Is it possible that the outcome of the intervention in the age-old conflict between the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) and the Federal Government of Nigeria by the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) is short-lived and the conflict will continue? That is to say that Nigerians have not heard and seen the very last on the conflict?
This is what is suggested by the sabre coming from ASUU quarters since the outcome, contrary to the impression that the NIREC intervention under the leadership of the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Samson Ayokunle has brokered peace.
When the NIREC leaders and members last met the president, he stressed the commitment of the Federal Government to honouring its promises to ASUU. This, according to him, is to prevent disruptive strikes, engender uninterrupted academic programmes and improve funding of education. That he was saying these to the members of the NIREC means he cannot deny them tomorrow unlike in the past when the Government turned around to deny such declaration of commitment as imperfect obligation.
But the president had barely finished speaking before ASUU started shooting. Dr Lazarus Maigoro, Chairman of the University of Jos chapter of ASUU said it would soon resume its suspended nine-month-old strike. Before anyone could say that is the position of a local chapter, the Chairman of the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt chapter of the union echoed his UNIOS counterpart, asserting how the introduction of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, (IPPIS), provided proof that the Federal Government is insincere to Nigerians in the struggle for a better university system. A few days before the meeting of NIREC leaders with the president, the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife declared a total and indefinite strike action.
Although the national leadership of ASUU has yet to speak, observers are wondering if these spurts suggest a peace deal to which all the parties subscribe. And what are the implications of another round of escalation and even of the failure of this round of intervention?
Clearly, trust appears to be a problem if the language of the Chairman of the UNIJOS Branch is anything to go by. It warrants being referred to at length for its categorical character. Describing the Federal Government as an “unfaithful spouse”, Maigoro said the government’s pattern of response to issues is that of a serial promise breaker, comparing it to an unfaithful spouse incapable of matching words with action. “We are tired of their deceit and it is time for us to take action and so we want to inform Nigerians that we are tired of fruitless meetings with the Minister of Labour, Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, the Chief of Staff to the President, among others. … If they ever want us to listen to them, they should first of all act on the promises they have already made”.
In what looks like a preamble to the main stuff, the Chairman now went to what seems to be at the heart of the mistrust: the IPPSS. He questioned government’s continued defence of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), citing the reference to it in an Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation’s report as its thrashing.
Endurance Joseph, his counterpart in Port Harcourt picked up the centrality of the IPPIS to the current phase of the conflict, saying IPPSS does not recognize the nature, structure and character of the university system in Nigeria. According to him, “The introduction of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information (IPPIS) is one of the testaments of the insincerity of the government towards the union and Nigerians in the struggle to have a better university system. …The amputated salaries, omission of staff in payrolls, non-remittances of check-off dues and other issues that result in constant agitation are due to this faulty and deceptive software forced into the system by the government and ASUU rejected it. The recent revelation by the Auditor-General of the Federation on the operation of IPPIS indemnifies the union, a clear indication that IPPIS software is fraudulent”
Two different persons speaking but using the same vocabulary! Unlike them, the president spoke on generalities such as how strike actions keep the universities closed. It is true presidents hardly go into details because that is where the devil nestles. A distant observer is thus bound to take his declaration of commitments to honouring the issues in its negotiated agremeents with ASUU. What is coming out from ASUU quarters do not tend to support the optimism.
So, what happens next or what might the buildup be leading to? Is it the case that NIREC has not finished its intervention or, alarmed by the rhetoric, will return to do more work?
Does the resolution of the problem in the sense that both ASUU and the FG see it resolve the crisis of quality education in Nigeria? Many would answer in the negative. In the first case, too many things are missing from the content of the (university) education in Nigeria right now. That is to be seen in the invisibility of Nigerian academics relative to Israel or Turkey today. In International Relations scholarship, for example, Turkey is a prime mover, not a consumer of theories, concepts and methodology. In the event of the decolonial imagination in particular, many would have thought academics from a country such as Nigeria would be everywhere. Not only that the ones that are there are mainly from the Diaspora, the number does not correspond with the size of the academic establishment in Nigeria at all. It points to a missing link. This has not been adequately put on the table. At least, nobody has talked of retraining.
Two, ASUU does not control university finances and its own corruption control approach has not been accepted into the system or been tested. So, conventional and unconventional drains on university finances will continue.
Most fundamentally, no recent government of Nigeria has incorporated education as a core of the possibility of rapid transformation. As long as the industry is treated as just one of the sectors of the economy, nothing will change. Education in Nigeria is not in crisis because the Government lacks the financial resources. It is in crisis because the Government(s) doesn’t see a place for education in whatever they think is the trouble with Nigeria and how to correct it.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear anyone is working on any innovation beyond the ASUU/FG Agreement framework and the series of industrial action with which the union greets every breach of it. But if that framework has been the referent since 1993 to 2022 and there has still been no fundamental change, then it should be clear that the framework, as contextually patriotic as it is, still remains a partial rather than that holistic intervention required.
Who will best respond to the gap? This FG? Or ASUU through a curious Pauline re-imagination? Or one of the numerous presidential aspirants? Or only God?