ASUU strikes: The conundrum of university education in Nigeria

Government changes, negotiations never end

Ayuba Iliya | Thursday, 17 August 2017 7:11pm | opinion

Adamu Adamu
Adamu Adamu - Ministry of Education | Temidayo Johnson / The BusinessPost

On Sunday August 13th, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) declared the commencement of an indefinite strike to protest what is generally perceived as the Federal Government’s insensitivity to higher education in Nigeria.

The university lecturers had fired a one-week warning strike in November last year to press home their demands but the government appeared uninterested. Again, the bugbear of another protracted industrial action has inevitably arrived.

After a prolonged strike that lasted about six months in 2013, the Federal Government and the Academic Union had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreeing to settle issues regarding the payment of fractions/non-payment of salaries and non-payment of earned academic allowances.

Other issues related to the non release of operation license of Nigeria University Pension Management Committee (NUPEMCO), non implementation of the provisions of the 2014 Pension Reform Act with respect to retired professors and their salaries, and removal of universities staff schools from funding by government.

Also part of the agreement was to resolve problems regarding the funding for the revitalization of public universities, issues of poor funding of existing universities and proliferation by their visitors.

Declaring the commencement of the strike on Sunday, a statement signed by the President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, lamented that “of all the items contained in the MoU, only the two hundred billion out of the total of one trillion, three hundred billion naira of the Public Universities Revitalization (Needs Assessment) Funding was released.”

The strike has since Monday stalled activities in most of the Public Universities in compliance with the ASUU directive. Our correspondent gathered that students at the University of Ibadan (UI), Kaduna State University (KADSU) and the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, were said to have commenced examination when they were stopped and chased away from the examination venues following the announcement of the indefinite strike.

Although the government through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has stated that there is an ongoing renegotiation on the 2009 agreement between the Federal Government and ASUU by a committee set up on 13th February 2017, headed by Wale Babalakin, President of the Academic Union, Ogunyemi has denied such claims, saying the only contact between the Union and government was a ‘mere consultation’ and not formal one.

The conflicting information is an indication of the gimmicks surrounding the ASUU/FG negotiations and Nigerian students may yet again be in for another long ride.

Will this ever end?

Administrations have come and gone but the Nigerian education system remains with its problems. There are several agreements signed between the Federal Government and ASUU in 1981/82, 1992, 1999, 2001, 2005 and 2006, 2009 and 2013 which were not faithfully implemented by the Federal Government.

ASUU in its defence has frequently attributed the recurrence of its strikes to government’s failure to keep to agreements. These agreements are always centered around same issues and one wonders why the recurrence.

Femi Aborisade in his article “The Significance of ASUU 2009 strike” noted that the 1981/82 Agreement between FG and ASUU contained, among others, the establishment and acceptance of the principle of collective bargaining as the main mode by which terms and conditions of work of academics would be determined.

The 1992 Agreement focused on the need for university autonomy and academic freedom, this followed the 1999 Agreement which was devoted mainly to academic allowances and other terms and conditions of work aimed at addressing the twin problem of the rot in the Nigerian education system and brain drain.

The 2001 Agreement was based mainly on three items, namely; Salaries and conditions of work, funding, university autonomy and academic freedom. It contained an understanding that the terms and conditions of work of academics would not be subsumed within the framework of the conditions of service in the civil service. It also contained a clause that the Agreement would be reviewed every three years. This meant that it was due for review in 2004. Despite many reminders and pressures by ASUU to get government to review the 2001 Agreement in 2004, government refused to provide an avenue for re-negotiation.

The 2005 Agreement consisted mainly in the undertaking given by Government to constitute its Negotiating Team by 3 May 2005 to review the main agreement of 2001. It was not until 2006 that Government was able to constitute a Negotiating Team.

Still in accordance with the previous negotiations, the re-negotiations in 2007, 2009 and 2013 were all said to have been “directed towards ensuring that there is a viable University system with one rather than multiple set of academic standards.”

However, despite all the previous negotiations, the end to ASUU strike doesn’t seem to be in sight any time soon as governments will come and go with different priorities at different times.

Government’s poor priorities and inconsistencies

Just like any other administration, the current government came to power with a three point agenda; namely to fight corruption, ensure security and fix the economy.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, seems to have less interest in the education as evident in the budgetary allocation to the sector.

