Industrial Action: Bargaining chip or sign of failed government?

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It is a twin problem coming simultaneously. It has shut down the nation’s tertiary institutions, sending many a student home indefinitely. It is the industrial strike action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). 

Regrettably, there seems to be no end  in sight as the Federal Government is yet to address the problem.  Saturday Vanguard’s LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU, in this special piece, analyses the situation as it affects the future of Nigerian students

protest: Polytechnic students protesting against ongoing nationwide strike, on Ikorodu Road, Lagos, yesterday.

protest: Polytechnic students protesting against ongoing nationwide strike, on Ikorodu Road, Lagos, yesterday.

Nigeria is such an interesting country. Like a theatre, there are many activities to watch and many issues to discuss. Sadly enough, the issues are not palatable. Instead, they are such that give the impression that the country is a sinking ship, put many Nigerians at crossroads with their leaders and paint a bleak future for the Nigerian child.

Otherwise, how could anyone explain the current impasse in the education sector of the economy?

Despite the “huge” progress the government claims it has made in the sector, results appear to be far-fetched. And just when hopes were high that some sort of stability had been achieved in the academic calendar of the Universities and Polytechnics, the worst has suddenly happened.

This is seen in the current face-off between the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on one hand, and the Federal Government on the other.
ASUP demands/strike

It is unbelievable in some quarters that the Polytechnic System of Education in Nigeria had been literally shut down in the last three months as a result of the industrial strike embarked upon by ASUP; yet the Federal Government which is a party to the industrial dispute is not perturbed by it. This is a system that produces experts in technical and vocational education.

In other words, the technological expertise of the country resolves around the system. What is the grouse of the lecturers? Indeed, unlike their previous demands which always resolved around welfare, this time, it appears to be something a little different even though welfare is on the list.

According to the National President of ASUP, Dr. Chibuzo Asomugha, issues such as the discriminatory cut-off points for candidates seeking admission into universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, the segregation against graduates of the system and stunted growth in their career progression, the implementation of the retirement age of lecturers in the polytechnics from 60 to 65 years, non-establishment of a national commission of polytechnics, and the bias in the distribution of budgetary allocation for Polytechnics top the list of demands.

Others are the artificial impediments involved in accessing the Tertiary Education Fund by poly lecturers and the implementation of CONTISS 15 which affects junior workers in the polytechnics.

Hear him: “The Federal Government is biased against polytechnic education. If you look at the distribution of budgetary allocation to institutions under the Federal Ministry of Education, you will discover that universities alone got N188.4billion — that is about 47 per cent — out of the N400billion approved for the sector in the 2012 financial year.”

Speaking to Saturday Vanguard in Abuja during the week, Asomugha said until their demands were met, ASUP would remain on strike.

ASUU strike

Then enter ASUU. While teachers and students of Polytechnics are yet to go back to the classrooms, ASUU on Monday  commenced an indefinite strike action. With this, the nation’s tertiary education became a cul-de-sac. ASUU demands are akin to their counterparts’ in ASUP.

Hear the National President of the Union, Dr. Nasir Issa Fagge, in an exclusive interview with Saturday Vanguard.
“Our demand is strictly on the implementation of the 2009 FG/ASUU agreement and the commencement of the renegotiation of the same agreement which was due to be reviewed in January, 2012.

Apart from the salaries that were paid after the strike and then granting of academic and professorial cadre retirement age at 70 instead of 65, those are the things that the government has done. But the other issues; funding for the revitalisation of the university system, Federal assistance to State Universities, setting up a Research and Development Council, the improvement of research facilities in the University and the academic allowance from registration of Nigeria University Pension Management Company (NUPENCO) which is yet to be completed and then ensuring the University autonomy and academic freedom.”

Aren’t the Universities autonomous?

How can they be autonomous when NUC is usurping the powers of Senate and Council? NUC has its Acts. They are expected to only operate on the basis of its Acts. But what NUC is doing now is usurping the powers of Senate and Council. In the statute of the University, there are functions meant for the Senate and Council, and the NUC, with its recent actions, is taking over those functions.

When will ASUU call off the strike?

When government does what is right. No pay, no work. In reality, it seems to be in Nigeria where academics have to go on strike to put pressure on government to do what is right. I give you a typical example. Recently in Brazil, people had the guts to go to the streets and protest the policy of the government and what the Brazilian government did was to assure them of investing more in education so that the citizenry will have sound, quality education.

