Fresh requests by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities heighten anxiety over the resumption of academic activities in public universities,CHARLES ABAH writes

The mood was on the upbeat on Saturday night at the Ikeja residence of the Ugboduagas. While Mr. Alphonsus Ugboduaga exchanged banter with his wife, their 18-year-old son, Junior, also looked very excited.

Other members of their family present in the house seemed to be in a pleasant mood, too. So the Ugboduaga’s popped a bottle of champagne. Their excitement was born out of the expectation that after four months, the gates of the nation’s public universities would be opened, at least, going by media reports earlier in the day.

Beyond that, the Ugboduaga family was in a joyful mood because Junior’s fate in relation to the admission he secured to study Computer Science at the Ekpoma State University, Edo State would come to fruition. Following the protracted ASUU strike, the youngster was not sure whether the admission offered him by the university would still materialise this year. However, the positive reports on Saturday gave him hope.

As a result of this development, Junior left Lagos for Ekpoma on Monday morning to commence his registration process. But just as he was doing this, information filtered in that the striking university teachers had made fresh demands as a condition to return to classrooms.

On receiving this news, Junior’s mood and countenance changed almost immediately. What does this fresh request by ASUU portend? Is it that normalcy is still far from returning to the nation’s public universities?

What has befallen him and many other potential admission seekers? These and many other questions raged on his mind.

Miss Usen Enoh also faced the same uncertain fate. Before this latest development, the third year Music student of the University of Uyo had thought that with the intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan, the resumption was as good as sealed. The President had promised the ASUU leadership that his administration would from 2014 inject N1.1tn into the university system. He also promised to release another N100bn for the sector in the remaining part of this year.

But the report on Monday that the striking teachers were demanding the payment of their salaries, among other requests, seems to have thrown a spanner in the works. Little wonder, Enoh looked frustrated. Before now, her calculation was that she would enter the New Year as a final year student.

Indeed, the fears and frustrations of Junior and Enoh are not out of place. One of the resolutions reached by the striking teachers, who ended their National Executive Council meeting in Kano on Friday, our correspondent gathered, is that the FG must show enough commitment, especially with regard to the payment of their four months’ salaries.

They are also seeking the immediate implementation of the N1.2tn offer by the government to public universities, starting with the release of N100bn this year.

But even as lecturers make these demands, analysts look at their requests with mixed feelings. For instance, an education consultant, Dr. Olusegun Omisore, notes that the auto accident, which killed a former ASUU President, Dr. Festus Iyayi, must have contributed to the latest demands by the striking lecturers.

According to Omisore, the controversial circumstances in which Iyayi died must have prompted the lecturers to take this position.

Iyayi died in an auto accident involving the convoy of the Kogi State Governor, Idris Wada, and an ASUU vehicle on his way to Kano to attend the NEC meeting penultimate week.

For a Lagos lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, the lecturers have no need to nurse any fear about the possibility of getting their salary arrears. The action they engaged in trying to revamp the nation’s tertiary institutions, he says, is a legitimate one before the law.

He states, “The FG has no justification to attempt to use the no-work, no-pay policy to further drag on the debate. Strike is one of the legitimate instruments workers use to fight their cause. The cause the lecturers are fighting is not a private one, but for the public good. What they are seeking is for the good of the university system and the nation.

“Therefore, if they are punished for this, it will be against the tenet of fair industrial practice. Again, that policy will not work in this country. It is just a decorative part of industrial law.”

As Aturu holds this view, Omisore is asking the teachers to temper justice with mercy. He notes that the worst hit in the crisis are the students.

Omisore says, “On the bottom rung of the ladder are the students. ASUU members should not forget that students are involved in all of this. The damage done to their psyche and the future of Nigeria is enormous. Since the FG has shifted ground, the striking teachers should try to meet the the government at the middle road.”

He also appeals to ASUU members to exploit the support they have earned from members of the public to call off the industrial action.
Like Enoh and Junior, who are disillusioned with the development, a 200-level student of the Federal University of Agriculture, Oyebanji Omotayo, says he is tired of the strike.

He notes, “I am fed up and tired of staying at home. The only thing I want to hear now is the suspension of the strike.
ASUU should resolve all the outstanding issues quickly. I hope the situation is not going out of hand. I implore the FG to do what is needful so that the striking teachers return to classes.”

Similarly, Fadlulah Hammed, a part two English Language undergraduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, says, “The strike at this point has become unbearable. I understand that the striking teachers have put up some fresh demands, but I urge them to consider our plight and call off the action.”

For Suliat Olubisi, a 300-level student of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, who claims she has been on campus since the strike begun, it is high time the action was called off.
She says, “Any time I attempt to return home, there is always the rumour that the strike will end. I therefore plead with ASUU members to sheathe their swords, as it were.”

But Dr. Fidelis Okoro, who teaches at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, says the issues at stake are beyond sentiments. According to him, the blame for shunning the classrooms should be laid at the doorsteps of the FG. Their action, he explains, arose because the authorities breached an agreement unanimously signed in 2009.

He adds, “Nobody can blame us for this, if the FG had kept to the agreement in the first place, the strike would not have cropped up at all.”


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