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As part of efforts to compel the federal government to meet the demands of striking university unions, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and its affiliated unions, said it would engage in a one-day national solidarity demonstration tomorrow and Wednesday.
The labor threat follows the lack of progress in negotiations with the leadership of ASUU, the Association of Senior Staff of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), the Union of Non-Academic Staff of Educational Institutions and Associates ( NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT). NLC President Ayuba Wabba had ordered all affiliated unions to abide by guidelines on the planned protest at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of Congress.
It is sad that universities across the country have been closed for five months following a strike by various unions over the federal government’s alleged failure to meet their demands. Given the protracted nature of the strike, President Muhammadu Buhari last week led Ministers of Education, Adamu Adamu; and Labor and Employment, Chris Ngige; to resolve the persistent ASUU strike and report to it within two weeks.
The ASUU had embarked on a warning strike on February 14, 2022, which morphed underground into an indefinite industrial action, resulting in the suspension of all academic activities at federal universities. Some state universities also joined in the sympathy. Since then, efforts by the authorities and other stakeholders to break the deadlock have failed.
At the center of the strike are the government’s alleged failure to honor the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) it signed with the union, the government’s lack of commitment to payment of the Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) and the release of revitalization funds, the insufficient funding of universities, the continued use of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and the refusal to adopt the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS ), and the proliferation of public universities in the country.
For its part, the federal government said it had implemented most of the content of the agreements with the union. He said substantial amounts have been released for EAA and institutional revitalization while UTAS, according to the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), has “passed the test of acceptability but failed the integrity test and the credibility test, which constituted the bulwark against piracy”. . The government therefore set up a seven-man committee led by Professor Nemi Briggs to renegotiate the 2009 pact. The committee reportedly submitted its report to the government for implementation.
This is not the first time that unions have intervened in labor disputes in the country’s Ivory Tower. In 2013, NLC mediated an ASUU strike by writing to the presidency to work out terms for resolving the industrial action. In 2021, he again played a vital role in resolving the standoff between the federal government and ASUU for college students. The NLC has made unsuccessful efforts to end the current strike. However, the relevance of this intervention remains questionable, especially as it affects Rivers State.
We condemn the penchant for strikes, which has caused incalculable damage to the educational development of the country. Since the return of democracy in 1999, the ASUU has spent at least 1,500 days on strike. The rapid resort to strike action by ASUU members is irrational since the union may as well adopt other proactive and constructive alternatives. We are concerned that, for a country with more than 40 million children out of school, the prolonged stay of young people outside institutions of higher learning will fill the growing pool of crime. The ASUU must realize this fact and quickly suspend the strike.
Labour’s planned solidarity show must be taken seriously because if carried out, it could shut down businesses and stoke lawlessness, thus worsening the weakness of the national economy. Nothing can justify this! We implore the unions to immediately rescind their decision and allow the government to implement the committee’s report.
We say this for several reasons. First, not all universities are where ASUU and other unions are on strike, especially public and private institutions. In these institutions, including those in Rivers State, workers’ dues are paid when due and an enabling environment is created for seamless teaching and learning. Therefore, it is wrong to order workers in these states, including Rivers State, to go on a sympathy strike.
In addition, the NLC in some states, including Rivers, has become political partisans, and its leaders are forming opposition elements to destabilize the government. Allowing the NLC in Rivers State to call workers out on strike is obviously arming the critical opposition to undermine the government, especially at a time when all eyes are exploring winning strategies for the 2023 election. numerous examples of NLC efforts in Rivers State to destabilize the state. Now that the chairman of the NLC in the state is also the Labor Party’s gubernatorial candidate, and the same person is calling on state workers to go on strike even when all state-owned tertiary institutions are fully functional, it is evident that this is another way to subvert the efforts of the state government to maintain an uninterrupted academic calendar.
Furthermore, thugs have often hijacked supposedly peaceful strikes to further their nefarious activities. Shops were looted and the economy subverted. Many innocent people also lost their lives in these circumstances. Opposition politicians are also likely to hide under the guise of Labor to unleash violence against the people and jeopardize the peace that is currently prevailing in Rivers State. This is why it would be suicidal for workers in Rivers State to be used to fight the government at this time.
Again, while we blame the federal government for underfunding universities, we boldly warn that it is not the mandate of ASUU, an assembly of employees, to dictate to its employers how and when to fund their own institutions. If they are not satisfied with their terms of service, they should resign and seek better opportunities elsewhere rather than crippling the nation in order to fulfill their desires.
Nigeria cannot continue to create universities when it has failed to maintain the existing ones. During the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, 12 universities were established. Today, all are in difficulty due to lack of funds. Despite this challenge, eight bills are currently being debated in the National Assembly for the creation of more universities. It is proliferation without growth. Yes, this is unacceptable, but it does not require any industrial action to be resolved.
The Education 2030 Framework for Action proposed two benchmarks as “crucial benchmarks”: allocating at least 4-6% of GDP to education or allocating 15-20% of public expenditure to education. Government at all levels must respect these projections.
Even so, rather than making unworkable pacts with unions, governments need to review university funding models. It is unthinkable that they alone can finance the institutions. In the United States, revenue from federal and state sources accounted for 34% of total revenue for public colleges and universities in 2017, with other funding coming from tuition and fees, private donations, stand-alone operations, and other sources. Nigeria can adopt this model to end endless strikes.