The ongoing plans to reopen public universities may not succeed if the Federal Government fails to resolve all outstanding issues with the striking university teachers under the aegis of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other unions in these institutions. There are fears that ASUU and other workers’ unions will threaten the resumption of full academic activities in these institutions if their grievances are not addressed forthwith. Already, ASUU has threatened to continue with its strike which began on March 23 but was abridged by the COVID-19 pandemic. It insists that without the Federal Government fulfilling its part of the agreement reached with the union; it may not guarantee industrial harmony in the universities. The union accused the Federal Government of continually failing to implement agreements reached in 2009, 2012 and 2017.
Also, ASUU argued that unlike other sectors, nothing has been put in place by the government in accordance with the COVID-19 health protocols for reopening of schools, adding: “Students hostels, lecture rooms and laboratories do not meet the standards of schools in other countries.”
The threat to frustrate the reopening of universities after many disruptions in the past should not be taken lightly. The ongoing strike in the universities came after the Federal Government’s decision to stop the salaries of lecturers who did not enroll in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). The non-payment of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) from 2013 to date and other issues also prolonged the strike.
In the interest of industrial harmony in these institutions, we urge the government to dialogue with ASUU and resolve all outstanding issues. We believe that resolving these issues will ensure industrial peace in these institutions as well as a seamless resumption of academic activities. The perennial strike by ASUU must not be allowed to continue indefinitely. Sadly, it is only in Nigerian universities that such prolonged strike can be tolerated. The frequent disruption of the academic calendar by striking workers has contributed so much to the poor quality of their graduates.
Therefore, the government should consider the position of ASUU on the IPPIS and the alternative payment model proposed by the union, the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS). There is need now for the government and ASUU to sit down and amicably resolve the payment issue and others that threaten the industrial peace in the varsities.
Without resolving the trade dispute with ASUU, it will not be safe to reopen the universities. The government should also dialogue with other workers’ unions in the universities likely to disrupt full resumption of academic activities. Since 1999, Nigerian universities have been on perennial strike.
Although the government has the right to order the reopening of schools, we contend that it ought to have carried the union along by entering into dialogue with it and avert a likely disruption of the academic calendar.
No one denies the fact that the recurring ASSU/FG face-off is a sore point in the nation’s university education system. This is why tact and suasion should be deployed in its management. It is sad that seven months have been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Allowing more time to be lost on account of avoidable strike is unnecessary.
We call for an urgent end to the ASUU strike. A stable academic calendar is possible if the government and ASUU can reach an amicable settlement on all the issues. The earlier the universities reopen the better for the country. We sue for sacrifice and flexibility on both sides.
We also call on ASUU to be realistic in their demands and willing to accept any credible proposal that will ensure industrial peace in the varsities. There is no gainsaying that government has not been funding education well and has also not been faithful to agreements reached with varsity unions.
The government’s refusal to meet the union’s demands since 1999 has been responsible for the endless ASUU strike. We, therefore, call on President Muhammadu Buhari to wade into the matter and amicably settle it, as date for the reopening of the universities has been set.