ASUU has embarked on 16 strikes in 23 years as Federal Government and lecturers disagree over 13-year MOU, THE PUNCH writes.
On Monday, February 14, 2022, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU the umbrella body of the teaching staff of Nigerian public universities, announced a ‘warning’ strike in yet another face-off with the Federal Government.
The national president of the union, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke while announcing the strike at the University of Lagos accused the Federal Government accused the government of failing to implement the Memorandum of Understanding and Memorandum of Action signed between the union and the government; the government’s poor commitment to the payment of academic earned allowances ; the continued use of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System and refusal to adopt the Universities Transparency and Accountability Solution, and proliferation of the universities in the country.
Since ASUU’s first strike in 1988 when it protested against the extremities of the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida which led to the banning of the group on August 7, 1988, ASUU strikes in Nigeria have been so repeated over the years that they have come to be recognised as a yearly event, a time when academic activities stall and public universities go on forced break.
Analysis by The PUNCH revealed that while ASUU embarked on strike 16 times since 1999, it continually blamed its decision on the failure of the government to meet its demands.
Timeline of ASUU strike in Nigeria
In 1999, ASUU embarked on a nationwide strike due to the failure of negotiations between the union and the Federal Government over the working conditions in Nigerian universities. This was shortly after the Obasanjo-Atiku administration was sworn in, The strike however lasted for five months.
In 2001, the union again embarked on another strike over the reinstatement of 49 lecturers sacked at the University of Ilorin.
The tension was however heightened when the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo described Nigerian university lecturers as “a bunch of lazy and ungrateful people” The strike was called off after three months.
In December 2002, the union embarked on a two-week strike because of the failure of the Obasanjo administration to implement an agreement it had with the union during the previous strike.
In 2003, public universities in Nigeria were shut down for six months as ASUU embarked on another strike due to the non-implementation of previous agreements, which covered poor university funding and disparity in salary and retirement age.
In the year 2005, Nigerian students witnessed another disruption when the university lecturers stayed off campuses for two weeks.
In April 2006, a three-day warning strike which eventually lasted for one week crippled academic activities in public universities.
The union again embarked on another strike on March 26, 2007; a strike which lasted for three months.
The issue of reinstatement of the 49 lecturers who were sacked from the University of Ilorin came up again in 2008 when the union decided to embark on strike. The union also demanded an improved salary scheme. The strike lasted for one week
In 2009, following an industrial action that lasted for four months, the government of the late President, Umaru Musa Yaradu’a signed an agreement with the union. The agreement which is popularly referred to as the FG/ASUU 2009 Memorandum of Action was signed before the union agreed to call off its strike.
The failure of the government to implement the 2009 agreement subsequently became the base of subsequent strikes over the following years.
Due to the failure of the Federal Government to implement the Memorandum of Action that was agreed with the union in 2009, ASUU embarked on another indefinite strike that lasted for over five months. The strike started on 22 July 2010 and was called off in January 2011.
ASUU again moved to paralyse academic activities nationwide in December 2011, because of the 2009 agreement and the failure of the Federal Government to adequately fund universities in the country and implement the 70-year retirement age limit for university lecturers members, The strike lasted for 59 days and was called off in 2012.
Again due to the failure of government to review the retirement age for professors from 65 to 70; approve funding to revitalize the university system; increase the budgetary allocations to the education sector by 26% among other demands led to another industrial action. The strike was embarked upon on July 1, 2013 and called off on Tuesday, December 17, 2013. It lasted for five months and 15 days.
On August 17, 2017, ASUU again declared an indefinite strike over unresolved and contentious issues with the Federal Government. The strike was called off in September.
ASUU embarked on a three-month nationwide strike on November 4, 2018, due to the Federal Government’s inaction. The strike was however suspended on the 7th of February 2019 after a meeting between the ASUU leadership and a government delegation led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, who noted that the government had resolved the eight contentious issues that led to the strike.
In 2020 the union initially embarked on a two-week warning strike, in March 2020, over the failure of the Federal Government to implement its 2019 agreement and resolution with the union. The strike however lasted for over 9 months due to the pandemic and the unresponsiveness of the government to the academic body. It was eventually called off in December 2020, one of the longest strikes ever.
So far in 2022, the union has been on strike for close to three months, despite several interventions from pressure groups, protests by students, the union and the government have yet to find a common ground.
