“…we have elected and we have chosen to elect people who do not have education. And because they are not educated, they cannot give education”
-Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II
Like a thief in the night, the news of an indefinite, total, and comprehensive strike declared by the Academic Staff Union of Universities broke into various homes on Sunday, November 4, 2018. The National Executive Council of the union which held at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, had unanimously expressed collective disappointment at the ‘Government of Change’ that no substantial progress has been made on the issues of the implementation of 2009 FGN/ASUU agreements, Memorandum of Understanding 2012 and 2013) and Memorandum of Action 2017) and the truncation of the renegotiation of the union’s agreements. The goal of the strike is to compel government to address the funding for revitalisation of public universities based on the FGN-ASUU MoU of 2012, 2013 and the MoA of 2017. The union wants the reconstitution of the current Government Team to allow for a leader and chairman who has the interest of the nation and its people at heart; release of the forensic audit report on Earned Academic Allowances, payments of all outstanding earned academic allowances and mainstreaming of the same into salaries beginning with the 2018 budget; payment of all arrears of shortfall in salaries to all universities that have met the verification requirements of the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit; and release of the University Pension Fund operational licence.
In 2017, I wrote a piece entitled, ‘ASUU and the imperatives of Change Begins with Me’, to unveil the tricky issues causing recurrent gridlock in our educational system. I argued then that the Change Begins with Me slogan of the present government amounted to shifting responsibility of doing the right things to Nigerians when indeed government-manifested mannerism has been to the opposite. It is sad that no government can be trusted and when you burst trust in social relationships, empty-shell relationships are nurtured. To suspend its strike in 2017, ASUU signed a Memorandum of Action as against Memorandum of Understanding thinking mere change of title will make an irresponsive regime behave true to the spirit and letters of an agreement. The Memorandum of Action which was signed by ASUU President, Biodun Ogunyemi, NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, Labour minister Chris Ngige, Permanent Secretary, FMoE, Sonny Echono and Permenant Secretary, FML&E, Bolaji Adebiyi were to be accomplished within six weeks (from October 2017) but almost a year after, the Muhammadu Buhari-led government has been foot-dragging.
The Federal Government released the sum of N23bn to pay outstanding Earned Academic Allowances of 2009 and 2010. From 2011 to date, Nigerian academics have been teaching and supervising excess number of students for free while those governors receive pension and severance allowances without being delayed! It is on record that many lecturers have died this year on stress-related deaths. While the MoA stated that “outstanding balance of the EAA arrears shall be paid upon the completion of the forensic audit”, it is bad news that while universities ready for this have submitted, the FG has failed to release the audit report let alone commence payments of outstanding 2009-2012 earned allowances.
The 2013 MoU stipulated that Nigerian public varsities would need the sum of N1.3tn for a modest revitalisation. The fund was to be paid in tranches of (N200 (2013), 220bn (2014), N220bn (2015), N220bn (2016), N220bn (2017) and N220bn (2018)) in five years. Only the Jonathan government released N200bn in 2013. Since that single intervention, nothing has come forth. The result is decay in infrastructure, inability to attract foreign scholars and poor products. But when ASUU asked the FG in 2017 that to suspend the strike it had to pay N220bn for the revitalisation, the government expressed inability to pay because it was not budgeted for in 2017 but offered to release the sum of N20bn by October 2017 as a sign of commitment to raise funds for revitalising the comatose sector in 2018. A year after, the Federal Government went to town, apparently to malign ASUU that it had released the sum of N20bn to the union for revitalisation! Meanwhile, only university administrations get credited for funds allocated to universities. It is even more saddening that no N20bn has been released so far.
The union was also angered by the hard-line stance of the leader of government renegotiation of ASUU/FGN agreements; Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN) whom the union reportedly said only new agreements should be discussed while previous agreements and MoU/MoA (1992, 2001, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2017) should be discarded! This led to the breakdown of renegotiation. ASUU felt insulted and pained that it lost many brilliant Nigerians like Professor Festus Iyayi to the struggle. While the union acknowledged that some progress has been made in payment of shortfall in salaries, in a letter written to the Minister of Education on October 2018, ASUU asked government to pay many outstanding balances. ASUU asked the minister to ensure her loyal members in University of Ilorin who were excluded in the payment of academic allowances get paid. Other issues are the failure to release operational licence to the Nigerian University Employees Pension Company. The union has only been given Approval in Principle letter and cannot hit the ground running. It feels the FG is frustrating it because operating Pension Fund Administrators are friends of government. Another reason is the planned re-introduction of Education Bank by government. The scheme had failed before for some reasons including fraudulent management by the ruling class.
In 2018, 1,653, 127 candidates sat for the Unified Matriculation Examination. About 94 per cent of this figure picked public varsities. Only six percent chose private universities owned by the ruling class. Is it not a wise policy that a government of vision invest in this critical sector where the interest of her future lies? Is it not unfortunate to be governed by uneducated or unappreciative educated capitalist cohorts whose pre-occupation is to train their children abroad to return home and get jobs in the NNPC, CBN, FIRS, Customs and Immigration? The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, aptly captures the mood in the country when he said we have historically voted for uneducated cohorts who cannot give what they don’t have. But a point of difference is that our rulers need our minds and that of our children to be blank so they can continue the impunity and remain unchallenged. They are educated enough to know that a mind that knows will be free hence the need to keep the slave trade by denying the masses qualitative education.
It is unfortunate that for the next few weeks or months, people’s livelihoods will be stunted, students can’t complete their semester examinations, business interests will suffer, families will witness crises and lecturers will suffer not seeing their students, endure abuses from the learned and illiterate publics. If the government can bail out Skye Bank with public funds to the tune of over N1tn, why is it difficult to invest in the future of the country? If the current government blames the past governments, what is change in signing MoA in 2017 and a year after have little to show but investing in re-election? This implies a change in government may not bring new ideas since actors are the same (#APC=PDP).
The history of Nigerian system is that only those who dare to struggle dare to win. A government that remembers to budget for cups, spoons and plates annually cannot allocate seven per cent to education in 2018 budget and expect things to turn around. It is better to quickly resolve the ASUU strike to mitigate impending danger. We can only produce rapists, kidnappers, and terrorists when students are trained in prison!