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ASUU, FG Should Put Nigerian Students First, Daily Trust Editorial of August 29, 2022

Over six months after the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on an initial 4-week “total and comprehensive strike” to press home their unresolved demands, there is obvious unbridled intransigence and lack of commitment by the federal government and the union to reach an agreement and end the industrial action. The government and ASUU have also shown a lack of empathy to the plight of parents and students and the quest for quality education for our youth.

ASUU had on February 14, 2022, embarked on the strike to demand the re-negotiation of the 2009 FG-ASUU agreement; adoption of UTAS as a replacement for IPPIS as a payment platform; payment of salary arrears for academic staff; payment of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA); revitalisation funds for the universities; release of White Paper on Visitation Panels that concluded their assignment last year; and non-proliferation of state universities.

ASUU’s name is now synonymous with strikes. In the last 13 years, it has gone on strike nine times; five times under President Muhammadu Buhari’s government alone. Indeed, ASUU has gone on strike under every Nigerian president or head of state since at least 1992. That is three decades of continual strikes, and yet the issues remain unresolved, and our university system and the future of Nigerian students, and of the country have been the worse for it. Aside from students spending longer periods to complete their studies because of the rather too frequent interruptions, the interminable strikes have also caused untold damage to Nigeria’s tertiary education.

The strikes have also caused flight of quality students as families that can afford the funds now opt for private universities in the country, or universities in foreign countries, including in countries with very weak and doubtful university systems, merely because students can at least get to complete their programmes as at when due. Nigerian public universities, like public primary and secondary schools, are fast becoming distinguished, not by the quality of learning and research that take place in them, but as a signifier of Nigeria’s silent class war: the place only for the children of the poor and the underprivileged.

Yet, instead of genuinely working towards reaching an agreement between them, both the federal government and ASUU have been on a propaganda war against each other, and parading falsehood and misinformation to the Nigerian public. For example, on August 17, 2022, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, informed Nigerians that every issue between government and ASUU had been resolved, except salary arrears for the months ASUU had been on strike, which he stated, government was unwilling to pay, to serve as a deterrence to strikes. The minister had gone further to ask students to sue ASUU for time wasted on the strike.

Meanwhile, ASUU has denied “categorically” that salary arrears were ever discussed with the minister, adding that no agreement has been reached on the important issues that necessitated the strike. They have also remained unbending and seem intent on holding to its terms fully, thereby, plunging the university system into a prolonged closure without any end in sight.

It is clear that far from embracing a good-faith negotiated position, ASUU and the federal government have taken to recalcitrant unending face-off. This is totally unacceptable and insensitive. Both combatants must soften their positions. In any case, the federal government has not shown enough faith and commitment to the implementation of the reports of the two negotiating committees – Professor Jibril Munzali committee of May, 2021 and the just concluded Professor Nimi Brigg’s committee, which it commissioned at the onset of the current strike.

Indeed, both camps are putting a sword on the soul that holds the nation’s education sector and inadvertently showing they are just paying lip service to education. Having failed Nigerians in their handling of the strike so far, both the federal government and ASUU must stop this unnecessary contest of egos as there is no sensible explanation for this strike to have lasted this long. Their conscience as patriots must come to bear on their decisions. Both parties must realize that Nigeria cannot afford to continue to toy with its educational sector, as it defines the future of the country and of generations yet unborn. Decisions must only be taken based on national interest and with a sense of responsibility.

Daily Trust calls on the government to take a decisive approach to end the strike which is endangering the future of our youths. President Buhari should intervene directly without any ministerial intermediaries in the negotiations. ASUU, in turn, must realize that no one wins 100% in any negotiation and be more realistic about what is achievable by any government in terms of the welfare of academic staff and funding of universities in the country. It is also high time the National Assembly, the National Council of State, former heads of state, traditional rulers and religious leaders also found ways to intervene to end the current strike and find a lasting solution. What is at stake here cannot be left to the negotiating teams of ASUU and the federal government alone. And no compromise is too much to make for this.

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