The news of a national strike by the nation’s academic staff, otherwise called university lecturers is not a pleasant one. To be fair, its been long in coming. The government has long been apprised of the coming doom, but like every other such matters, if it was taken seriously at all, it was half-hearted. However, surely Nigerians were not made aware of whatever efforts were made.
If Nigerians were not aware of whatever efforts, it is given too that students and other unions within the university sector were left in the lurch. At least, we should have had the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, fully engaged in whatever the government was doing. Again, we in the media did not see such efforts. It therefore would be difficult for ASUU to have caught the government unawares. It is not surprising consequently to see the Federal Government’s appeal to ASUU, to suspend its ongoing strike in the universities in the interest of the nation.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige made the appeal in a statement signed by Samuel Olowookere, Deputy Director, Press, in the Ministry, Tuesday in Abuja. ASUU had on Monday declared an indefinite strike over Federal Government’s failure to keep what it calls the 2009 agreement. But, according to Ngige, there is an ongoing renegotiation of the 2009 agreement between the Federal Government and ASUU by the Babalakin Committee.
“The Federal Government has set up the Babalakin Committee on 13th Feb. 2017, which is already addressing the issues raised by ASUU. Though the Federal Government did not wish to apportion blame, it is important to note that ASUU did not follow due process in the declaration of the industrial action. As it did not give the Federal Government the mandatory 15 days’ notice as contained in the Section 41 of Trade Disputes Act, Cap T8, 2004.
“In fact, it was on 14th August, 2017 that the Office of the Minister received a letter dated 13th August 2017 from ASUU, that is, one full day after it commenced the strike,” he said.
The minister however, noted that the letter was to inform the Federal Government that ASUU has commenced strike, adding that this is not a declaration of intention to go on strike as contained in the Trade Dispute Act, 2004.
He further said that since the case was being conciliated, it was against the spirit of Social Dialogue and Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for ASUU to embark on strike as enunciated in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention. He went further to state, “the Federal Government therefore wishes to appeal to ASUU to consider students who are currently writing degree and promotion examinations. Please call off the strike and return to the negotiation table.’’
While it is revealing to Nigerians that the union did not follow laid down procedures to embark on strike, it is equally strange that the minister is now saying that the Ministry of Labour and Employment would ensure that a time frame is tied to negotiation this time around. This supposes that there were issues while the Babalakin committee was negotiating. Especially so when he claims that the Committee was ever ready to continue the negotiation.
On the part of ASUU, it is regrettable things have turned this way. ASUU president Professor Biodun Ogunyemi had about eight points of demand. Part of which had been met by successive governments, including the present one. There have been series of warning and prolonged strikes since 2009. Government has managed to implement some of the demands including the one on Treasury Single Account. Yet ASUU persists that the university system requires a further N280 billion yearly to support the schools. To be fair, where will government get such tidy sum.
But if government does not have it, government cannot be seen to be wasting money on itself with the kind of affluence we see with politicians and some civil servants. ASUU too must begin to think up creative ways to solve this perennial ritual of strikes. The union being one for egg heads must also produce reseachers that proffer solutions to political, social and economic problems of the nation. We should stop seeing the universities as centres for production of graduates. Their brain and creativity must come to play in solving national challenges. Indeed, Nigerian lecturers are not the worst paid in the world. Also, ASUU should realise that a lot of their members are not true to their calling. They award frivolous marks to undeserving students and harass female students for sex. Things like that must stop if they demand honour from government.
An amicable solution must be found to the challenge posed by this strike immediately, as many schools are writing or about to commence second semester examinations. This disruption may cause students a life-long change in their plans for their lives.