The dream of a smooth academic activity in Nigerian universities seems to be hanging in the balance following athreat by lecturers recently that they might go on strike once again. Their position is anchored in what the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), their umbrella body, says is the failure of the federal government to release the sum of N270 billion to the union as previously agreed upon.
The new threat coming from ASUU is bound to unsettle many Nigerians, especially students, who endured a nearly-six-month-marathon strike action by university teachers in 2013.Last year, ASUU declared an industrial dispute to press for better working condition for university teachers, improved facilities and upgrading of infrastructure on campus and a conducive learning environment for students in line with the 2009 agreement reached between it and the federal government.
In a series of meetings between ASUU and the federal government, it was resolved that the funds would be released on a quarterly basis. ASUU called off the strike on December 16, 2013, after almost six months. Members of ASUU are beginning to reason that the government has taken them for a ride. National Treasurer of ASUU, Dr Ademola Aremu, who spoke to journalists at the University of Ibadan, noted that the struggle for the implementation of the 2009 agreement was partially won but that the government was yet to release the money.
He noted that the N200 billion and another N70 billion, in line with the stipulation of the memorandum of understanding (MOU), was meant to be released on a quarterly basis and deposited in the Central Bank of Nigeria.Aremu warned that the failure of government to implement the MOU might spark off another strike.
However, as the issue of the quarterly release of funds to the universities begins to dominate our national psyche, a new angle has emerged from the directives of the Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC) that lecturers in the universities must fill forms on the new method of payment tagged Integrated Payroll and Personal information System (IPPIS).
ASUU is not comfortable with the IPPIS system and has directed its members nationwide not to fill the form. ASUU advised the NUC Executive Secretary, Professor Julius Okojie, to focus onthe infrastructure need at the various universities rather than dissipating his energy on alleged fraud-related forms.The lecturers cautioned NUC against distracting their attention from covering the lost grounds caused by the protracted strike last year, insisting that the method of payment being advocated negates the principle of the university autonomy agreed upon since 1992.
The circular from UI-ASUU warns that until the National Executive Council (NEC) of the ASUU reviews its earlier decision, no ASUU member should fill the form. The chairman of the UI chapter of ASUU, Dr Olusegun Ajiboye, has also spoken strongly in support of the position of ASUU in the matter. He explains that even when lecturers are paid by their universities, those who have problems with their salaries face difficulties before getting it resolved and that such difficulties might be multiplied when paid from Abuja. Ajiboye contests the claim that the new system will eliminate ghost workers when salaries are paid from Abuja because somebody in front of the system (computer) in Abuja will manufacture fictitious names and pay themselves.
The federal government must take a step to resolve all the pending issues.The quarterly release of fund which ASUU is harping on should be made without delay. Strike actions by our lecturers have contributed to low quality education. It has led our children into migrating to ill-equipped schools abroad.