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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Federal Govt forced ASUU to embark on Nationwide Strike

Once again, the Federal Government's
refusal to honour an agreement it
reached with lecturers of public
universities has forced the Academic
Staff Union of Universities to embark on
industrial action on Monday, SEGUN
OLUGBILE reports
When the Academic Staff Union of
Universities suspended its two-month
strike in February 2012, many had
thought that the last had been heard of
national strikes in public institutions. This
optimism was hinged on the
Memorandum of Understanding signed
by the Federal Government and the
lecturers on how to resolve funding
challenges, infrastructural decay and
welfare problem in the nation's public
universities.
But this is not to be, as the union on
Monday stated that it has returned to the
trenches to fight government for its
alleged refusal to honour an agreement
it reached with lecturers. Specifically,
ASUU said it has resumed the suspended
strike from Monday (yesterday). This
action, the union's National President,
Dr. Nasir Fagge, said was taken after
the Federal Government allegedly failed
to implement the agreement.
Fagge said the action, though painful,
would be total, comprehensive and last
for as long as the government
implements the details of the
Memorandum of Understanding that
both parties signed in 2011.
Consequently, the semester
examinations going on in some
universities would be disrupted, while
admission processes would be put on
hold. Final year students writing their
projects would be hit hard, as their
supervisors would not attend to them. By
this, academic activities in public tertiary
institutions, particularly in universities
and polytechnics, which had been on
strike in the last three months, would be
paralysed.
The decision to embark on the action
was taken during the National Executive
Council meeting of ASUU at the Olabisi
Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun
State between Sunday and Monday. All
the 53 chapters of ASUU were
represented at the meeting, during
which 51 chapters of the union
overwhelmingly voted in support of the
action.
Briefing the press about the outcome of
the NEC meeting at the University of
Lagos on Monday, Fagge said the union
decided to suspend the action in January
2012 after the Federal Government and
ASUU signed the MoU, which contained
how all the issues of funding, pension
scheme, retirement age and payment of
earned allowance for qualified lecturers
would be handled.
The Federal Government, the union
stated, had only implemented the
extension of the retirement age of
professors to 70, but had failed to pay
the earned allowance for lecturers who
are assigned other duties apart from
teaching, research and community
service. The earned allowance is the
money paid to lecturers who are
assigned to administrative duties such as
heads of department, hall wardens,
student project's supervision and
examination duties and pay for extra
workload on lecturers.
Under the student projects' supervision
allowance, a professor is expected to be
paid N15, 000 per theses. Also, under
the extra workload category, the
lecturer/student ratio in Arts, Social
Sciences and Education faculties is one
lecturer to 50 students, one to 35 in
Faculty of Sciences and one lecturer to
25 students in Colleges of Medicine.
Lecturers are supposed to be paid if they
have more than the national lecturer/
student ratio.
"When we signed the MoU, it was stated
that N100bn had been set aside to pay
the earned allowance. But I can tell you
that no lecturer has been paid since
2009. Yes, the government has
extended the retirement age of
professors to 70 as agreed, earned
allowances have not been paid while
little has been done to raise the level of
infrastructure in universities," he said.
Although he explained that the union
had met with government over the
matter many times, government has
refused to respect the agreement.
Rather, he said, ASUU was told that the
government forgot to include the earned
allowance in the budget.
The Chairman, ASUU, UNILAG chapter,
Dr. Karo Ogbinanka, who had earlier
briefed the press about the readiness of
his chapter to start the strike after a
congress on Monday, explained that the
strike was called because government
had never shown enough commitment to
the development of the sector.
He explained that after the MoU was
signed, a NEEDS Assessment Committee
on the State of Public Universities was set
up to look at the state of infrastructure of
the institutions.
"The report has been submitted and all
of us know that our universities fall short
in physical development, but our concern
is government has not done enough to
revamp these institutions and the
modalities for the injection of funds into
these universities have not been
followed. That is why there has been
increase in the rate of agitation for
improved municipal facilities in our
universities which has unfortunately been
leading to the deaths of innocent
students," Ogbinaka said.
But why is the union embarking on strike
when it has not given the government
the required ultimatum, Ogbinaka
explained that the union had done a
warning strike before now.
"Anyway, we don't even need to give
them ultimatum because it is clearly
stated in the MoU that we signed with
them that we (ASUU) will go on strike
without warning should they fail to
honour the agreement. They have
reneged on the agreement and so there
is nothing that can stop us from
embarking on this comprehensive and
total strike," he said.
On when UNILAG would join the strike,
Ogbinaka said that immediately after
the press briefing, a congress would be
called and the university management
would be informed. "It's a national strike
and UNILAG has joined the action," he
said.
Also the National Treasurer of ASUU, Dr.
Ademola Aremu who is also the former
Chairman, University of Ibadan chapter
of ASUU said the action, being a national
one, would be fully supported by
lecturers at the premier university. "We
are not fighting management of the
university, it is the Federal Government
that should be blamed for pushing us to
the wall to make this painful decision,"
Aremu said.
Most of the students our correspondent
spoke to on this new development
expressed sadness at the action. They
called on the Federal Government to
honour the agreement by giving their
teachers their due. "I'm in the final year,
if this crisis is not urgently resolved, it will
dislocate my career and that of the other
students," Wale, a student of Political
Science at UNILAG said.
But before ASUU finally resorted to go on
strike, the House of Representatives had
few weeks ago summoned the Minister
of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa'i and
officials of the union with a view to
ensuring that the crisis did not
degenerate. The duo were invited to
meet with members of the House
Committee on Education as part of the
moves by the legislature to avert the
looming strike.
It followed a motion of urgent public
importance sponsored by Mr. Bashir
Babale (PDP/ Kano) and unanimously
endorsed by his colleagues.
Babale said it had become worrisome
that university lecturers frequently
embark on strikes to compel the
government to meet its obligations.
This, he noted, was not good enough as
the issues at the root of the crisis were
matters that had been agreed upon by
both parties.
The lawmaker urged the House to
intervene in the crisis and avert the
impending strike.
Other lawmakers who contributed to the
debate, argued that democracy cannot
survive without good education.
They warned that it would be wrong for
the government to continue to treat its
2009 agreement with ASUU with levity.
But this intervention was fruitless, as
government said it had no money to pay
the earned allowance.
"We even agreed to sacrifice 20 per cent
of the earned allowance but government
said it could only pay 50 per cent. We
were even shocked when they said they
had forgotten to include the money into
the budget. So, since 2009 no lecturer
has been paid the earned allowance
and all of us can testify to the fact that
our universities whether old or new are
still being underfunded," Ogbinaka said.
The ASUU officials, however, pleaded
with students and parents to bear with
the union as they could no longer stand
government's lack of commitment to
education.
The last time ASUU embarked on a
national strike over the same issue was
December 5, 2011. The union was
prevailed upon to suspend the strike in
February 2012 after the Federal
Government signed the now contentious
MoU with ASUU with a promise to
accede to the lecturers' requests.
President Goodluck Jonathan hurriedly
signed into law a bill that sought to
extend the retirement age of professors
to 70. But after that not much had been
done to make the system better than it
was in 2009.
Efforts to speak with the minister failed,
as a top official in the ministry, who
pleaded anonymity, said she was not
available for comments.
The source, however said the ministry
would comment on the new development
on Tuesady (today).

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