#EndASUUStrike: Need to pay salaries of striking university workers

ASUU strike was forcedly suspended in October 2022. It was suspended not ended but can be ended in this new dawn. The nation is suddenly breathing the enviable fresh air of hopes for a glorious future under the able leadership of shrewd but consummate politician, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT). As a testimony, BAT was a 2-term governor of Lagos state (1999-2007). His stewardship as governor was (still is) the most highly rated performance of a governor in Nigeria since the inception of the current political dispensation. He touched every sector of societal development particularly the economy, education, power, and the rest. To date, Lagos remains the startling example of good governance and excellent leadership under BAT’s tenure. Can he replicate it at the national level? Time will tell.

No doubt, governing a complex nation like Nigeria is a herculean and gargantuan task, which needs a serious-minded personality to accomplish. However, BAT’s political antecedents, astuteness, and doggedness have made him a fitted match for confronting Nigeria’s complexity and steering it to the promised land. His accomplishment in less than one month in office has propelled the nation towards greatness.

In March 2023, after BAT’s electoral success, I wrote a 3-part article in this column, titled “Nigeria-2023 President-elect: Rerouting Nigeria’s Pathway to Glory”. As I wrote “The unique and miraculous emergence of BAT as president-elect placed a heavy burden on him to deliver the dividends of democracy especially now that the country has achieved the infamous position of the world’s poverty headquarters. BAT has to reroute the nation to a glorious future. To do that, education should be the number one priority of BAT’s presidency by stopping the decay and rot. Education serves as a solid foundation for building society and provides the necessary ingredients for lubricating other sectors to function effectively. To revive education, BAT can start with low-hanging fruits for easy plucking and making tangible impacts within a short time. To fast-track the intervention in this sector, BAT can fraternize ASUU leadership, and challenge it to bring a quick and sustainable revival of the entire educational sector. University education is the most critical part of education that produces the society’s leaders, technocrats, administrators, crème de la crème, and all cadres of personnel who can lift the society to a height without a ceiling. The nation’s economic, political, and developmental vibrancy depends on the intellectual capacity of its citizens, particularly the leadership. The falling standard of the university system produces half bake graduates. Engineers who do not know how to engineer, lawyers who are ignorant of the laws, accountants who neither understand checks nor balances, and medical practitioners whose services often send their patients to graves rather than healing. Thus, the university system is designed to provide manpower development capable of solving the developmental challenges of a nation.” 

It is in this light; I am urging Mr. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to immediately address the issues raised by ASUU and other university unions. ASUU is demanding a change from rots to prosperity, from decay to progress, the kind of progress the country needs to become a great nation, and a well-deserved position we all crave for. If we fail to meet ASUU’s demands of stopping the rots in the university system, the nation may be doomed sooner than later.

 At the peak of the FGN-ASUU imbroglio, Hon. Femi Hakeem Gbajabiamila made a concerted intervention that was ostensibly facilitated by BAT’s unseen hands. Although, the intervention did not produce the desired results but presented both Gbajabiamila and BAT as willing partners for the achievement of permanent peace and progress in Nigerian public universities. Additionally, BAT promised during his electioneering campaign that he would end the perennial ASUU strike for the betterment of the university system. Now is the time to take the right step towards ending the strike by engaging ASUU leadership and other stakeholders for genuine reconciliation. Before the engagement, however, BAT should immediately direct the immediate payment of the salary arrears of the university workers for the following reasons. 

First, when the strike was suspended late last year, there was a feeling of relative peace, but it has been the peace of a graveyard. All discerning minds are not only worried about the withheld salaries of the striking workers but worried about the wrong direction the university system is facing. Is society interested in the quantity of university education without caring about its quality? What is the use of BSc, BA, MSc, or Ph.D. without the requisite knowledge acquisition, training, character, and capacity building?

Second, BAT should hold the olive branch to university workers by directing immediate release of their withheld salaries to placate them for the harm they were subjected to during their industrial action. This will pave the way for genuine reconciliation, and mind-preparation for the uphill task required to revive the university system. After all, several unions went on strike without the application of the draconian law of “no work, no pay”. For instance, Workers in the Nigerian Research Institutes went on strike for over a year with their salaries fully paid. Similarly, medical doctors were on strike, their salaries were initially withheld but released after a truce with FGN. Even among the striking university workers, some of the academic medical workers were paid their salaries despite being on strike. The former Minister of Labor Dr. Chris Ngige, their professional colleague concocted reasons for paying their salaries, claiming, they were not on strike. The claim was outrightly disputed by the workers. 

Third, teaching is a continuum, when the strike was suspended, the lecture is resumed where it was stopped until the syllabus was covered, and students only lost time because of strike action, not the knowledge acquisition. However, if the principle of “no work, no pay” was strictly applied, students would not have lost time but knowledge. This is because if the strike period covers one semester, the lecture will resume with subsequent semesters without considering the lost semester, at the end, the graduates will not only be half-baked but will be totally uncooked, unemployable, and grossly below international standard. In any case, Academicians performed three functions: teaching, research, and community service. During the strike, it was only the teaching component that was completely suspended while the other two were performed. 

Fourth, the reason for the strike was the FGN’s failure to implement agreements dully and willingly signed by ASUU and FGN after strenuous, time-consuming, and rock-breaking negotiations. In the event of facing an unimplementable part of the agreement, nothing stops any of the parties, ASUU or FGN from coming back to the negotiation table but FGN’s high horse fueled by power and authority made the renegotiation impossible. BAT is not toeing this line as he already met with striking health workers in his less than one month in office, which made them called off their strike. That is how sensitive a leader should be. BAT seems to be a complete departure from the old order and should be complimented by the release of withheld salaries of the university workers. The need to make this payment cannot be overemphasized, Mr. President, Sir. 

Last note, ASUU and indeed other university-based unions have to strategize and adopt a more palatable, and all-inclusive approach to addressing the decay in the university system, which will make it responsive and solution provider to societal problems. In future, we need to deemphasize strike action and source an alternative that will be effective and efficient in making government discharges its responsibilities. May God show us the way, amen.