The Academic Staff Union of Universities declared its nationwide strike on March 23, 2020 as a result of the Federal Government’s directive that staff in Federal Government-owned institutions should register for the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System, which ASUU vehemently disagreed with. Failure of the FG to fulfill the 2009 agreement it had with ASUU, which is about the revitalization of public university education and the non-payment of the Earned Academic Allowances amongst others are part of ASUU’s demands.
Truly, these aforementioned demands of ASUU are genuine and rational. As regards staff enrolling for IPPIS, ASUU has defended its position, stating that the Accountant-General of the Federation does not have the legal right to determine the payroll system of public universities as it is a duty of each university’s governing council. Also, bearing in mind the unfortunate state of public universities which is because of the failure of the government to invest more in the education sector, the underfunding of the education sector has kept government-owned Nigerian universities aback as it cannot compete with its counterparts in other parts of the world.
Despite these, it is safe to conclude that FG is not sincere and not ready to reach any consensus soon with ASUU for the union to suspend its strike in order for academic activities to commence back in school. FG has stopped payment of their salaries. This suggests that FG wants to frustrate ASUU’s struggle. Just like successive governments, this current administration has shown no commitment to change the notorious narrative known with Nigeria’s education sector. Since FG eased lockdown and allowed reopening of universities, both parties have had series of meetings which have failed to yield any positive result.
It must be noted that out of these numerous meetings, the outcome of two of these meetings suggested that FG was ready to reach an agreement with ASUU. These two meetings were held while the #EndSARS protest was on. In one of these meetings, FG agreed to pay the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) even though there was disagreement as to which payroll system to be used. In another, it was reported by popular news outlets that FG considers the adoption of UTAS. These reports were welcomed by Nigerian students with much anxiety. Many were of the opinion that a consensus would be reached with ASUU soonest. Unfortunately, this hope was dashed when the #EndSARS protest stopped after the military officers shot people dead in Lekki.
During the tensed days of the #EndSARS protests, FG alleged that the protest was massive because of the ongoing strike and in a bid to weaken the protest, FG hurriedly had meetings with ASUU and agreed to some concessions with the deceitful zeal to meet ASUU’s demands. However, immediately the protest ended, FG changed the narrative and now, it looks like the strike will last till eternity.
FG’s reaction to the #EndSARS protest in relation to the ASUU strike is symbolic and not just a mere coincidence.
Based on history, one can boldly assert that FG fears mass action of any group and will go to any extent to stop protests from holding. Taking the #EndSARS protest as an example, governments on different occasions met with individuals presumed to be the leaders of this protest because they understood the economic effect of a protest holding for weeks and months. The campaign to #EndSARS did not start this year, the hashtag surfaced online first in 2017. From 2017 till October 2020, FG made false promises which were not fully affected by the total disbandment of SARS. The total disbandment of SARS would not have happened if youths had not trooped out to the streets to protest. The protest was consistent and peaceful until FG began to shoot protesters.
The achievement gotten from the #EndSARS protest is enough to send signals to ASUU. It is high time ASUU changed from its elite-style of pressing home their demands to a more proactive and radical one. It is funny to realise that ASUU only uses strikes and meetings in pressing home their demands and this elite-manner of challenging abnormalities seems not to be productive any longer.
The strike embarked on by ASUU has been rendered non-productive by the refusal of FG to listen to their demands. In short, ASUU needs to embark on a nation-wide protest in order for FG to take their demands seriously.
Professional unions like Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in the past had embarked on peaceful demonstrations to press home their demands and results abound. The reason why ASUU has refused to embark on a peaceful protest is still unknown and no reason can be attached to this.
Funnily enough, students who have been at home for close to eight months will not hesitate to be at the barricades with their lecturers to protest what is good for public tertiary education.
Now that FG has refused to take ASUU’s demands seriously, ASUU must mobilize its members and students to the barricades and stop its elite-style of attending to burning issues. The struggle to revitalize Nigeria’s public tertiary education must not be restricted to round-table discussions. It must be taken to the streets where the whole of Nigeria will understand what is going on.
Freedom comes, only, by struggle.
Afolabi Alawode is a Nigerian student and can be contacted on 09030875802