REPORT: ASUU strike and deafness of the Nigerian Govt
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ON 23rd of March 2020, Biodun Ogunyemi, the national president of Academic Staff of Universities Union (ASUU) rose from a press conference in Abuja and declared an indefinite strike after the expiration of its two-weeks warning strike.
His declaration coincides with the directive of the National Universities Commission (NUC) which ordered universities across the country to close for a month beginning from March 23, 2020
After a six-month closure of the schools in Nigeria due to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), the Federal Government ordered the reopening of all schools in the country. The minister of education, Adamu Adamu, also disclosed that all Unity Schools should open by October 12 “while states and private schools will determine their own modalities of reopening”
Despite the school resumption order, ASUU however is yet to sheathed the sword, six months after.
Almost every year since 1999, university lecturers have been demanding, through a singular channel of industrial strike action, significant funding of Nigerian education amongst other demands.
The strike always starts with a warning strike which will later extend to either weeks or months after the government would have turned deaf ears to the union or they are unable to reach a common ground.
Though strike action has always produce marginal outcomes, the students have always been on the receiving end, especially those in Federal and state-owned universities who regularly spend longer academic years before graduation.
What is ASUU’s demand?
In 2009 and 2013, the federal government signed a memorandum of understanding with the union to improve the state of education in the country.
The 2013 MoU stipulated that public varsities would need the sum of N1.3 trillion for a modest revitalisation.
The fund was to be paid in tranches of N20 billion in 2013 and N220 billion between 2014 and 2018.
Some of the demands being made by ASUU are funding for revitalisation of public universities, the release of the forensic audit report on earned academic allowances (EAA), payments of all arrears of shortfall in salaries to all universities that have met the verification requirements of the presidential initiative on continuum audit (PICA), the release of university pension fund operational.
Towards the fall of 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered all federal workers to enlist on the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) for the purpose of receiving salaries effective October 31, 2019, as a way of checking the incidence of ghost workers in the government payroll.
But ASUU opposed the decision. The union protested the compulsory enrolment of federal universities on the IPPIS for the payment of salaries of all federal government workers for the reason that will undermine the sacred autonomy of the university.
The differences became tense in January following a threat by the government to stop the salaries of university lecturers who failed to comply with the directive, the latest by December 31, 2019.
In tandem, ASUU issued an ultimatum to the government to reverse the decision or risk a shutdown of the university system through a nationwide strike.
The IPPIS is an information Communications Technology (ICT) project initiated by the government to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of payroll administration for its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
President Buhari intervened and directed that the lecturers be paid pending when issues that affected the enlistment process were resolved.
However, ASUU has continued to oppose the implementation of the IPPIS in the universities, arguing that it does not take into consideration its unique operations.
ASUU also lamented alleged huge deductions from their salaries when their salaries were being paid using IPPIS, even as the accountant general insists the deductions were statutory taxes paid by all salary earners on the government payroll.
During the early days of the IPPIS argument, Theophilus Lagi, the Zonal Coordinator of ASUU, Abuja Zone, said at a press briefing in Abuja on Thursday, 24th October 2019, that ”there is no clear and convincing evidence that IPPIS can capture remuneration of staff on sabbatical, external examiners, external assessors, and Earned Academic Allowance. The IPPIS does not and cannot cater to the constant movement of staff in the cases of visiting, adjunct, and part-time,”
He added that IPPIS cannot predict and address the promotion of academics especially, associate professors and professors, which are subject to external assessment and will constitute an impediment in the way of the ability of universities to recruit staff for new programmes as well as replace same, while newly employed staff cannot be paid their salaries until they are enrolled into IPPIS database.
He also quoted section 2AA of the universities Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Act 2003 which stated that universities should be allowed to operate in compliance with enabling laws, statutes, rules and regulations in conformity with due process and within the laws of the land. He said IPPIS lacks the flexibility to address the peculiarities of the university system.
UTAS over IPPIS
However, on October 13th, rightly after a three-hour closed-door meeting with Ahmad Lawan, Senate President Biodun Ogunyemi, the national chairman of ASUU said the union has developed and recommended a new payroll system, University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) to the leadership of the senate against IPPIS.
According to ASUU, the implementation of UTAS as it is a home-grown platform developed by ASUU, is said to be better than the IPPIS.
Ogunyemi said it should be used by the federal government to effect transparency and accountability in the process of payments of lecturers’ emoluments.
“What we have started is to open the issues, we will still meet again to continue from where we stopped.
“We have developed what we call University Transparency and Accountability Solution. We have presented it to the Senate today and the Senate President commended it.
“We have shown that we are inventors, we are creators of software and we are also capable of doing what our colleagues are doing in other parts of the world.”
Is Strike the only ‘language’ understood by the govt?
The ICIR looked as far back as 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil rule under the Fourth Republic, to check the many times ASUU has gone on strike till the moment.
The checks revealed ASUU is currently on its 15th strike action.
1999 – 150 days
2001 – 90 days
2002 – 14 days.
2003 – 180 days (ended in 2004)
2005 -14 days
2006- 3 days
2007 – 90 days
2008 -7 days
2009- 120 days
2010- 157 days
2011—59 days, started in December and ended in 2012
2013- 150 days and fifteen days
2017- 35 days
2018- 3 months and 4 days
2020- 6 months, 15 days and still counting
However, if ASUU is yet to reach common ground with the federal government by the 23rd of October 2020, it will make approximately 47 months, which is 188 weeks, 1,373 days or 10, 984 hours (calculated based on 8hrs-per-day-working-hours).
Between 1999 and 2020 ( 21 years) there is 7,665 days and 61,320 standard working hours
Therefore, between 1999 and 2020, if 10, 984 hours has been lost by each member of ASUU to strike, that means each member has spent an average of approximately 6 hours of their 8-working-hours on strike per day protesting against (mainly) underfunding of Nigerian university education.
All efforts to get a comment from Professor Ogunyemi, the national Chairman of ASUU proved abortive as he did not respond to calls and messages.