FG/ASUU 2009 Memorandum of Action
On Thursday, December 14, 2006, the then Minister of Education, Obiageli Ezekwensili on behalf of the government of President Umaru Yar’adua inaugurated the FGN/ASUU Re-negotiation committee which was led by the erstwhile pro-chancellor, University of Ibadan, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode and the then National President of ASUU, Dr. Abdullahi Sule-Kano.
The committee in a 51- page document obtained by our correspondent in Abuja affirmed the need to address the identified rot in the University system as evidenced in dilapidated infrastructure and poor conditions of service for all categories of staff.
The ASUU team submitted a position paper titled “Proposals for the Re-negotiation of the 2001 agreement between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities”.
On Tuesday, January 23, 2007, the FGN/ASUU Re-negotiation team began a meeting at the National Universities Commission in Abuja. During the meeting, the government’s side submitted a proposition paper titled “Government negotiation Team position paper for 2006 negotiation with the Academic Staff Union of Universities”, which was a response to ASUU’s initial proposal.
The committee was later suspended due to ASUU’s withdrawal on January 11, 2008.
Later on January 25, 2008, the committee resumed again and drafted an agreement which is now known as the FGN/ASUU 2009 agreement which was signed in January 2009.
In the agreement, both sides agreed on the issue of conditions of service for university lecturers.
“It was agreed that there shall be a separate salary structure for university academic staff to be known as Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure 11. It was also agreed that lecturers would be paid earned allowances.”
For instance, a professor and a reader would be entitled to N25,000 per student in a year while a senior lecturer would be entitled to N20,000 per student in a year in matters relating to postgraduate supervision.
Other forms of earned allowances signed in the agreement include Teaching practice/industrial supervision/field trip allowances; honoria for external/internal examiner[post-graduate thesis]; honoria for external/internal [undergraduate and postgraduate examinations] among others.
The committee also agreed on the release of funding to revitalize and accelerate the development of universities, university autonomy among others.
The need for strike
The national president of ASUU, Osodeke, in an interview with The PUNCH noted that if the union stopped fighting, the university system might end up being destroyed.
“My take on it is very simple, any day we stop fighting for the system, between two or three years, Nigerian universities will be like primary and secondary schools you have today where the teachers refuse to fight and all the children have left public primary and secondary schools for private. If we stop fighting today, within the next five years, we will be like the Power Holding Company of Nigeria.
“Today, are you enjoying the PHCN? We don’t have light but we are paying new bills. Nigerian railway was one of the best in the country, but today do you have Nigerian Railway? We allowed it to collapse because the union refused to fight. Nigerian Airways used to be one of the best airways in the world. But today we don’t have any Nigerian Airways again. What we are saying is that if any day we stop the fight, our universities will be exactly like the primary and secondary schools. Parents will now be forced to pay millions of naira to put their children in private schools.
But the spokesperson for the ministry of education, Ben Goong told The PUNCH that there was no need for the union to engage in industrial action. According to him, the frequent strike actions by the union would only make the government make agreements under pressure.
“If they stay on the strike, in a desperate attempt to make sure that the universities are re-opened, we will make agreements under duress. We are not in a state of war that you must be on strike before you negotiate. You say it is a warning strike and the government has begun the implementation of agreements, it is only normal that you call off your strike, but it is as if they have that mindset of a strike.”
The convener of a civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, noted that for the recurring industrial actions by the Academic Staff Union of Universities to end once and for all, politicians and government officials must be banned from sending their children and wards from schooling in private institutions and foreign jurisdictions.
“To think that the present government has eight years to address the matter and it has failed to do so in the last seven years is unthinkable. The reason, however, is not farfetched; every now and then, politicians and government officials flaunt photos of the matriculation and the graduation of the children in first-class universities abroad, and a very few in private universities back home unaffected by the perennial industrial actions by ASUU and other unions in tertiary institutions. They do this to the chagrin of abandoned Nigerian students back home who are forced out of school and their stay of four or five years elongated to over seven years due to ASUU strikes.
“The National Assembly must be resolute and make laws banning politicians from sending their wards overseas for studies so that all hands can be on the deck to resolve ASUU lingering crisis.
“Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb if ASUU strike is allowed to linger as there are connections between rising criminality and out-of-school students. The government must make hay while the sun shines.