SIR: In November 2018, after an executive meeting with its top-tier members, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the body of university lecturers that protects the interests of its members, declared an indefinite strike. This was in response to the government’s refusal to honor previous agreements such as improved funding of universities. This strike lasted for three months, halting tertiary education across the country. This strike was not the first of its kind; several others have happened at least once in every two years since 1999.
Since March 23, the union has been on another strike. One of the major reasons is the introduction of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information (IPPIS), a centralized payroll platform introduced by the federal government. The said function of this platform is to help the government properly manage the payment of staff members while preventing payment to ghost-workers. However, the union rejected it, saying the government had no right to be directly involved in the payment of its members. This seemingly trivial matter has extended into a strike of over five months.
The coronavirus forced the closure of schools across the world, affecting more than 297 million students in Africa. While other countries have adopted e-learning, the ASUU strike has caused most Nigerian students to endure an indefinite pause on their education. In late August, several schools around the world began reopening, but in a twist of events, ASUU added to their list of demands: the government should put proper measures in place to ensure the safe reopening of schools. This is in fact because the subject of IPPIS was a catalyst to other demands, as the union has called for the adoption of UTAS, another payment option. Furthermore, the subject of IPPIS — according to the union — deprives lecturers of several benefits, such as retirement payments and so on.
Of course, to reopen, enough safety measures have to be put in place, except for the political undertones the request possesses. It appears as if both parties – ASUU and federal government – are out to perform a show of strength while the general state of tertiary education suffers in the country. In another twist, CONUA (Congress of University Academics), a breakaway faction under ASUU, says Nigerian federal universities are ready for resumption, a direct contradiction to the stance of its mother association, ASUU.
It should be noted that the unpreparedness of Nigerian schools to properly organize virtual classes during the pandemic is the fault of both parties; the simple fact that there were simply no facilities to make this possible. It should also be noted that private universities during the earlier stages of the ongoing pandemic organized virtual classes, and a few others conducted convocation ceremonies virtually. Also, radio programs have been set up in countries like Kenya, and broadcasts daily to over 12 million students.
However, in Nigeria are millions of students are stuck at home, with their fate unknown, while their education is on hold.
The state of tertiary institutions in Nigeria is deplorable.
To revitalize the system, the government needs to allocate more funds to education. In 2019, funds for education were a meager 7.5% of the total national budget, a far cry from UNESCO’s recommended figure of 15%. In 2020, the figure is 6.7%, and it is the lowest since 2016. With proper funding, the federal government will have a negotiating tool with ASUU, as the most pressing union’s needs boil down to finance and funding.
Rather than make the entire process a political one, or a tussle of power, it should be seen for what it is: a negotiation process that should champion the needs of students and the welfare of the lecturers. Also, these strikes will only continue in the future if the federal government fails to properly implement promised measures. The grievances of the union must be taken with seriousness, as they hold the key to the future of the nation.
Both parties should negotiate with open terms and total honesty, as this is the only way forward.
- David Adewusi , African Liberty (Arlington, VA)
Source: The Nation