Varsity education 62 years after independence: A chronicle of ASUU’s struggles
In the past decades after independence, Nigeria’s public universities have suffered multiple disruptions in their activities due to strikes by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a reincarnate of National Association of University Teachers (NAUT).
Since its formation in 1978, ASUU has grown in leaps and bounds, from five branches of NAUT to 92 ASUU branches, comprising federal and state universities nationwide.
But as ASUU grows so also has instability and academic disruption thickens in the public university system as it pushes for what it describes as improved working environment and members’ welfare.
In its early days, ASUU fiercely fought against any form of assault on academic freedom and government interference in the universities.
It fought against decaying infrastructure due to neglect and social services, as much as unpopular government policies and programmes, detrimental to the overall wellbeing of the citizens.
It was also at the forefront of the struggle against military rule and any form of re-colonisation of Nigeria.
However, close followers of the activities of this trade union say the trajectory of its struggles started to change around 1988.
Notably, between 1988 and 1996, university lecturers embarked on five nationwide strikes in demand for better conditions of service.
In the course of those struggles, ASUU suffered two proscriptions under the military, and on each occasion, came back more resolute in pursuits of its aspirations.
After the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, ASUU became more restive. Between 1999 and 2022, the union embarked on strike 16 times (the ongoing one inclusive).
Out of the 16 ASUU strikes, seven occurred under the presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, while five each occurred under Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.
The remaining four have so far taken place under the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Two years after Buhari assumed office, in 2007 to be precise, ASUU embarked on a strike. The union later embarked on a three-month strike in 2018 and a record nine months strike in 2020.
The ongoing strike has so far lasted more than seven months.
It is important to point out that all the issues in dispute emanated from agreements signed between the union and previous governments, some dating back to 2009.
The disputed issues include: the Revitalisation Funds, Earned Academic Allowances/ Earned Allowances, Renegotiation of the 2009 agreement on conditions of service of university workers, and appointment of visitation panels to the universities.
Others are: the establishment of University Transparency Account Solution (UTAS) as payment platform for university teachers.
With this, according to the union, salaries will not be paid through the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) approved by the government for Federal Government workers.
ASUU argues that the separate platform will accommodate peculiarities in lectures’ salaries and wages such as earned allowances and sabbaticals, which IPPIS does not recognise.
The Federal Government insists that it has religiously implemented everything contained in the 2020 agreement.
The federal government argues that paid N92b from the 2021 budget to cover the revitalisation funds and Earned Academic Allowances/ Earned Allowances for non-teaching staff.
According to the government, the issue of visitation panels to the universities had since been laid to rest, leaving only the issues of payment platform and the renegotiation of the conditions of service for university workers.
The union, however, differs, accusing the government of serially flouting Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs).
Regarding the renegotiation of the conditions of service, in 2016-2017, the Federal Government appointed a committee headed by Wale Babalakin SAN, who was at that time the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, to handle the renegotiation.
ASUU protested against Babalakin’s appointment, prompting his replacement with Professor Jubril Munzali.
Munzali eventually proposed 200 per cent rise in emoluments of university workers, but the Federal Government rejected the proposal because of its huge financial implications.
The National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC), in particular, said the proposal failed to comply with its template for wage increase.
When the tenure of the Munzali committee elapsed, the Federal Ministry of Education set up a new renegotiation team headed by Professor Nimi Briggs, giving the committee a three-month deadline to conclude its assignment.
The committee was yet to conclude its assignment when ASUU embarked on strike on Feb. 14 this year.
After two unsuccessful attempts at conciliation at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, the President directed the Minister of Education to take over negotiations.
However, the discussion between ASUU and the Ministry of Education had since broken down irretrievably, forcing the Minister, Sen. Chris Ngige, to refer the dispute to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria ((NICN).
Ngige said he acted according to the powers given to him by Section 17 of the Trade Dispute Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
As Nigerian marches on as nation stakeholders in university education hope that the lingering conflicts between ASUU and the federal government will be permanently laid to rest.