The President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, during a press conference in Abuja on Monday, said the strike would be comprehensive as lecturers would withdraw all services including teaching and attendance of meetings in all the universities in the country.
Ogunyemi said the decision to embark on the strike was taken at an emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee of ASUU on August 12, 2017.
The ASUU president explained that the union decided to opt for a strike after the Federal Government failed to implement the 2009 agreement and a Memorandum of Understanding it signed with ASUU in 2013, among others.
He listed the areas in dispute in the current industrial action to include funding for the revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowances, the registration of the Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company and pension matters, fractionalisation and non-payment of salaries and the issue of universities staff schools.
He said, “On November 16, 2016, our union embarked on a week warning strike to sensitise stakeholders to the issues in dispute. What initially appeared like efforts to address the issues soon fizzled out immediately the action was suspended on November 22, 2016. ASUU did its best to get the Federal Government in particular to fulfil its promises through a series of letters and consultation meetings. However, all was to no avail.
“Meanwhile, our members across the country were getting increasingly frustrated and disenchanted. It became evident that their patience had been tasked beyond reasonable limit, while government’s insensitivity imposed severe burden on the leadership of the union.
“Consequently, based on a nationwide consultation with our members, an emergency meeting of the National Executive Council of ASUU rose on Saturday, August 12, 2017, with a resolution to embark on an indefinite strike action starting from Sunday, August 13, 2017.
“The nationwide action is total and comprehensive. During the strike, there shall be no teaching, no examination and no attendance of statutory meetings of any kind in any of our branches.’’
He recalled that the failure of the government to implement the 2009 agreement resulted in an indefinite strike in 2011, 2012 and later 2013.
He said the strike compelled the government to sign a MoU with the union on December 11, 2013.
According to him, the MOU was meant to reinforce implementation of the agreement reached with the government.
Ogunyemi said the government agreed to commit N1.3tn in six years to the revitalisation of the university system with a planned annual release of N229bn, starting with N200bn in 2013.
He added that the government agreed to open a dedicated revitalisation account with the Central Bank of Nigeria and establish a central committee to monitor the implementation of the revitalisation of the universities.
The government was also said to have agreed to pay the outstanding balance of earned academic allowances after verifying the level of payment from an initial of N30bn provided for the purpose and others.
The ASUU President lamented that the Federal Government dashed the expectations of the union as it reneged on fulfilling the agreement for the annual release of the N200bn for the revitalisation of the university system.
He said the government had failed to release N825bn of the funds it signed in the MoU for the university system.
He lamented that the situation in the state universities was more pathetic as some state governments had chosen to establish new universities instead of funding the existing ones.
He said the issue of the earned academic allowances, which was a major aspect of the 2009 agreement and the 2013 MoU, had been abandoned by the government.
The ASUU President said the union was also irked by the decision of the federal and state governments to cut the salaries of lecturers in many of the universities by between 20 and 40 per cent each month.
He observed that the same government had not tampered with the salaries of public office holders in the country.
He added that the situation in the state universities was worse as many of the state governments had stopped the release of statutory subventions to their institutions.
Ogunyemi lamented that the political class in the country was only paying lip service to addressing the rot in the university system.
He said that unless steps were taken to address the decadence in the system the fate which befell the public primary and secondary schools would befall the universities, which would take quality university education away from the reach of the ordinary Nigerian.
The Federal Government, however, said it was still negotiating with ASUU before it declared a nationwide strike on Monday.
The Director of Information, Ministry of Education, Mrs. Chinyere Ihuoma, stated that the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement was ongoing.
“The FGN/ASUU renegotiation of 2009 agreement is ongoing with the government team under the leadership of Dr Babalakin, SAN,” she said via SMS.
Ihuoma did not respond to further questions on the slow pace of the negotiation.
‘Nigerians must force govt to do the right thing’
The Nigeria Labour Congress has declared support for ASUU’s decision to embark on the indefinite strike.
The General Secretary of the NLC, Dr Peter Ozo-Eson, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, said all employers, including the government, had a responsibility to honour agreements reached with workers.
Ozo-Eson, a former Chief Economist of the NLC, who was part of the team that negotiated the 2009 agreement on the side of ASUU, said the government had refused to implement the agreement because children of the political class school abroad.
He called on Nigerians to demand uninterrupted academic calendar for their children in Nigerian universities.
He said the organs of the NLC would take a decision on what support to render to ASUU if the ongoing strike became prolonged.
He said, “When an employer enters into a collective bargaining agreement, it is expected that both parties will honour the terms of the agreement. The 2009 agreement was entered into. Incidentally, I was a member of the negotiating team.
“I negotiated that agreement on the ASUU side and it took a long time for a decision to be reached. Initially, government backed away, then it reconstituted and gave authority to the Onosode committee and at the end, the agreement was signed, but government has failed to fully implement it.
“In 2013, when there was a problem, the NLC had to broker the condition that led to the signing of the MoU. Government again has reneged on its own side of the bargain. So when we say ASUU has gone on strike so many times, we need to put it in perspective to say government has consistently failed to honour its own side of the bargain.
“They (government) do this so brazenly and so easily because most of their children do not attend universities here. They are abroad. And that is where the citizens come in. Citizens must be able to hold these people accountable by insisting that their own children have a right to uninterrupted education too and therefore force government to do what is correct so that education can be without interruption.”