It is no gainsaying that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has become more known for industrial action than for remarkable contributions to the academia, the essence of its existence.
This month makes it the tenth month since ASUU has been on strike with every meeting between the academic union and the Federal Government casting another round of gloom on when students of public universities in the country will resume academic activities.
Given its history of incessant strikes, it appeared that some members of ASUU were already getting disgruntled with the handling of affairs by the leadership, especially in its negotiations with government. Opinions were that ASUU leaders were more concerned with getting the demands met at all cost than the welfare of members and academic alike. ASUU leaders have also claimed down the years that the government, regardless of who heads it, has been uncommitted to promises.
In a bid to force the government’s hand, strike had been ASUU’s sole weapon but given how frequent it has been down the years and how millions of Nigerian students are regularly affected, the stratagem has begun to attract more ire than praise.
Discontented members, in 2018, took a decisive step of registering Congress of University Academics (CONUA). Some schools such as Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, have already swung into action with members of CONUA going in the opposite direction of ASUU. They go on to conduct classes and set examinations even when strike has been announced. However, they are still at a disadvantage. The first is that they are yet to have ASUU’s numbers in terms of membership and have not been registered as a trade union.
The latter is set to change in the coming weeks with Labour and Employment Minister, Chris Ngige, receiving a delegation of CONUA’s leadership in Abuja last Thursday and expressing the interest of the FG in the new association by helping to fast track its registration process as a trade union.
“We have the right to receive and hold meetings with you. The journey to have you registered has just started… The review of your application for registration is ongoing. I have put up a committee to look into that review. I will ask the committee to wind up its work. We are giving them four weeks from today to turn in their report to the ministry. Part of our job here is to register unions; it is also part of our job to make sure that unions that are not functional are helped,” Ngige stated.
Things are appearing warm between CONUA and FG and the congress seems promising to some people but there are perennial systemic problems it must contend with.
The first is the budgetary allocation. The 5.6 per cent allotted to education for the coming year 2021 is the lowest in a decade and falls well below UNESCO’s reported benchmark of 15-20%. With such meagre budget, even the UN Security Council will have a problem in catering for over 90 public universities with Nigeria’s population consistently on the increase.
IPPIS (Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System) is another bone of contention. While ASUU is against IPPIS, CONUA is not and its members have duly registered on the platform. However, what is not public knowledge is that there are a lot of irregularities with the platform. Several lecturers have lamented inexplicable deductions, unremitted payments, among other irregularities. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect is that, reportedly, any complaint with IPPIS can only be lodged in person at Abuja. Whether you’re in Maiduguri or Lagos matters little.
These obvious cracks can only be papered for so long before grumbling starts again, and it probably becomes back to square one. The present government through its (dwindling) budgetary allocation over the past five years has indicated how much value it places on education. While CONUA may be ambitious that it wants to “restore peace and stability” to the Nigerian university system, it should not confuse the warmness of Ngige and the Federal Government for willingness.
For the narrative to be changed, CONUA will need an unusual skill set to solve the perennial challenges in the education. sector.
Kola Muhammed has imprint across local and international media. He is passionate about trends in the domains of culture, communication and technology.