It appears difficult but this perennial ASUU ‘strike festival’ can be stopped

In what has now become almost an annual ritual, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on an industrial action which has now lasted about 8 months. With no foreseeable end in sight, students in public universities in Nigeria have now lost hope in the system. And, when school resumes, the ongoing session might be cancelled as if the year didn’t exist at all.

If this is done, it wouldn’t be the first time as many Nigerian public universities also battle their own internal crises caused by strikes by the Non-Academic Staff Unions, students’ crises and even local host town issues.

But, one of the major reasons for this strike is the Federal Government’s refusal to fully honour the terms of the groundbreaking 2009 ASUU-FGN Agreement. The agreement, if honoured would mean an increase in funding to Universities and more capital investments. Also, there is the much-debated issue of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which has been a major conundrum between the Federal Government and the Staff Union.

As part of the Government’s attempt to plug leaks and ensure fiscal transparency, it implemented the Treasury Single Account and the IPPIS.

With the IPPIS, university lecturers will be paid centrally from a database and there will be prompt deductions of all the amounts to be statutorily deducted from their salaries. However, university lecturers kicked against this because they believe that the university system should be autonomous, going ahead to design their own platform which they want the Federal Government to adopt.

The argument of university autonomy is important but it throws up another important argument – lack of clear policy direction.

Based on economic policies, one wonders whether the country is a socialist or capitalist state, and this has been transferred to the education sector.

In this unfortunate battle, students suffer the consequences. They are forced to stay at home for so long and this further affects the quality of education they get.

Also, the length of these strikes makes it seem like the lecturers and the Federal Government do not care about the education sector at all.

During the #EndSARS protests, the Federal Government invited ASUU to negotiate because they needed to get University students to school. The meeting, like many of their meetings, ended without progressive decisions and immediately the protests stopped, the Federal Government ignored the problem again.

The education system in Nigeria is bad already but strikes make it even worse as students go on unnecessary breaks that can hamper their educational careers.

Also, there is a reduction in general productivity on the part of the students and the lecturers. A responsible government would be looking for ways to make the strikes end once and for all but Nigeria’s successive administrations have been patching the problem over the years.

Unfortunately, there are no winners in it all. ASUU’s rank was broken when a parallel union was formed by aggrieved members in 2017. Even though ASUU remains the most powerful lecturers’ body in Nigeria, further strike actions will make them irrelevant. Also, it is clear that there is an element of self in their demands.

The Federal Government is pushing this also. A state of emergency must be declared in the education sector so that the radical changes needed to be made will be effected.

Also, there needs to be a proper debate about university autonomy and management. The role of government, the leadership recruitment process and other related issues must be debated properly.

If all these are done and the strikes stop, the Nigerian education sector will improve and every other sector will benefit from it.

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