For instance in the 2016 and 2017 budgets, education was allocated 8% and 6.14% respectively. This is contrary to the demand of ASUU and the 26% allocation recommended by the UNESCO.

In their submission in 2009, the Academic Union advocated for a 5% increase in the 13% allocation for education, declared by government in 2010 in order to meet up with the UNESCO benchmark by 2020.

The Union had hoped that the University system will get at least 50% of whatever will be allocated to the education sector. Sadly allocation for the education continues to decline.

Consequently of all the items in the MOU signed by government and ASUU “only the two hundred billion out of the total of one trillion, three hundred billion naira of the Public Universities Revitalization (Needs Assessment) Funding was released,” President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi had stated.

Another justification for lack of keeping to agreements has always been that negotiations were made under a different administration under a different circumstance thus the government in power is often reluctant to maintain status quo.

For instance the last MOU was signed under the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2013. They current administration may not be obliged to keep to the agreements, as negotiations were made by entirely different government officials.

Apparently, negotiations are made not with a view to bringing lasting solution to the crisis but to allow government in power to complete its tenure without interruption.

Ownership and Control

One of the crucial demands by ASUU is funding for Nigerian Universities as it relates to salaries and allowances among others. Arguably, government cannot, especially in the current dispensation meet up with the demands of the Union, at least not with the standard required.

According to the 2009 agreement, state Universities for instance will require an estimated N3, 680,000 to train each student between 2009 and 2011.

It was also agreed that the following will serve as sources of funding for tertiary institutions. These are; federal and state governments, ETF (now TETFUND), PTDF, transfer of landed property, patronage of university services, alumni associations and contributions from the private sector among others.

This will reduce the burden of funding on government and give the universities some level of autonomy. Perhaps for some political reasons this has not been followed through effectively. Financial autonomy for universities will mean government relinquishing its rights to appoint vice chancellors and chancellors for the public institutions.

Studies by an analyst, Sani Ahmed in 2015 revealed that more than 75% of Nigerian universities get their funding from proprietors’ i.e government and private owners, with public universities largely depending on their states and federal governments; and less dependent on the proprietors in the case of private universities.

Contrary to the above arrangement, especially in line with what is obtainable in the United Kingdom for instance, government total funding of universities constitutes only 26% of the universities income. A study by “Universities in the UK” (a representative organisation for the UK’s universities), on the 2014-15 source of funding for 164 higher institutions of learning, shows that the bulk (more than 70%) of funding for the institutions in the UK comes from tuition fee.

Although government funds 66% world class research projects in form of grants, the universities explore other sources of funding such as UK businesses, UK charities, EU sources and non EU sources.

Corruption

The objective of the incessant strikes by the Academic Union has often times been questioned in some quarters as it has been perceived to be not totally altruistic.

Some have argued that if the strikes are in the interest of the Nigerian academic system, Nigerian universities would have been better off as it were, even with the resources being provided by government. Those who share these sentiments believe that the strikes serve as mere bargaining chips for most of the academics to re-affirm their relevance and compete with the political class.

Another school of thought also argues that unionism has been diluted by political interest and thus being used as vibrant tool of opposition and sabotage by politicians in the quest for power.

Although the above thoughts may not be completely true, it may not be utterly dismissed, as the smooth running of the institutions is not necessarily about adequate funding but effective management of funds.

The Nigerian University system just like any other sector in the country may not be excused from the corruption that is eroding the system.

Premium Times reported recently that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is currently prosecuting three top officials of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, FUNAAB, for alleged roles in an N800 million scandal.

In February, the commission also arraigned the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, FUTA, Gregory Daramola, over allegations of fraud to the tune of N24 million.

The vice chancellor was arraigned alongside the school’s bursar, Ayodeji Oresegun, for offenses of misappropriation of public funds, misuse of office, and obtaining money under false pretence among others.

This is to mention a few of the many financial crimes that take place in the Nigerian Tertiary Institutions.

While Education remains the major catalyst to development in every society, government and teachers alike must bear in mind that everyone has a role to play in bringing the desired change to the system. This means that government must do the needful and fund the universities properly.


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