By Chijioke Uwasomba
The negotiations for a better deal for the public-funded Nigerian universities between the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have become so indubitably Sisyphean so much so that the Union would always be forced to declare industrial actions which in most cases would take months to attract government’s attention. Even when the government pretends to show interest in the outcome of the negotiations, it temporizes and begins to divert attention of both the Union and the public from the issues that would have led to the breakdown of industrial peace in the first place. This is clearly the leit motif as far as the relationship between the Federal Government and ASUU is concerned and even with other Unions. Most annoying is that after the government’s underhanded manipulations, subterfuges and delays, it spends humongous amounts of money on propaganda to confuse the undiscerning public about the points at issue.
At the risk of sounding ad nauseam, it needs to be repeated that the current strike which has been allowed by the government to fester began as a two-week warning strike meant to nudge the authorities to respect both Memorandum of Understanding and Memorandum of Action which were products of the 2020 strike that upended the calendar of the university system alongside the Covid-19 pandemic. The government kept dilly-dallying and shilly-shallying, setting one Committee after the other. In the last six months, the government of Gen. Mohammadu Buhari has set up at least three Committees to resolve its conflict with ASUU but none of the recommendations of these bodies has been respected by the government that empanelled these Committees. It does not speak good of Dr. Ngige’s character that he was involved in each of these Committees that ought to have resolved all the issues in contention. The Minister of Education is constantly missing either as a result of his hobbled health condition or acute inability to understand and grapple with the complexities of his ministry. Each time he appears in the public which he rarely does, he looks askance and dispirited. It is curious that since the strike broke on February 14, 2022, the Minster had only spoken twice and on each occasion he did not speak up to five minutes on the current crisis which his Ministry and that of Labour and Employment have incompetently handled. It appears that the issues are more than their deficient capacities could comprehend and instead of turning in the towel to allow tested hands, they have stayed put in their offices owing to the goodies thy cream from their posts. Can’t these guys be forced to go in order to allow competent people to breathe the desired air into the two offices and stop the embarrassment the country is currently witnessing since February!
It is heartening to read the response of the Briggs’ Committee dismissing the ugly and unpatriotic rumours emanating from government circles regarding the report of the Committee in its efforts to genuinely resolve the feud between the Government and ASUU which the former does not have the gravitas to bring to an end. The Briggs’ Committee made up of distinguished Nigerians who have straddled many important areas of life, is fully aware that given the wishy-washy elements in government especially in the two Ministries that are handling the face- off, that a devious attempt is being made to smear the members and their distinguished careers. This Government, true to type is looking for excuses to render nugatory the duly signed 2009 Agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria and ASUU. Adamu Adamu in his ill-mannered and warped logic engaged in a red-herring after the FEC meeting on August 17, 2022, when as part of his effete propaganda reduced the all-important matter between ASUU and the Government to the issue of No-Work-No Pay. The Union embarked on a strike to protest government inability to respect the Agreement of 2009 which among other very important matters affect university lecturers, conditions of service, students’ welfare, revitalization of the public universities, stoppage of the establishment of back water universities by both the Federal and State Governments and the discontinuation of the usage of the IPPIS which is a package of fraud employed to steal the salaries of workers by government officials in the Accountant- General’s Office. Committee after Committee, the Government through Adamu Adamu wants to deepen the logjam by raising the shibboleth of No-Work-No Pay even when the issues that gave vent to the strike have not been resolved in the spirit of all the Committees that government had set up.
In its desultorily- driven governance style, the government pretended to be studying the report of the Briggs’ Committee for many weeks only for the absent-minded Adamu Adamu, who must arguably be the worst Minister of Education in the history of Nigeria by any standard to lie openly that his lack-lustre counterpart, Dr. Ngige was not telling the truth when the latter told the world that Gen. Buhari had given him (the Minister of Education) two weeks within which to resolve the industrial conflict so that students could go back to school.
Let it be stated without any form of equivocation that one of the reasons why this current strike has lingered is partly because the two Ministers have been at war with each other. Buhari himself appears not to know what is happening in Nigeria as he only reads effete speeches written by unconscionable aides who have taken advantage of the rudderlessness in the land. There appears to be no general co-ordination not only in the Ministries of Education and Labour but the entirety of governmental architecture with the nation literally at its belly in all areas of life. The economy has collapsed with the national currency tumbling to the worst level in the history of the country; insecurity is on the hilt with bandits and invaders controlling many parts of the country; unemployment and inflation are sky-bound; the life of an average Nigerian has become worthless; government officials and their agents are busy stealing the country dry and many other unimaginable antediluvian displays have encircled the country, making nonsense of the entire Human Development Index.
Nigerians have not had it so bad and the government does not have any answer to the problems afflicting the country. Each day that passes heralds one dispiriting story or the other. Most of the people who are the leading figures of the government either for lack of ideas or afraid of their compromised shadows, ingratiate themselves and fawningly engage in activities that undermine the country the more. The crime of ASUU is that since 1981 it has insistently called out the governments at all levels to fund education instead funneling the hard-earned resources of the country into dubious pockets and projects. It is strange that it has taken a series of strikes by the Union for the current regime, after a lot of dithering and empty noises to shamelessly agree that the IPPIS is a machine that has been illicitly used to steal from workers’ monthly salaries, having admitted that after testing all the payment platforms before the government including the UTAS designed by ASUU, that the IPPIS scored the least mark.
Adamu Adamu, who prior to becoming a Minister was gung-ho in his public support for ASUU in its dogged efforts to re-direct the attention of the government to fund education properly has turned completely full circle to fight the Union obviously as a result of his incompetence and new-found orientation. He has asked the Union to call off its strike but the question to ask is: Has the Agreement that took twelve years plus to reach between both parties been signed to warrant the suspension of the strike?
The Union in particular and Nigerians in general should expect hack writers and shameless propagandists of all hues and stripes to twist the issues in contention all aimed at diverting attention. The Government has unfortunately realized that its hunger policy approach cannot force members of ASUU back to work. Nigerians and in fact, the global community need to be reminded why ASUU is “always” on strike. ASUU has become a nubile thoroughly ravished by gangsters with no modicum of conscience but is blamed for her innocence and insistence on good behaviour and reasonableness. History shall bear the Union out!
Uwasomba teaches at the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.