One hundred days after members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities embarked on a nationwide strike, the end is not in sight yet, CHARLES ABAH writes
Students holding a rally in support of the ASUU strike.
In countries like South Korea, the first 100 days of a child is very symbolic. Within this period, the life of the child and that of his parents are often celebrated. In keeping with the tradition of the people, prayers and various types of gifts are offered to the gods during parties organised to mark the event.
This is accompanied with much feasting in the child’s home. The purpose of such ritual is to increase the newborn baby’s chances of becoming successful on earth.
Globally, it is also common among political appointees or government officials to celebrate their first 100 days in office. For instance, President Barack Obama of the United States celebrated his first 100 days in office with pomp and ceremony. The period in the US serves as a benchmark to measure the early success (or otherwise) of president.
In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan and many state governors also celebrated their first 100 days in office. Of course, the celebrations took place with much fanfare. Advertorials were placed in the newspapers and parties were held in government houses to mark the achievements of the political office-holders during their first 100 days in office.
Unfortunately, there are no celebrations today as Nigerians mark the symbolic first 100 days that lecturers in the country’s public universities embarked on industrial action.
The lecturers, who commenced the strike on July 1, are protesting the non-implementation of an agreement they signed with the Federal Government in 2009, as well as the non-payment of their earned allowances.
Many people are compelled to ask what the country, particularly the education sector, has achieved in the first 100 days of the ASUU strike. Since the strike is still in progress, analysts conclude that nothing significant has been achieved. In their thinking, several dialogues and meetings targeted at resolving the crisis have failed to yield positive results. Therefore, there is really no cause for celebration.
A lecturer at the Lagos State University, Ojo, Prof. Ademola Onifade, notes that contrary to expectation, the current struggle by ASUU has achieved nothing for the lecturers and public universities.
He says, “In politics and governance, politicians celebrate the first 100 days on the positive side. But here we are, nothing has been accomplished in this struggle.
I suspect that the game plan of the Federal Government is to wear us out. The authorities do not want to address our requests. However, if their target is just to wear us out, they will not succeed.”
But judging by recent statements made by the representatives of the government, there is an indication that the crisis will be resolved. Indeed, President Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo have promised that the crisis would be over soon.
Earlier, the FG, acting through the Governor Gabriel Suswam-led committee, had released N100bn for infrastructure development in the universities and another N30bn for the teachers’ earned allowances. But the leaders of ASUU dismissed the sum as a token, saying it was comparable to a drop in the ocean of their requests.
While both parties continue to seek the best way to settle their differences, the mood in many homes and in the public universities affected by the strike remains sober. Academic activities in these institutions are still suspended. The students and their parents are forced to deal with the frustration and feeling of hopelessness arising from the strike, just as the striking lecturers, who claim that they have not had any meaningful dialogue with the FG, continue to despair.
The lecturers have not been paid their salaries for the past two months. But this seems to be the least of their worries. The Chairman of ASUU, Obafemi Awolowo University chapter, Prof. Ade Akinola, who says there is no political colouration in their demand, notes that the body’s major concern is to save the universities from dying.
He says, “ASUU will continue to call on Nigerians to help beg the Federal Government to be patriotic and see reason in not allowing public tertiary education to die. The FG should honour the agreement mutually entered into in 2009 and further reinforced by the Memorandum of Understanding of February 24, 2012. It was in general to save the public universities from total collapse.”
Also, a communications specialist, Mr. Muyiwa Akin, thinks this is not the right time for ASUU and the government to trade blame. He says that both parties should find a mid way to resolve the crisis.
“All the parties should realise that they should protect the interest of the students. In my thinking, sincerity is lacking in this matter. The signing of the agreement took place some years ago and if perchance, the FG is not able to meet its own side of the deal, it should be open about that.
“Again, the government should show sincerity and commitment in funding education and keeping to agreements, just as ASUU members, who are seeking the improvement of the quality of education, should consider the fate of the students. For, without the students, there will be no ASUU and without ASUU, there will be no students,” he says.
Meanwhile, ASUU insists that the 100-day-old strike has no political colouration.
In a statement by its National Strike Coordinating Committee, obtained on Monday, the union dismissed the October 1 broadcast of the President in which he referred to the strike as politically motivated.
The statement read, “The primary goal of our union is to work for the repositioning of the Nigerian university system for global competition in terms of comparable facilities and staff quality. This goal we have pursued with diligence as a trade union.
“The Umaru Yar’Adua/Goodluck Jonathan government did not accuse ASUU of playing politics all through the three years (2006-2009) negotiations that produced the 2009 agreement. As Vice-President, Jonathan made significant input into the negotiation process. In 2012, when the MoU was signed despite doubts about government’s sincerity, President Jonathan did not impute political motives. Even the landmark report of the Committee on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities was not interpreted as political.
“Why is it now when ASUU insists that the Federal Government should deliver on what it undertook to do under the 2009 agreement, the 2012 MoU and the 2012 Needs Assessment Report that the union is being accused of embarking on a political strike?
“ASUU members, and, indeed, progressive Nigerians, know too well that the accusation of politicisation of strike is a cheap blackmail. If anything, it is the Federal Government that is trying to whip up political sentiments over matters that are straightforward and clear to all and sundry.”
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