Strike actions have now taken the threshold with major unions and associations feuding with the government at the slightest opportunity over pecuniary deficits. Only recently, the FG agreed to disburse N40bn to ASUU, among other demands by the union, which saw a nine-month strike action called off. While preparations are being made to get students back to school, having missed out on almost a whole academic year, the efforts is now confronted by a major setback with members of Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (SSANU) threatening to embark on an industrial action which will see varsities shut down again.
Mr Peters Adeyemi, General Secretary of NASU, and Mr Mohammed Ibrahim, President of SSANU made this known in a signed circular on Sunday in Abuja. The circular directed committees of both unions in all branches of universities to hold a general meeting on Jan. 11 aimed at sensitizing members on the issues, as contained in the MOU, and also inform them of the industrial action. The circular also noted that the strike action is to protest the non-implementation of an agreement reached with the FG.
Meanwhile, ASUU had earlier dragged the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) over the sharing arrangement of the N40bn earned allowances. ASUU warned that NAAT, or any other union should not use it as bait to get anything from the government. According to Dr. Dele Ashiru, chairman UNILAG Chapter of ASUU, who doubles as member of the National Executive Committee of the union, “In the first instance, ASUU presented its demands to the government and we made our case, and based on that, the government released some money. The money was not even up to what we demanded but we made the necessary concession in the interest of all.”
What is particularly striking is that ASUU insisted that they wouldn’t resume academic activities until FG met their demands. The union taunted the FG that it didn’t have the interest of the students at heart whose future prospects largely depended on a hitch-free academic year. Even when the FG showed sincerity in ending the strike by setting up several committees to look into issues like IPPSIS, ASUU remained resolute in their convictions. When the FG acceded, January 18th was set for resumption.
It’s only few days to resumption and ASUU is now raising concerns on the feasibility of kick starting academic activities in view of a looming second wave of COVID-19. The union declared it is unsafe to reopen varsities. Lecturers of federal universities are saying that students shouldn’t return to crowded hostels, classes. According to the FUNAAB Chapter of ASUU, holding physical lectures will be disastrous. University of Calabar has also said that it won’t expose its members to health hazards.
Social commentators have berated this as a tactic to delay resumption till March when FG promises to conclude the demands of the academic union. What is however worrisome is that ASUU and other associated unions constitute a body of professors, doctors, and top technocrats, yet they have never really come together to discuss or propose ideas, inventions or suggest any way out to the FG that can enable academic activities take place despite the novel coronavirus. Asides this, the numerous strike actions over the years have never really been about how the educational sector can be moved from where it is to where it should be; or ideas that will best suit her educational sector in line with global best practices. It is in most cases about the unions themselves, their allowances and what they stand to benefit. Sadly, they do this at the detriment of the students, while using them as baits to drive their agitations.
It is disturbing that these pressure groups on campus are not sensitive to Nigeria’s ever increasing debt profile. Following the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, government has been trying novel means to source for revenue. To this end, the FG joggled the idea of borrowing from N895bn unclaimed dividends and dormant accounts. This has received a backlash from Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). As the FG struggles with funding coupled with her increasing debt profile, so level of patriotism is demanded from ASUU, NASU and others perpetually seeking more funds for their programmes
While some have asked that strike actions be barred from a sector like education, others opine that this may not be feasible in the near future. Nevertheless, strike actions are good for what they are but ASUU, NASU, SSANU and other academic unions need to start pushing demands beyond pecuniary bargains, and beyond the unions themselves.
In view of the novel coronavirus and how it will affect school resumption, the various technocrats and major stakeholders in the union should be thinking more of developments, way outs, and inventions that can enable academic activities take place virtually instead of always passing the buck to the FG. No doubt that the Nigerian educational sector needs a lot of overhauling. But even when funds pose a major setback. Nigerians earnestly desire to have unions that would creatively engage government in ways that will grow the education sector, and not continue the tradition of endless strikes.