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This ASUU Strike is unjustifiable

As an ASUU member, I will be proud in the future to have given my contribution in the effort of our government to kill the corruption pandemic in our country, Nigeria. May the almighty Allah see us through the COVID-19 pandemic that is threatening the existence of human race.

ASUU National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi
ASUU National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi

Today, not only Nigerians, but the generality of the world, are advised to stay at home as one of the best precautionary measures against the pandemic COVID-19 virus. Human lives are lost in an alarming number as a result of this pandemic.

As we stay at home, an opportunity is available to all of us to reflect on our actions and inactions. Part of what came to my mind is a reflection of the present “comprehensive and indefinite strike action” embarked by our Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). This strike came up after a review of the two- week warning strike of March 9, 2020 and the National Executive Council (NEC) consideration of the proposals made by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) of March 21, 2020.

As a financial member of ASUU, I also had the opportunity to access these proposals by our government. Not only this, part of my primary assignment as a faculty in a university setting is the analysis of results of research findings presented to me by my undergraduate and graduate students. It is only if this is done satisfactorily that a student would proceed to discuss his findings.

The proposals presented were numbered i to ix, and after each presentation, a stand was taken by our executive. For clarity sake, I shall represent a summary and decisions of the NEC on the proposals as follows:

Funding for the revitalisation of public universities

After much deliberation, government proposed that by August 31, 2020, the document on sustainable funding of education would have been activated – necessary approvals secured, laws requiring amendment would have been drafted and sent to the National Assembly for processing.

The NEC observed that the document did not in any way refer to the 2019 FGN-ASUU Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The ASUU demanded a clear timeline for the phased release of the outstanding balance of about N1.1trillion based on 2013 MoU between the FG and ASUU. It was also observed that the “sign of commitment” to the 2013 MoU should not be less than one tranche of the outstanding balance, which is N220billion.

Earned Academic Allowances (EAA)

It was agreed that government should work towards meeting the EAA obligation that was due for payment in November 2019. That government shall release N20bn for the payment of EAA on or before April 15, 2010. The NEC did not object.

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Salary shortfall

Government stated that the ES, NUC and the Ministry of Education would cross-check with the vice chancellors of affected universities, verify the claims and process further. A timeframe of two weeks was given for this process. The NEC did not object.

State universities

Government agreed with the proposal from ASUU that the union be supported to address the NEC and promised that a meeting would be scheduled, latest at the end of the second quarter of 2020.                The NEC did not object.

Payment of EAA to loyal ASUU members in the University of Ilorin

Both parties are satisfied with the progress made on this issue. The NEC did not object.

NUPEMCO

Government noted that the non-existence of a board for PenCom has occasioned the delay in issuing the final license. The NUPEMCO Board was asked to write a letter to PenCom, requesting for issuance of certificate or renewal of the provisional license. The NEC did not object.

Visitation panels

Government proposed that the visitation panels would commence work at the end of the second quarter of 2020. The NEC did not object.

Reconstitution of the government renegotiating team

The renegotiation of the FGN-ASUU agreement of 2009 has resumed. Both sides hoped the process would be successfully concluded. The NEC, however, noted with regret that the government team had suspended indefinitely, the planned meeting on account of COVID-19 pandemic.

The IPPIS

Government accepts ASUU’s proposal on the UTAS with the given timelines of full implementation for the period of 18 months. In view of this, the Federal Government appealed to ASUU members to enrol on the IPPIS within the intervening period before the full development of the UTAS. And they shall be migrated to the UTAS when fully developed. Government made a commitment that no one would miss their legitimate earning as a result of enrolment on the IPPIS platform. Furthermore, government would make special arrangements for the immediate payment of those staff not yet captured on the IPPIS platform and were being owed February salaries and other allowances, upon commencement of enrolment on IPPIS platform.

At this point, and surprisingly, ASUU rejected the application of force on members to join the IPPIS irrespective of the patriotic evidence of offering the UTAS as an alternative.

Based on the foregoing review, our NEC went ahead to declare a total and indefinite strike action, beginning on Monday, March 23, 2020. This appears contrary to our modus operandi in taking decision for strike action. With over 15 years as a university lecturer, most resolutions by ASUU NEC are brought to congress for deliberations and resolution. At the end of these meetings, resolutions are put to vote and the results are collated to the NEC for computation and final decision. But, unfortunately, this time around, it was a haste and unilateral decision to embark on strike by the National Council. Ironically, for months now, our colleagues in the Faculty of Medicine, who are also in the teaching hospitals, have been collecting part of their salaries through the IPPIS. But, our ASUU has never objected to that.

We can clearly see that our ASUU NEC has already scored these proposals from the Federal Government 66.7per cent. By our standard in the Nigerian tertiary institution grading scale, this should be certified at a very good level. So, this pass mark makes the stand of ASUU NEC on strike action unjustifiable.

The generality of Nigerians believe and accept that our universities are grossly underfunded. But as university academics we need to extend a hand of friendship to ensure collaborative researches with clear indices of human development. Our university managements have a big role to play in providing seed funding from part of their internally generated revenues to kick-start some good research proposals from staff and students.

I personally witnessed a confirmation of the Federal Government that the IPPIS would assist in arresting corruption in our ivory towers and the civil service. Last December, when the IPPIS officials came to my university to register/enrol staff members, we saw rushed recruitment of new staff without following due process. But in reality, before this exercise, many departments had been making case for additional teaching staff recruitment. For instance, I took a class of more than 500 students, and as a science subject, I had to also conduct practical sessions. What can someone say about management of a class like this? This is common to most courses in our Nigerian universities.

The development of the UTAS as an alternative to the IPPIS should be seen by the government as a commendable effort. But, we know that software development deployment and final development will always have to take a timeframe before final implementation.

My university has developed and implemented a software on examination, called ExamLogic, but you find that at some instances we have to refer back to our colleagues that developed the software to resolve some emerging issues. My take on this is that the timeframe implementation should be initiated until we finally migrate from the IPPIS to UTAS. Based on history, we have already had a similar experience with the new pension policy of the Federal Government.

Today, we have the NUPEMCO, which takes care of our pension issues. One other point to note is that the Federal Government should in future look inward for some of its development policies. If ASUU can, within few months, be able to develop the UTAS, then there is no point in awarding a contract in IPPIS development. Using our local human and material resources in this and other related issues would go a long way in improving our capacity.

Finally, and based on my analysis, the present total strike is uncalled for and did not follow the required due process in an academic setting. I urge our congress to get registered with the IPPIS while the sequential migration to the UTAS from the IPPIS should be judiciously pursued.

As an ASUU member, I will be proud in the future to have given my contribution in the effort of our government to kill the corruption pandemic in our country, Nigeria. May the almighty Allah see us through the COVID-19 pandemic that is threatening the existence of human race.

Thank you.

Dr Abubakar is an associate professor in the Department of Botany, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Source: Daily Trust

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