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In ASUU’s Defence

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in-asuu’s-defence

Igboeli Arinze

Prior to the berthing of the Corona Virus pandemic which necessitated a lockdown on the Nigerian society, the Nigerian University system had also witnessed some sort of lockdown as the Academic Staff University Union, ASUU, had embarked on an indefinite strike owing to a number of unsettled issues which have prevailed and overcome all reason as well as appeals to common sense from 2009 till present date.

This strike like all others, initially looked like a small quarrel but may  blow up into a volcanic scale eruption between the Federal Government and the Academia. The lecturers, asides from asking that the 2009 , 2013, 2017 Memorandum of Understandings and the 2019 Memorandum of Action become implemented, are also literally up in arms with the government over the extension of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information, IPPIS to them as a body. Like the name goes,IPPIS seeks to capture all persons working under the aegis of the Federal Government under a unified pay roll system. This will obviously eliminate the issue of ghost workers and the huge loss of government resources.

ASUU’s grouses are majorly rooted in the failure of the Federal Government to abide by the contents of the 2019 ‘Memorandum of Action’ (MoA) agreed upon by the union and the Federal Government. Readers may recall that prior to this present industrial action, ASUU had called off a three month strike in 2019 using the term of “conditionally” suspending the strike hinged on the hope that the sum of agreements dating back to 2009 would be implemented.

For example, the 2009 Memorandum of Understanding led to the conduct of the 2012 NEEDS Assessment in the university system within Nigeria which revealed the poor state of infrastructure and staffing in the system.

Such a revelation came with no surprises to me as one who went through the four walls of of a university system.

The 2013 agreement came after several negotiations with the understanding to spend 1.3 trillion naira towards the revitalisation of the universities, while that of the 2019 Memorandum of Action was reached to see a number of initiatives implemented in the system, such as the release of 25 billion Naira, payment of outstanding arrears,the Presidential Initiative on the Continuous Audit Verification and a number of other items agreed to by both parties. As we speak, the 2019 Memorandum of Action which had with it, a set of agreed deadlines have seen a breach of such deadlines.

While I understand that the Buhari administration has radically put some efforts into reviving the university education system, I must state that its failures to at least see the 2019 Memorandum of Action through largely smacks of bad faith. By breaching such, the Buhari administration shirks from the golden opportunity it has to begin a repositioning of the Nigerian University Educational system in order to meet the challenges of the coming days. Simply put, the administration had no business entering into an agreement it never intended to keep, in doing so, that is in not honoring the agreement after it was painstakingly negotiated by both parties amidst the hopes such an agreement nurtured among millions of Nigerians, the Buhari Government may not be different from past administrations which had previously entered into agreements perhaps for the sake of photo-ops!

Another sore point likely to stick out in the “fallbacki“ dance between ASUU and the Federal Government issue of IPPIS, which I had initially mentioned in the course of this piece. IPPIS which is simply a means to unify the payments system under the Federal Government had earlier been rejected by the academia, as such opposition benumbs one’s thinking initially, raising questions as to why would ASUU reject an initiative so noble as this? One wondered whether ASUU  had now become a stumbling block to the progress of the nation?

Yet ASUU feels otherwise, and here are its reasons which I feel are germane enough to warrant such resistance.

First of all ASUU has the salient argument that they are not civil servants: this is indeed true as I recall whilst receiving my History of Education lectures from the late Reverend Father Dr. Onwueme, in the then revered lecture halls of the University of Benin, one concept that struck me was that of Academic Freedom, which is simply the conviction that the freedom of inquiry by university lecturers is essential to the mission of the academia or university as well as the principles of academia, and that scholars should have the freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment. Universities are run under governing councils and not the Federal Government per se, it is these councils that the lecturers are answerable to , which seemingly is the essence of university autonomy. One, may agree with ASUU in this line, as ASUU enrolling itself into such a process would make it an extension of the civil service, this you will agree with me will not mean well for the nation’s academia, bad as it seems now, imagine where the academia comes under a unified payroll system?

Again, ASUU insists that the unified payments system would adversely affect the situation where universities like ours which are in dire need of the presence of visiting scholars from the far ends of the earth would be affected. How would these visiting scholars be captured by IPPIS, given the nation’s penchant for red tapism, would this not affect the exchange of ideas such a practice was meant to encourage? Come to think of it, why would a visiting lecturer from say Australia come to teach in say Awka and then first have to stop at Abuja to register with IPPIS?

Let’s look at our teaching hospitals, the medical doctors who work there as consultants receive a payment commensurate with their trainings as doctors, as what the university pays them cannot meet their basic salary requirements,so the time they spend in the teaching hospitals, treating patients and teaching medical students is paid for, ASUU is saying that IPPIS does not capture such, should it acquiesce to enrol with IPPIS then we would have a brain drain in our teaching hospitals, something we as a nation can not afford.

The issue of external examiners and external supervisors is still another touchy point, imagine all external examiners running to Abuja to get enrolled in IPPIS; can there be another expression of the word bedlam!

This is not to say that the Federal Government does not have a point or two; first there is the issue of massive corruption in the university system, cronyism at its best. Here lecturers hide under the visiting lecturer scheme to rip the the university system off, and you see a number of lecturers becoming visiting lecturers to more than three universities all at once, a situation one will agree is unethical. Then there is also the issue of Vice Chancellors and other top dogs in the university system hiring their kinsmen, girlfriends and family friends as lecturers even when such persons are not qualified.

To the two issues raised earlier, I think the Federal Government can deal with such by creating another platform that would serve the university system alone. ASUU has even offered to be enrolled under the University Transparency Accountability System, UTAS, a separate platform that captures essentially the nature of the Nigerian academic environment A separate platform for such will check such excesses and still guarantee university autonomy. ASUU, it seems Is not against progressive ideas or ridding the system of corruption, nay, it simply is against lumping it with the civil service and subjecting the university system to the hardship recently experienced by lecturers who opted for the IPPIS system, theirs I heard is a harrowing tale.

As I write this, the Nigerian University education system is in dire straits and as the world moves further on, we as a nation a much further exposed to the harsh realities that lie before us should we fail to catch-up and catch up we cannot without a sound university education system, this I implore President Buhari to see the 2019 Memorandum of Action as the roadmap to the revitalization of the university system; his government negotiated the agreement, it is in his honor and for the tomorrow of generations unborn that he begins its implementation.i am with ASUU on this one!

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