THE on-going strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has become a source of concern as it has brought untold pain to parents and guardians whose children and wards are idling away when they are supposed to be in classrooms.
ASUU wants government to implement a 2009 Joint Agreement it entered with government. Among other things, ASUU says university lecturers are being owed N80billion to which government did not dispute. The union also wants 26 percent annual budgetary allocation to the education sector out of which it wants 50 percent to be allocated to universities.
Government on its side has released N30billion with a promise to pay the remaining in instalments. The government has in addition set aside N400billion for Infrastructural development in the universities out of which it has released N100billion bringing to a total of N130billion.
While making these offers, the Chairman of the Universities Needs Implementation Committee, Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State assured ASUU of government’s determination to implement the content of the 2009 agreement and pleaded with the union to call off its strike. But ASUU’s president, Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge, has sworn to continue until their demands are met. But there is a need for ASUU and its members to borrow a leaf from teachers in Benue State and show some level of understanding in dealing with this matter.
Not too long ago, teachers in Benue State went on strike. Their grouse was that the state government had not implemented the N18,000 minimum wage approved by the Federal Government. While negotiating with the teachers, government had reminded them that Benue has over 29,000 teachers at the local government level alone making it one of the states with the highest number of teachers in the country.
It also reminded the teachers that Governor Suswam was among the first governors to implement the 21.5 percent salary increase before the minimum wage was introduced, a development that raised the salary of teachers in the state from grade level 7 and above to a minimum of N25,000 per month. Even without the minimum wage, Benue teachers are still among the highest paid in the country. The state government equally suggested that the teachers decide whether they would want a reversal to the status quo before the implementation of the 21.5 percent so that it can implement the N18,000 minimum wage or stick to their existing wage regime.
To address the matter, Suswam decided to set up a committee comprising representatives of teachers and those from government’s side. The committee was able to fashion out a mutually benefitting salary regime for the teachers in the state. He immediately approved the implementation of the new structure from August 1, thereby bringing the crisis to a peaceful end, with the teachers happily back to their classrooms.
Now, while the Federal Government is battling to settle with university teachers, medical doctors had gone on warning strike which brought untold hardship to their fellow citizens. They have again given another 21-day ultimatum to government. After the university teachers, it would be the turn of non- teaching staff of universities to begin their own strike; then nurses, followed by RATTAWU, Nigeria Labour Congress, TUC, all that.
Why should ASUU demand that 50 percent of budgetary allocation to education sector go to universities? Who told ASUU that university education is the most important in any nation? How many Nigerians have the opportunity to go to university? What about primary education that is regarded all over the world as the basic education and therefore the most important? How many universities do we have when compared to hundreds of thousands of primary and secondary schools in the country? Let us keep politics aside and tell these guys the whole truth.
ASUU should go back to the table and listen to Governor Suswam and his committee members. This is especially so because of Suswam’s track record as a lover of education who has achieved so much for the people of Benue State in the last six years. This is because ASUU cannot have a better mediator from Federal Government’s side in the present dispensation than Suswam who is highly regarded at the highest level of authority in the land.
Mr. BONAVENTURE MELAH, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Abuja.