By Adekunle Adekoya
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
THE quote above is usually attributed to renowned physicist, Albert Einstein, famous worldwide for his Theory of Relativity. But Einstein never said those words, just as “who will guard the guards”, a question frequently attributed to Plato was never said by him, but by Roman satirist, Juvenal. But the quote, whoever said it, forms the basis by which I contribute to the raging debate about ASUU strikes, and their propriety as the circumstances may require.
Funding of the university sub-sector of the education system has become the superstructure of demands that propelled ASUU strikes for decades. In response, the Federal Government set up the Education Trust Fund, which, running largely on private sector contributions enforced by law, soon became a billionaire organization. Government looked on while ETF became a sprawling bureaucracy, like JAMB and other agencies under the Federal Ministry of Education.
With ETF supporting all schools nationwide, ASUU found another grouse and insisted that it targets only the tertiary sector. So, ETF became TETFUND, disbursing funds to only public universities and polytechnics. The jury is still out on whether or not private universities and polytechnics should benefit from TETFUND since the bulk of its revenue accrues from the private sector.
Other concessions made to ASUU to end some of the previous strikes include the retirement age, which was upped from 60 to 70 years, alongside other concessions designed to keep the academic as comfortable as possible well into advanced old age. And now, the current strike, whose main grouse is about funding, the payment platform (UTAS vs IPPIS), and others.
To refresh memories, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, have, since 1999 when we returned to democratic civil rule, embarked on strike 16 times, and cumulatively for 1,404 days. In other words, our university lecturers have not worked for nearly all of four years in 23 years. And they’ve gotten paid for those years.
Now, the current strike, which began February and has lasted till last Monday when the union resolved that the strike is now indefinite is one of the most maddening in recent experience because the main issue now in contention is insistence by the varsity dons on being paid for the months they have not worked. Government is taking the hard line by invoking the no work, no pay rule, a universal position understood by workers whenever strike becomes an option.
This is where I think insanity has become a factor. Is the ASUU leadership unaware of the no work, no pay rule? Should it have taken for granted the willingness of morally bankrupt governments to pay for work not done previously, this time? Can’t ASUU and its leadership understand that by insisting, and getting paid for work not done, it has shamelessly and unabashedly collected bribe from government, which is also an inducement to look the other way when agreements entered into are not honoured?
Going on strike and insisting on getting paid for the strike period is madness.
The inverse of the quote above seems to be the prevailing situation, since ASUU is attacking the same problem the same way and is expecting the same results. I’m no physicist, but there must be thousands of physicists among the ASUU membership. I suggest they knock some of the notes they read from the teachings of Einstein, Spinoza, and Margenau into their approach to strikes.
As it is now, strike as a tool to get government do things in the education sector the way ASUU wants it is fast becoming unattractive as government sticks to its guns and students remains grounded. With the no work, no pay rule, individual ASUU members will also get grounded, like most other Nigerians, very soon. What this implies is that ASUU and its leadership must critically re-examine the effectiveness of the strike option and re-evaluate its use in pushing demands.
With this in mind, ASUU should CALL OFF the strike NOW, and immediately start exploring options outside strikes. To be realistic, ASUU lost the moral battle by demanding pay for work not done. It is the equivalent of sex-for-grades, for which some of its members have been found guilty. Its members are regularly used by INEC to conduct elections, and INEC pays.
Many of them are invisibly dual-employed with private universities, not to talk of academic business centres propelled by sales of handouts. To the Federal Government, ASUU’s demands that have been met must be seen to have been met. The Minister of Education and his Labour counterpart should publicise what government has done and let the public, indeed the whole world, see that it has kept its side of the bargain.