IT may not be wrong to surmise that both the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government have chosen to bicker as the country’s public universities prepare to resume academic activities after a long lull following the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. While the government has not been without blame, it can surely not have escaped the attention of Nigerians that ASUU has always been ready to embrace the strike option at the drop of a hat. It has been really tough for the public to mediate between ASUU and the Federal Government as both entities seem determined never to reach a compromise on any subject. Prior to the Covid-19 break, the union and the Federal Government had fought each other over the mode of payment of salaries.
As Nigerians are well aware, the Federal Government had come up with the IPPIS, a centralised and coordinate system of payment which the union thumbed down. This led to a serious face-off, with neither of them backing down. The Federal Government momentarily put the salaries of ASUU members on hold, only to resume payment, presumably pending a mutual agreement. In any case, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, indicated that there would be a resumption of talks between the ASUU leadership and the representatives of the Federal Government during which the union would be allowed to demonstrate the utilitarian values of the suggested UTAS option for the payment of salaries for ASUU members as opposed to the IPPIS. This, the government hoped, would help to resolve the seemingly intractable imbroglio.
In our view, ASUU’s decision to proceed on its now regular strike during the Covid-19 break was disingenuous and in poor taste, especially because its members made their services available to the private universities, many of which even concluded their academic sessions during the break. For far too long, students in the country’s public universities have been seriously short-changed in the quality of academic attention they receive from their lecturers. We are disconcerted that three-unit courses in the public universities, for instance, have ceased to be what they are meant to be: students hardly get two hours of lecture per week.
There have been complaints regarding the products of the public universities being unemployable and being unable to compete with other students globally. For the sake of the advantages that will ensue from an effective academic system, the Federal Government and ASUU need to reach a compromise, and very quickly. Experience has shown that ASUU members inevitably get paid for the periods they go on strike while students are left in the lurch. Strikes cannot be the only weapon at the disposal of a self-respecting union. To be sure, we do not endorse the use of the IPPIS platform in universities. We are aware that the peculiarities of the university system where experts can for instance be engaged on a short-term basis and paid heavily because of what they have to offer. Nevertheless, we object to ASUU and the government’s combative posture in place of reasoned debate and constant interface to iron out issues.
To say the least, the Federal Government has allowed the strikes to fester beyond tolerable limits, thus underscoring the charge that members of the political elite simply don’t care because their children and wards have the option of schooling abroad. Students in the public universities desperately need to be engaged in fruitful academic pursuits. They have been home for too long and need to get back to school. It is time the government resolved its dispute with ASUU.
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