by Kofoworola Belo-Osagie (Lagos), Frank Ikpefan (Abuja), Adekunle Jimoh (Ilorin) and Damisi Ojo (Akure)
University teachers yesterday got some bad news. Their request for increased funding of universities cannot be met now, the Federal Government said.
It was reacting to the “total, comprehensive and indefinite strike” declared by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on Sunday after its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Akure, the Ondo State capital.
Minister of Education Adamu Adamu told reporters in Abuja that the teachers should show understanding with the government.
He said: ”I must say that this is difficult to reconcile with all the efforts and positive achievements we have been able to make.
“The Issues necessitating this strike date back to 2009 when the then government of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua signed an agreement with the ASUU on funding of the federal universities.
“The agreement provided for funding of universities to the tune of N1.3trillion over a period of six years. It is instructive to know that Nigeria was experiencing the oil boom at that time. It was, therefore, expected that government will be able to meet the terms of agreement.
“However, international oil prices crashed in subsequent years, thereby throwing the country into economic hardship. At the inception of this administration, the country’s economic fortunes worsened, nose diving into recession, with dire consequences on all sectors of the economy, including education.
“We exited recession not too long ago, and we are just beginning to recover from the consequences of low oil prices, which are happily beginning to pick up.
“If this trend continues, definitely, the education sector will also improve. In other words, the wellbeing of the education sector and any other sector of the country’s economy is a function of the international oil prices; this is the stack reality for now, which all of us must acknowledge and accept.”
The minister urged parents, ASUU and students to exercise restraint in their response to the education sector.
He said the union should be mindful of the fact that other sectors of the economy were competing with similar financial needs.
ASUU’s strike is hinged on delays in implementing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the government agreed to in 2017, including to compel the government to conclude the renegotiation of other agreements also collectively reached in 2009.
ASUU National President Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, announcing the commencement of the strike, had re-echoed the insincerity of the government in meeting its demands.
Ogunyemi said: “Having waited patiently for action and meaningful negotiation with reasonable men using the principle of collective bargaining that ASUU at its NEC meeting of 3rd and 4th November 2018 at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) resolved to resume the nationwide strike suspended in September 2017 with immediate effect.
“This strike will be total comprehensive and indefinite. Our members shall withdraw their services until government fully implements all outstanding issues as contained in the MOA of 2017, and concludes the renegotiation of the 2009 agreements.”
The strike received mixed reactions on its first day yesterday. It was effective in Lagos but failed to take off in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.
The Chairman of ASUU, University of Lagos (UNILAG) chapter, Dr Dele Ashiru, said lecturers would join the strike.
The strike was on at the Lagos State University (LASU).
Dr Ashiru said the UNILAG chapter had joined the strike even though as at the time The Nation spoke with him, the university was on holiday and he was yet to brief members about the ASUU NEC meeting he attended where the decision to start the strike was taken.
Speaking at the UNILAG ASUU Secretariat, Ashiru said: “The University of Lagos chapter has joined the strike that we suspended in November 2017. The strike is comprehensive, total and indefinite. I have just returned from the NEC in Akure; I have scheduled an EXCO meeting for 1pm where we will deliberate on the issues raised at the NEC. After that, we will call a congress tomorrow (Tuesday).”
Ashiru justified the strike, saying the union had given the Federal Government enough time to fulfill the 2009 Agreement between both parties, which was due for re-negotiation in 2013. He said of the N1.3 trillion the government ought to have provided for the revitalisation of infrastructure in public universities, only N200 billion had been paid.
He said the money was meant to improve facilities in public universities. He also said the government was owing ASUU members earned academic allowances.
“Our union entered an agreement since 2009. Only specific part of the agreement was implemented. In 2012, there was a Memorandum of Agreement; in 2013, there was another Memorandum of Agreement.
The government promised to inject N1.3 trillion into the university system. It has not been done. The Jonathan government paid N200 billion. Only recently, when the government realised we were mobilising for strike that they lied that they released N20 billion to ASUU, which was not true. From 2013 to date, our members have not been paid earned academic allowances,” Ashiru said.
The Lagos State University (LASU) chapter of the union also announced it had joined the strike.
“ASUU-LASU is fully on strike. Once the national ASUU declares a strike, we have no option but to join. It is not a matter of choice,” said Dr Tony Dansu, Secretary, ASUU-LASU, on phone.
Mr Samuel Olalere, President, LASU Students Union (LASUSU), told NAN that the strike had not fully began on the campus because ASUU-LASU chapter was yet to hold its congress.
LASU Vice Chancellor Prof. Lanre Fagbohun appealed to ASUU to eschew anger and consider the Buhari administration’s plea as the problem emanated from previous governments.
“The issue at hand did not happen overnight. The problems have been there for so many years.
“So ASUU must show some understanding in the way they articulate and insist on some of these issues,” Fagbohun said, adding:
“The problem requires the understanding of all the parties; government must continuously show sincerity of purposes in the negotiation.
“Rather than allow a breakdown of the system, we should consider an incremental gain.
“Our young adults and educational institutions will suffer once there is a breakdown of the system. We should therefore not allow us eventually lose what we are trying to protect.”
Lectures were on at the University of Ilorin (UNILORI) and the Kwara State University (KWASU).
IEarlier in the day at UNILORIN, some students expressed apprehension when their teachers failed to show up in class but it was learnt that the lecturers were at a meeting.
Since most students were just returning to school after the long vacation and the school’s convocation ceremonies, the premises was brimming with a large number of them yesterday. Some of them pleaded against the strike.
UNILORIN in the last 17 years has not participated in any strike called by the parent body of the union.
UNILORIN ASUU Chairman Dr Usman Raheem reportedly said the institution’s branch of ASUU did not join the strike because the parent body failed to communicate the information to his executive.
At KWASU, officials said there was no reason for the teachers to join the strike.
“We are fully in session; we are not on strike,” two officials at the school’s Public Relations Unit told our reporter. They asked not to be named since there was no authorisation to speak yet on the issue.
There were not lectures at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA).
The offices and lecture rooms were deserted.
Some students were moving out of the campus with their luggage.
The chairman, FUTA branch of ASUU, Dr Bola Oluya, said the union would hold its congress today and formally declare its decision to join the strike thereafter.
However, the situation was different at the state-owned Adekunle Ajasin University,Akungba-Akoko(AAUA). The teachers were yet to join the strike.
Our correspondent learnt that semester examination was on going.
A lecturer who spoke in confidence said AAUA chapter of ASUU would soon call its congress to decide whether to join the strike or not.
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