As acrimonious as their last statements were, it is heartening to hear both sides of the protracted labor dispute at universities across the country talking again about what should happen after the strike is called off. Previously, mum had been the word of the Minister of Education, as students at public universities languish at home, their future openly taken away from them. President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has so far shown a “provocative indifference” to the social conflict, which began on February 14, 2022, even as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is determined to do what he wants. If the history of previous strikes and their resolution is any indication, the current back and forth or spat between the two sides is a telltale sign that the debilitating action is in its twilight, though that optimism is dampened. by the current demagoguery and subtle casus belli blackmail usually associated with an action that has run its course.
Reports from Tuesday’s meeting between the two sides indicate that members of Professor Nimi Briggs’ renegotiation committee have tabled no new offers other than to beg teachers to suspend the ongoing strike, with the promise that their concerns will be addressed. included in the 2023 budget. The leadership of the ASUU, which would have none of this, organized a walkout of the negotiation, which lasted about three hours. ASUU President Professor Emmanuel Osodeke followed up later with a statement in which he revealed that the union had asked the federal government, through the Ministry of Education, to return to the new draft d agreement of the FGN/ASUU Renegotiation Committee of 2009, the work of which lasted a total of five and a half years as a sign of good faith. He added that “the renegotiation committee led by Munzali Jibril submitted the first draft agreement in May 2021, but the official response from the government did not come until about a year later! Again, the rewards presented by the Nimi Briggs-led team came in the form of a take-it-or-leave-it piece of paper. No serious country in the world treats its scholars this way.
Notwithstanding this grouse from lecturers, the federal government feels good enough to encourage students affected by the prolonged university closures to “sue ASUUand claim damages suffered during the strike. This position was conveyed by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who said that there should be consequences and even deterrence for the closure of public universities in the country for more than six months. Speaking yesterday at the ministerial press conference hosted by the Presidential Communications Team at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Adamu revealed that “all contentious issues between the government and ASUU have been settled, at the exception of the demand for members’ wages for the period of the strike to be paid, a demand which Buhari flatly rejected.In an apparent reference to the federal government’s no work or pay policy regarding strikes, he pointed out that the government had refused the teachers’ request to be paid back wages because he felt there should be penalties for their action.
Recall that the federal government applied this measure to members of the Joint Health Services Union (JOHESU), whose salaries were withheld during the three-month strike in 2018. It was at the time of approving the release of funds for the salaries of resident doctors on strike in September and October 2021 that the president “pardoned” health personnel by ordering the payment of their seized salaries. Buhari thinks ASUU shouldn’t just shut down public universities all this time. It is difficult to criticize this position since section 43 of the Industrial Disputes Act 2004 prohibits the payment of wages to strikers. More so, the federal cabinet had approved a 2017 white paper on the report of a technical committee to stem the tide of social unrest in the country, building on the above law. We also recall that in January 2014, a human rights lawyer petitioned the National Labor Court sitting in Abuja to compel university professors to repay the five months salary paid to them by the federal government while that ASUU was on strike, pointing out that teachers were being paid in violation of the Labor Dispute Act.
In response to the federal government’s insistence on non-payment of speakers following industrial action, ASUU claimed that affected students might as well forget about unfinished academic sessions. Speaking to Channels TV, Osodeke said: “If we accept (the threat from the government), therefore the lectures we should have given (to the students) for 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 [sessions], should be allowed to leave, so we start a new session, 2022/2023, in September… When we resume today, we will start from the 2020/2021 session. For these two groups of students admitted by JAMB, we must teach them during these periods to ensure that we meet the system. So let’s backlog the work we left behind. We’re not going to start today by saying, ‘This session is 2022/2023. Therefore, all these two groups of people who have been admitted by JAMB are cancelled. You must take another admission for the 2023/2024 session. What is clear from the current standoff is that it boils down to faculty emoluments with no claim that their “Aluta” is for better funding and improving the dilapidated infrastructure in universities.
This current stalemate has created a situation where it will either be no work, no pay, or no pay, no work. Yet a simple transposition of the words in the two sentences presents them as identical. The government’s no-work-unpaid policy on lecturers and ASUU’s no-work-no-work policy also align leaving students with the shorter end of the stick! Naija News vehemently rejects this exploitation of young citizens which could be the country’s greatest contribution to the world. It was only recently that an alumnus, Dr. Philip Ozuah, who now owns a chain of hospitals in the United States, donated $1 million to the University Medical College, Ibadan. Most of the CEOs of blue chip companies in America’s Silicon Valley, as well as the head of the IMF, are Indians who earned their first degrees from Indian universities. How can this be the lot of Nigerian youth if the Federal Government and ASUU continue this Russian roulette with the future of the country?
Nigerian students have suffered enough from the relentless strikes, and both sides must spare a thought for them and their long-suffering parents. As if their work was not enough, Minister Adamu even wants them to take ASUU to court and in doing so expose themselves or their children to a vicious witch hunt that will not allow them to graduate or gain admission to another public university. when rusticated. Of course, the “no work, no pay” rule has been enshrined in the country’s laws since the 1990s, but when negotiating the end of a prolonged strike, the unions always display the “no victimization”. We call on the Buhari government to be sure they want to end this trend. If not, he should back down now lest there be a situation where the current strike is unduly lingering, only for ASUU to finally be pardoned as JOHESU was.
Unfortunately, the collective interest of Nigerian students has been thrown out the window. With an academic session already lost and distractions at every turn, these students would have forgotten what they had been taught before the strike. When cancelled, we require that these students receive a refresher on previous lectures, rather than having to skip semester or session coursework as ASUU threatens non-work -unpaid. It is counterproductive for the government to go down this route, especially since the funds for withheld salaries are already budgeted, disbursed and are now earning interest in various banks. As the ASUU puts the government in check with their no-pay-no-work, Naija News expects that if the government succumbs, it will be conscientious enough not to rush poor students into the program or immediately take them to exams in an attempt to meet the timetable. In the final analysis, this newspaper demands that when it embarks on prolonged strikes, organized labor be prepared to pay the wages of members. After all, unions in other jurisdictions maintain a strike fund from which their members draw wages whenever they have tools.