It’s not surprising that Brazil has moved from where it was almost at the same level as Nigeria to where it is now. It is about the 6th economically sound country of the world. Other countries have done a lot in terms of human resource development. You cannot achieve development if a country  does not have sound, quality education.

Typically, the recent trend is that in globalisation which is what the government is so keen about, bringing investors; you can’t have investors when your human capital is not fully developed. I give you an example, many companies are now migrating to China because the Chinese have given their people sound, quality and empirical knowledge and we are at par with China in Africa as China is in the world.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, the most populous black nation; if we cannot give our people sound, quality education, forget about development.

Reactions: FG is paying lip service to educationDr. Oladimeji Lawal, Gombe State University

When you look at this litany of strikes in our country, it simply tells you one single fact which I have always emphasised about honesty, commitment to nation-building and what have you. You see, for instance, you talk about the recently suspended NUPENG/PENGASSAN strike, I think the whole thing is not just all about the wellbeing of those who are working in the Oil and Gas sector but the wellbeing of the country at large.

Ordinarily, the government should not be told to look into this. And it is not about President Jonathan’s administration alone. In fairness, these are things that have decayed over the years in our country. You find out that successive governments have not paid serious attention to issues they are ordinarily supposed to pay attention to.

Again, I don’t know if there is a new conference on what government should do or avoid other than what generally is know worldwide as essential responsibilities of government which is about working for the well-being of the people, improving the lot of the people; because the well-being of the people cannot be created from the sky.

It comes through issues that affect their well-being; issues of the various sectors of the economy: The Education, Health, Oil and Gas sectors. And you find out that there is hardly a single sector of the Nigerian economy that is free of troubles in terms of agitations by Labour Unions and stuff like that.

There is a fundamental problem somewhere. It is not about nipping it in the bud. It is about people who are in positions of authority, people who are in government not knowing what they should be doing.

That is the fundamental thing and the government has forgotten the essential thing it was elected to do. What role would the members of the public have played in getting government to be responsible? So, people in  positions of authority should clearly understand that if we are not dealing with these issues, we are really doing nothing. It is not about playing politics with them.

On ASUU demands

ASUU demands are all about the University, the educational system, that efforts should be put in place to ensure that these things are sustained; that the system should be enabled to do well. From time to
time, you hear that none of our Universities is being captured as one among the top 500 best Universities in the World and all of that.

These issues have to be addressed improve the facilities in the Universities, improve the condition of service in order to avoid this brain-drain syndrome. You see, this is what ASUU has always been concerned about.

It was what gave rise to the 2009 agreement. But it is very unfortunate that 4 years after that agreement was signed, you still find out that the larger portions of this agreement are yet to be implemented by the very government that accepted to sign the agreement. It is very unfortunate and ASUU has come to a point where we are convinced that except we embark on this kind of action, the government is not actually in a position to do anything.

The government has developed the attitude of reneging on agreements. You find that it has happened in the Health and Oil and Gas sectors.

ASUU should call off the strike – Senator Chris Ngige

For me as a Senator, I have had the privilege of sitting with other members of the Senate Committee on Education and even in the Senate as a whole, we have taken education very seriously. Remember, the other day, we moved the age of Professors from 65 to 70 and then we moved that of academic staff and every other person there to 65. Normal civil servants retire at 60.

Their salaries have also been beefed up. Professors and senior lecturers take salaries that anybody can be proud of, so I do not see the reason for this strike. Two professions are social professions; these are Medicine and Teaching, that is education.

As a matter of fact, when they go on strike, my heart bleeds because it means they don’t understand the import of those professions. So, I am not happy about it and this is why a lot of people advocate that they send their children abroad for education. So, ASUU has to do the needful and call off the strike.

Improving facilities in the Universities

You don’t get that by striking, that is why they put what is called “warning strike” which you can do in a day to show that you need something, but not by striking perpetually like they have done now, stifling everything. So, they should get back.

Implications

Whichever way it may be viewed, incessant industrial strikes by authorities and lecturers in the tertiary institutions suggest that there is a fundamental problem which has not been solved. Analysts believe that the Federal Government has not really done enough in the education sector to make Nigerian Universities and Polytechnics the envy of the world.

They submitted that this is one of the reasons why many Nigerian parents prefer to send their wards abroad for studies. Indeed, not a few persons are worried that if the issues are not resolved, it could affect the quality of the products churned out by the nation’s Higher Institutions.

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