Saturday, August 31, 2013

No headway as ASUU battles govt over extra allowances, funding

When the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, embarked on a
national strike on July 1, 2013 due to the refusal of Federal
Government to implement the 2009 agreement it signed with the union
which had several components, including adequate funding of education
sector, Nigerians feared another long winter for their children forced
to return home.
Strike by lecturers in public universities has become a normal trend
every two years. The nation is accustomed to disrupted academic
sessions that at times linger on for about six months.
To have an uninterrupted academic calendar in the university system is
abnormal. So the strike factor is usually built into the calendar. An
academic programme scheduled for three or four years, could last for
seven years.
The blame for this can rightly be placed at the door step of the
Federal Government, fond of breaching negotiated agreements reached
with ASUU. There is the question of failed leadership, corruption,
show of insincerity and lack of commitment to agreements; knowing that
any breach would lead to shutting down of the universities by a
frustrated union which feels government is unwilling to develop
education in the country. The government is yet to understand that
anyrefusal to honour agreement freely signed without duress
tantamounts to a breach of contract, actionable in law.
Already, the public university system is in decadence in all
ramifications. Most of the over 30 Federal and 36 State universities
are in bad condition. Physical infrastructure for teaching and
learning are grossly inadequate, dilapidated and over stretched. The
laboratories and workshops are obsolete, poor furnishings, poor power
and water supply, outdated equipment, crowded hostels and unhygienic
living conditions.
Many of the universities don't have video conferencing facility, only
a fraction have or use interactive white boards. Many are without
public address systems in their lecture rooms, while none of the
universities had fully automated library resources.
Apart from all these inadequacies, it has been found in a Federal
Ministry of Education Report, that many of the universities are
grossly understaffed, relying mainly on part-time and visiting
lecturers, with several under-qualified academic staff, lacking
effective staff development programmes. Recently, the National
Universities Commission (NUC) came out with a directive that all
university lecturers must possess Ph. D degrees within a given time or
lose their appointments. Only about 43% of academic staff in the
university system have doctorate degrees, the remaining 57% don't.
According to the report, there are 37,504 lecturers inpublic
universities, but only 28,128 (about 75%) are engaged on full time
basis, the rest 25% are either part-time, visiting, on sabbatical or
on contract.
Against this sordid scenario, one can understand the struggle of ASUU
to reform and transform public universities to meet with the standards
obtainable in other climes.
Our leaders are not ready to embark of this transformation because
they are not committed to proper and adequate funding of education of
which UNESCO recommended 26% of national budget. But Nigeria allocates
less than 10% of her budget to education which is even among the
lowest in Africa. Yet this nation can do better.
People in government and politicians are quick to send their children
to UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Ukrain, Russia, and even nearby Ghana,
Togo, Benin for universityeducation. Because of their ill-gotten
wealth, they can patronise expensive private institutions, rather than
increase funding to upgrade public schools at home.
Dr. Nasir Fagge, ASUU National President, had explained that the
strike was not just to reposition the education sector, particularly
the university system, butto salvage our country. He said ASUU was
determined toprosecute the strike to its logical conclusion, and that
the implementation of the agreement was a cardinal issue that must be
accomplished by the union as this would transform the country's
university system. Government offered a paltry N100 billion for
infrastructure, and N30 billion for earned allowances, a far cry from
N87 billion demanded.
On accepting the offer of N30 billion and going back to class while
reaching agreement on when the next installments will be paid, Fagge
rejected this, saying, "We had made that mistake before whereby only
the salary component of the agreement was singled out and so we can
not afford to make such a mistake again. Untilthe whole agreement is
fully implemented, we are not going to call off this strike."
Over N500 billion is needed for infrastructure upgrade.
President Goodluck Jonathan and other eminent Nigerians had appealed
to ASUU to take the N30 billion offer by government and return to
The union had demanded for N87 billion (not N92 billion) in extra
allowances translated as excess work load, high carriage of students
per lecturer, responsibility allowance which included supervision of
academic projects for final-year students, Masters, Ph.D theses,
course advice, administrative duties as heads of departments, deans of
faculties, hall masters, etc.
Because of inadequate staffing, the work load had been heavy with one
lecturer to 200, or even 300 students.
Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in stating thegovernment
position had said the money – N92 billion according to her, which ASUU
was demanding (but refuted by the union to be actually N87bn) was not
only unrealistic, but also not within the reach of the Federal
Her words at a 2-day conference of Commissioners of Finance and
Accountants-General of States Ministries ofFinance held in Minna,
Niger State. "At present, ASUU wants the government to pay N92 billion
in extra allowances when resources are not there and when we are
working to integrate past increases in pensions. We needto make
choices in this country as we are getting to the stage where recurrent
expenditures take the bulk ofour resources and people get paid but can
do no work."
Series of deadlock had characterised meetings between ASUU leaders and
the Federal Government Team lead by Governor Suswam of Benue State to
resolve the crisis and pave way for lecturers to return back to work.
Mr. James Bidemi, a Senior Management staff in a publicuniversity,
commended the ASUU action which seemed good and appropriate, but
cautioned if the dispute is not resolved, it could destroy university
education in thecountry. He called for state of emergency on
"Government should meet at least 50% to 60% of ASUU demand, and people
will support government in the appeal for the strike to be called off.
It's about an agreement which government was bound to implement and
also endeavour to tackle the decaying infrastructurein the university
system." A university teacher, in his reaction, wondered why the
Minister of Education failed to capture these earned allowances owed
to lecturers by the 2009 agreement in the 2013 budget. If they were
legislators, the funds will be available.
Meanwhile, the strike is biting hard as students have been roaming the
streets, lured into criminality and social vices like prostitution,
drug trafficking, kidnapping and political thuggery.
Chief Joshua Nwosu, a businessman with three children inthe university
now at home blamed bad and insensitive leaders for the horrible
condition of the education system."The government just refused to
allocate sufficient fund to education despite the abundant financial
resources available. Millions of our youths are jobless, yet
government is not willing to provide adequate money for educational
development. Something drastic must be done to save our education from
total collapse. President Jonathan should act fast and be patriotic."

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