One of the major challenges of the Nigerian education sector is the incessant closure of schools and unending mass action by lecturers under an umbrella organisation known as the “Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)”.
Ordinarily the year 2020 has caused a delay of the academic calendar due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.To ensure that many lives were saved, President Muhammadu Buhari in mid March asked that all schools from primary to tertiary be shut down.
A week after then, ASUU announced an indefinite strike. They argued that their action was necessary and aimed at expressing their anger against the federal government for withholding the salaries of university lecturers over their refusal to enrol in the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPIS).
By the time the federal government announced the re-opening of schools, stressing that it was imperative for students to return back to their classes, ASUU insisted that they were not ready for resumption claiming that schools aren’t safe for students and other stakeholders.
In fact, the national President of the union, Biodun Ogunyemi, in one of his interviews with journalists urged the federal government not to re-open schools until 2021. He argued that even if the government eventually reopens schools, it has nothing to do with universities battling with a series of crises.
“Talking of universities, it should be noted that the crises are beyond COVID-19. There are fundamental crises that will make universities reopening longer and impossible for now. We had long told the government our position and until they meet necessary conditions, universities are not resuming even after COVID”, he said then.
Between 1999 and now, ASUU has gone on strike for nearly 20 times and as a result of that, thousands of students remained on campus longer than necessary. In all of the instances that the union goes on strike, it’s usually because of the government’s lack of willingness to act on the concessions reached with the organization.
While the irregularities have been the order of the day for long, students have always been at the receiving end. The federal government through the ministry of education has a history of breaching agreements reached with the Academic union.
POLITICS NIGERIA in this report, however, explains how the incessant strike threatens Nigeria’s education sector. In 1999 for instance, ASUU went on strike over the failure of the Abdulsalam Abubakar administration to increase salaries for lecturers and the strike could not be called off until former president, Olusegun Obasanjo got elected.
Upon his emergence as the president, Mr Obasanjo could not resolve the crisis and it lasted another five months. A year after, another strike occurred in 2001. The demands and lengths of the strike differed from the earlier one. It was over the sack of 49 ASUU members and it lasted 3 months.
The sacked lecturers were from the University of ilorin. They were said to be radical lecturers in the school. An interesting angle of the drama later happened in 2005 after all 49 of them were reinstated by an Ilorin High Court.
Two years after demanding better income, nothing was done and the lecturers had to embark on another strike to press their demand further. Thiswas in 2002 lasted for two weeks. In addition to this, they want UNILORIN to obey a court order on the reinstatement of the 49 lecturers.
What the education sector witnessed in 2003 was more pathetic than that of the previous years. For half of the year, students were idle at home following the six months long strike by ASUU.
If a repeat of what students experienced in 2004 can happen, Nigerian students will be very happy because that was a year devoid of any shutdown. The calendar was smooth. While 2005 would have been like 2004, the year was marred with two weeks industrial action. Again, a three day warning strike was embarked on in 2006 but ended up getting to a week. They were agitating for the same demands. Better allowance which often fall-off the ears of the government.
In 2007, ASUU jettisoned the warning strike, instead lecturers stopped attending classes for three months yet the government still did not implement all the demands they reached concessions over. More so, a week-strike held in 2008. This time, it was still on the failure of UNILORIN to reabsorb 49 members sacked in 2001.
Still under the administration of the Umaru Musa Yar’adua, Nigerian universities were shut for four months. Later, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the union and the federal government, hence the strike was called off. Since then, ASUU has repeatedly accused the Nigerian government of not fulfilling the promise it made in the memorandum and that led to subsequent industrial actions.
For instance in 2010, the strike lasted for five months due to the government’s inability to meet up to demands listed in a MoU signed in 2009. By 2011, ASUU declared that Nigerian universities are underfunded, hence, they called for an upgrade and demanded that the government should implement a 70-year retirement age limit for ASUU members. After two months, and various meetings with the ministries of labour, and education, they returned back to work.
Like 2004, the year 2012 was a remarkable one. For the entire year, ASUU as a union did not shut schools. The lecturers waited till 2013 to again ask for the funding and revitalisation of universities as well as a certain earned allowance which it claims to be in arrears of 92 billion Naira. POLITICS NIGERIA recalls that the shutdown lasted for nearly six months. There was a brief strike as well in 2017 on yet to be resolved 2009 agreements. The same happened in 2018, 2019 for months and now 2020 which is already seven months and still counting.
POLITICS NIGERIA spoke with an advocate for good Education in Nigeria who condemned the federal government’s approach to the issue.
Alawode Afolabi disclosed that except the Nigeria government takes education seriously like other sectors, students will forever be made to suffer unnecessarily. “It will be wrong to blame lecturers for demanding their rights, rather, the federal government will take the blame because for those in authorities, they refuse to see the education sector as priority and that is the genesis of the crises”
“Until those in power take responsibility before the nation can have stable Academic calendar. If the governments in the real sense wants to be just, let them also ask members of the national assembly to enrol under IPPIS. Why must it be lecturers alone? Why not health workers as well. The lecturers to the best of my knowledge are also demanding uplift of their institutions”.
“It may sound too bitter but it is true that the Nigerian government are not interested in the ability of the child of the poor to have good and sound education. You have schools without infrastructure yet authorities live large in Abuja. That’s embarrassing to us as a nation”.
Despite acknowledging the fact that ASUU members are right with their demands, he enjoined the union to take a new step in engaging the federal government.
“For the past 20 years that you have been going on strike, but the government refused to meet your demands, I think there is need to review the approach used in handling their matters. ASUU is made of intellectuals and changing tactics should not be difficult.”