodluck Jonathan hurriedly signed into law a bill that sought to extend the retirement age of professors to 70. But after that not much had been done to make the system better than it was in 2009.
Efforts to speak with the minister failed, as a top official in the ministry, who pleaded anonymity, said she was not available for comments.
The source, however said the ministry would comment on the new development on Tuesady (today).