ASUU Strike Will Continue As Long As FG Withholds Our Salaries - ASUU President 1

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Despite pleas by stakeholders and Nigerian students to end the strike, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Abiodun Ogunyemi, in this interview with IYABO LAWAL, insists that schools will remain shut until issues of members’ salaries and revitalisation are settled.

Despite talks, FG sends delegates to varsities for IPPIS capturing –ASUU

What is the update on the seven-month strike embarked on by university teachers?
Nothing has changed significantly. We have presented our issues. We started with five, and we now have six issues. These are revitalisaton of universities; renegotiation of 2009 agreement; visitation panels to universities; proliferation of universities, particularly by state governments and of course Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) of members.

The starting point is to say that those were outstanding issues from the memorandum of agreement signed with the government on February 7, 2019, which the government has not done anything significant to address. But since then, Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) has been elevated almost over and above these other issues earlier highlighted. Recall that it was as a result of that we engaged the government on developing an alternative to IPPIS; which we have since developed to an advanced stage. We have presented it to the minister of education and members of his team, the Senate President, and to a larger audience in the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, where all major stakeholders were represented – Ministries of Labour and Unemployment; Education, Office of the Accountant-General itself, Finance and, of course, experts from the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the body that regulates information technology development in the country.

We have done all those presentations and the general impression was that our alternative, called University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), is superior to IPPIS. However, because of the need to fulfill the requirement of integrity test, we were expected to follow up on that.

We believed that with all that we have done, the government has no reason to withhold salaries of our members, which in some cases, are five months now, and in some other cases, as many as eight or nine months, including their EAA, salaries and check-off dues of our union. As long as they continue to withhold the salaries of our members, they are not paving way for smooth resolution of the crisis. We are at that point where we need to resolve the issue of mode of payment for what the government owes our members. We feel that some agents of the government could be doing this to escalate the crisis, even though the government has made promises about the five issues we raised, we are yet to see them activated.

With the prolonged strike by ASUU, there are fears that undergraduates may lose one academic year,; are you not bothered by that?
ASUU members have children in the public universities, but we want these children to know that the fight is in their interest. We want them to have the quality of education that some of us had. We can stand our ground, have robust debate about issues and we are rounded.

We keep telling these students that the quality of hostels we had in the 70s and 80s cannot be imagined. We had four students, maximum, at the time in a room, unlike now where you have 12 students or more. We don’t want to continue like that. For laboratories, whereas during our time, a student had a microscope to himself, today, there is no such thing. About four to six persons share one, where they have. The laboratories have no water, and sometimes are without electricity. The libraries don’t have books and we keep pretending that we are promoting 21st Century education. The ICT facilities that should have filled the gap, the government has failed to provide the needed fund. That is why we cannot effectively respond to the challenge of e-learning.

ASUU has been demanding the revitalisation of universities. What are those things required to achieve this objective?
In 2012, when the NEEDS assessment of 16 universities were carried out, after much pressure, the government came out to say that it agreed with N1.3 trillion to be released over a period of six years, starting with the sum of N200 million in 2013. That was the only tranche the government released, which was spread over five years. Since 2017, we have been saying that the government should go back to pay the balance or come up with a new schedule for paying the balance of N1.1 trillion. The best we have got from the government was the release of N25 billion, then N20 billion as a sign of commitment, which does not address the fundamental issues because the spirit behind the MoU of 2013, which the Federal Government signed with ASUU, was the need to massively inject funds into public universities, but there are problems in terms of facilities and human capacities, among others.

It is like treating education, particularly at that level, as an emergency issue. If you take something as an emergency, you would deploy all resources into it as witnessed in the case of COVID-19. By the time we saw the threat of the pandemic in concrete terms, all hands were on deck, and resources were mobilised.

That is the kind of thing we want to see in the education sector, not this tokenism. We are not begging. We are demanding that the government should fix our education because it is the catalyst for development. If you give our children low quality education, you are endangering the future of this country because they would come back into the system to destroy it, not necessarily physically, but intellectually and morally.

Because when you produce students who do not value rules and regulations, in the civil service for instance, who believed that they could cut corners because of the quality of education they have received, then we cannot guarantee the future of our country.

We are saying that in order not to endanger the future of Nigeria, poor education also kills and it is worse than pandemic because if you produce engineers that do not have the prerequisite skills, they would construct bridges that would consume all of us. If you produce doctors that are not well trained, they would forget surgical equipment in people’s bodies during operations. These are the kinds of things we want to prevent.

We need quality environment in our country that would give a competitive education as obtained in other parts of the world. That is the essence of pushing the government to address the issue of revitalisation as an emergency issue and give us a rescheduled plan of how they are going to inject the balance of about N1.1 trillion.

Successive governments have failed to increase budgetary allocations to education despite the UNESCO’s recommendation of 26 per cent. What percentage do you think the government should allocate to the sector to make it address the various gaps and meet current realities?

In November 2017, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, gave a speech at an inter-ministerial retreat, where he said among the big eight countries, it is only Nigeria that allocates less than 20 per cent to education. Ghana, in the last 10 years, has not been allocating less than 20 per cent. The same thing in South Africa and Egypt. These three countries are where our children are trooping to for higher education, because they know they would get relatively more qualitative education.

Blaming ASUU for education tourism is an alibi; it is an escape route that people are looking for. The question is, have we addressed the problems in our educational system? If we fix our education, if the government keeps to its promises with ASUU and other staff unions, are we going to be having strikes? Why are we blaming citizens?

 

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