From Ogundele Olanrewaju
The hope of many Nigerians that the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would end this week may have been dashed as the President of the union, Emmanuel Osodeke, has said there is no end in sight to the lingering crisis.
ASUU also dismissed the government’s claim that it does not have enough funds to meet the union’s demands, saying the ongoing industrial action would not be called off until the government meets its key demands.
Mr Osodeke spoke on Wednesday while taking part as a panellist during a Twitter Spaces organised by PREMIUM TIMES.
Other panellists on the Spaces included a renowned scholar and convener of The Toyin Falola Interviews, Toyin Falola, and the Project Director, Connect Hub NG, Rinu Oduala.
FG-ASUU meeting deadlocked
The meeting between ASUU and the government representatives on Tuesday was deadlocked. Mr Osodeke said the government “did not bring anything new to the negotiation table.”
“They (Nimi Briggs committee) came with nothing. What they came with is from the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission which does not represent anything,” said the ASUU President.
Mr Osedeke also reiterated his comments that come 2023, Nigerians should only vote for leaders who will place priority on the country’s education sector and fund the universities.
“Anybody who in his campaign did not show they will revive the university system, they should vote them out. Anybody who you believe cannot take care of your interest, whose children are busy schooling abroad, do not vote for them. And I want to repeat it, you don’t need to vote for them,” he said.
Mr Osodeke listed the union’s major demands to include the adoption of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement, a halt to the proliferation of universities, and the release of revitalisation fund, among others.
He also noted that until all these demands are met, the lecturers are not going back to classrooms.
“If we take education seriously it (the strike) would not have lasted beyond February (when it started),” said Mr Osodeke, accusing the government of insensitivity.
He said the public primary and secondary schools are no more the choice of Nigerians because “they have been destroyed by the government.”
He added that the evidence that ASUU’s struggle is yielding results is that about 90 public universities still house over 90 per cent of the total number of students in tertiary institutions in the country, despite the availability of about 120 private universities.
He said: “Nobody puts their child in public primary and secondary schools again. It has been killed because they didn’t fight for it. But come to the university system, I can tell you we have as of today about 120 private universities and about 90 public universities. The 90 public universities have 95 percent of all students. Why?
Because of our (ASUU) struggle. If we didn’t do all these struggles, all the public universities would have been like the primary and secondary schools.”
Mr Osodeke also said the strike embarked upon by his union is in the interest of the students and the betterment of the university system, saying only one of all of his union’s demands relates to the lecturers’ welfare.
According to Mr Osodeke, the number of industrial actions by academics in the United Kingdom (UK) in the last five years is similar to that of their Nigerian counterpart.
He argued that “it’s not about the number of strikes. It’s about the government’s response to the strike,” stressing that the government in the UK promptly attends to the demands of the academics.
He alleged that special advisers to President Muhammadu Buhari earn up to a million naira monthly while a professor in the academic sector is left to earn “meagre” N400,000.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment had said the contents of the draft agreement ASUU had with the Mr Briggs-led committee was not feasible as it increases ASUU members’ salaries by up to a 100 per cent.
But the ASUU President did not disclose the amount contained in the draft agreement it had with the committee.
Mr Osodeke, who recently disclosed that UTAS has been approved for use, also said UTAS came “distant first” when tested alongside IPPIS and the University Peculiar Personnel and Payroll System (U3PS). He noted that IPPIS came last after the tests.
The ASUU president also said his union’s decision not to operate any Twitter handle is to curb misinformation.
ASUU has repeatedly denied operating any of the numerous twitter handles bearing its name on the social media platform.
“There are more than 10 ASUU twitter handles. People are faking it. If we have our own and multiple ones, how do people decipher the real one?” he said.
Also speaking, Mr Falola said the issues affecting Nigeria’s tertiary education sector are more than funding issues.
He noted that the country is yet to have a clearly defined objective for higher education like it was in the 1950s and 60s when the university education was tailored mainly towards supplying the colonial administration with workforce.
He also accused both ASUU and the government of not considering the interest of students during these crises.
He berated the government for throwing the university system into crisis by signing agreements and not fulfilling them.
Rinu Oduala, a youth activist and project director at Connect Hub NG, lamented that the incessant strike by the university lecturers in lowering the standard of the Nigerian universities and the education sector.
She said while the Nigerian students are home waiting for the government to reach an agreement with ASUU, the government is focusing on the 2023 elections.
She also dismissed the government’s claim that it has no money to fund the universities.
She said: “There is still money to be mismanaged. There will still be money to be spent. There will still be money to be put on fabulous things, so why not education.”
“To me, it seems that the politicians, the people that are supposed to be making policies for us that are supposed to be solving this issue … they’ve moved ahead and their focus is on the 2023 elections,” Ms Oduala said.
ASUU embarked on strike on 14 February, demanding among other things, the deployment of UTAS to replace IPPIS and the implementation of the 2009 renegotiated agreement which contains its members’ conditions of service.
The failure to reach an agreement with the government has led the union to continue to extend the initial four week strike. The strike has now lasted almost six months.
The latest extension on 1 August ends in two weeks.