The Federal Government has invited pro-chancellors, vice-chancellors and chairmen of governing councils of federal universities to a meeting in Abuja on September 6 as part of efforts to resolve the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
The meeting was convened by the National Universities Commission, which stated that participants would review actions of the government on the strike.
The letter inviting the heads of the universities to the meeting was signed by the NUC’s Deputy Executive Secretary, Administration, Chris Maiyaki and obtained by one of our correspondents on Tuesday.
This came to the fore as the strike by ASUU entered the 198th day amid the decision of the university lecturers to declare a comprehensive industrial action.
Stakeholders, particularly parents, in different interviews berated ASUU and the government, lamenting that the future of their children was being toyed with.
An analysis of an academic session by one of our correspondents reveals that a session is close to nine months; divided into first semester which is popularly known as harmattan semester and the second semester which is also regarded as rain semester. Most Nigerian public universities, on the average, spend nine months per session.
ASUU on February 14 began the strike due to what it described as “failure” on the part of the government to meet its demands.
The demands include the payment of earned allowances, payment of revitalisation funds to universities, creation of visitation panels and implementation of the University Transparency Accountability Solution instead of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System for the payment of workers in the ivory towers.
The government set up a committee headed by Prof Nimi Briggs to look into the demands of the union and review the 2009 ASUU-FG agreement.
ASUU leaders, who walked out of a meeting with the government on August 16, alleged that no offer was made to them.
But the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, in an interview with journalists, said non-academic unions had agreed to end their strike.
The minister said university lecturers insisted that they should be paid for the period they did not work, a request he said the government was not ready to grant.
ASUU, after its National Executive Council meeting in Abuja on Sunday and Monday, said it had decided to declare “a comprehensive, total and indefinite strike” because of the government’s failure to meet its demands.
In its invitation letter, the NUC the meeting on September 6 with pro-chancellors and vice-chancellors would review actions taken on the strikes by university unions with a view to reaching a consensus.
It stated, “As the pro-chancellors and chairmen of councils and the vice-chancellors are quite aware the industrial action by University-based unions has led to the closure of the institutions since February 2022.
“You are also aware that the non-teaching unions have suspended their industrial actions with effect from 24th August, 2022, while a final decision is being awaited from the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
“It has become necessary for the governing councils and the managements of the universities to be briefed on the decisions and actions taken by the Federal Government so far to allow for a well coordinated review of the situation including building consensus around succeeding actions.
“Consequently, I am to invite the pro-chancellors and chairmen of councils as well as vice-chancellors of federal universities to a special interactive meeting with the Honourable Minister of Education on Tuesday, September 6,2022.”
Although the letter did not contain the detailed agenda of the meeting, The PUNCH gathered that it would discuss options for financing universities, including the N10,000 levy suggested by the Parent-Teacher Association, in view of the cash crunch and budget deficit the government was battling.
A source in the commission stated, “We will discuss ways we can end the strike and universities can be better financed.”
A professor at Adekunle Ajashin University, Victor Olumekun in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, blamed the government for the loss suffered by the students.
Olumekun, who is a member of ASUU said, “As an ASUU man, I can tell you the government has not handled the matter well at all. The government say they have agreed, but we don’t even know what was agreed on or the area of agreement.”
Also, a lecturer at the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Dr Gbolahan Bolarin in a separate interview with The PUNCH said, “The government failed woefully and that is the reason we are where we are now. Instead of coming with the “award” in February to allow the union to respond appropriately, they wasted state money by setting up another committee to negotiate with the union.”
A parent, Mr Bolarinwa Ishola, in an interview with The PUNCH, said his son, an electrical engineering student, who was supposed to be on the 200 level, had been delayed right from the COVID-19 epidemic period in 2020.
Another parent, Ibrahim. Ajayi, who resides in Ota, Ogun State, said his son is a state university student in the South-West. He, told one of our correspondents that from all indications, public university students had lost a session to the strike.
A parent, Mrs Florence Adekogbe, who said she had three children in federal universities, explained that it was saddening the manner w the government handled the ASUU strike.
Adekogbe revealed that two of her children were final year students in a federal university, while the third was a 200-level student.
She blamed the government for the delay and suffering of students and their parents.
But the Minister of State for Education, Goodluck Opiah, said the Federal Government had done much for the education sector, especially for the universities.
The minister, according to a statement made available to one of our correspondents in Abuja, disclosed this during his presentation to the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETfund.
He stated that the government had done the necessary things for ASUU to resume classes.
He said that the Federal Government only came up with a standard principle of “no work, no pay” which he said was a universal policy the university teachers were expected to imbibe.
He said, “The government has yielded to all the demands of ASUU. The only thing is that the government doesn’t support “anyone who doesn’t work but wants pay.”
But ASUU president, Emmanuel Osodeke, said university lecturers deserved to be paid for the period they were on strike. According to him, despite the lecturers not teaching for months, the other aspects of their job are still being fulfilled.
In an interview with Channels television’s Politics Today programme monitored by one of our correspondents on Tuesday, Osodoke wondered why the Federal Government was bringing up the ‘no work, no pay’ idea despite delaying negotiations with the striking lecturers for months.
He said the issues that led to the strike ought to be addressed first before the ‘no work, no pay’ threat. “Have they addressed the issue of why we are on strike? Why are they talking about no work, no pay?” Osodoke asked.
He stated, “You purposely delayed the negotiations. Government purposely ensured that our students stayed at home for six or eight months. But if they had come in to negotiate with us in February, the students would not stay at home. If they had come in March, they would not be at home. If they had come in April… but purposely, deliberately delayed the process. You will set up a panel, they will give you a report but delay for one year before they will release the result. Instead of addressing the issue, they are talking about no work, no pay.
“Now, let’s talk about no work, no pay. In my letter of appointment, the functions of a lecturer are teaching, research and community service. Those are the three trajectories of the functions of a lecturer. So, if you are on strike, the only thing you are not doing is teaching. When you go to universities, you will see our colleagues in offices, you will see them all over the place doing their research as part of their job, and doing community service.’’
Osinbajo seeks actions
On his part, the Vice- President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, said the strike by ASUU must be resolved urgently.
According to a statement on Tuesday by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande, Osinbajo made the call when he received governors of the All Progressives Congress who visited him at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, following a leg surgery he underwent in July.
The statement was titled ‘We all need to act fast on economy, ASUU strike, Osinbajo tells visiting APC governors.’
During a brief interaction that followed the meeting, the Vice-President discussed salient national issues, especially the economy and the lingering ASUU strike.