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A Country on Strike

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DOES anyone still remember that the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, is on strike? The strike is almost a month old. All public universities are shut. Nobody is talking to ASUU, nor is ASUU shifting.

ASUU’s case seems simple, as far as strikes go. ASUU wants government to implement agreements reached in 2009. Government discusses the agreement in vague terms. Government is telling ASUU to get lost.

Some of the issues on the 2009 agreement are measures on the improvement of university funding, review of the process of appointing Vice Chancellors, and an increase in the retirement age of professors to 70.

ASUU waited for two years for implementation of the agreement. It is still waiting. There is no certainty about when the strike will end. Similarly, students have been known to spend two extra years in school to these strikes. The effect on the quality of education our universities offer is obvious. When the strike is over, the students return to take their delayed examination and a semester is concluded.

Government remains unmoved by the plight of the students and their parents. ASUU, on its part, wants the entitlements of its members on the agreement. The strike may be a first phase in the series of action that would be required to reach an agreement that may be too weak to improve the quality of university education.

Some state governments have refused to abide by the agreement, claiming that they can make their own decisions on wages for lecturers they employed. The position is a sore point that results in conflict. Nigeria runs on a single wage system for all tiers of government. Labour, in the Constitution, is a federal matter, the states cannot legislate on labour.

Part I  of the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution, Item 34 states,  “Labour, including trade unions, industrial relations; conditions, safety and welfare of labour; industrial disputes; prescribing a national minimum wage for the Federation or any part thereof; and industrial arbitration” under the authority of the Federal Government.

A solution is a long way off and like most of the other strikes, ASUU strikes paint a clear picture of the state of Nigeria. Why should universities be shut and it is nobody’s concern?

Strikes that are more moving abound. Public hospitals are on strike again. In some States, strikes they started in late 2010 were only resolved last year. The situation is bad. Emergency services at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, have been stopped. No time is good for a strike, but this  time of the year with high rates of accidents, heightens the impact of the strike.

Families have moved out patients to private hospitals, some of which are too expensive or lack the facilities to handle some cases. Some lives may be lost in the process.

Again, what are the issues? Government has refused to meet conditions  agreed with doctors. How does one explain this indifference? If the education and health of Nigerians are not important to government, what does it consider important?  That strikes are not resolved without  long drawn work stoppages  is an indictment on government’s attitude to labour.

Perhaps, the strike circle would be completed when Nigerians wake up to the news that government was on strike. If government acts so lethargically when it is running at full steam, it would hardly make a difference  if government  were on strike.

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