By Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik, PhD
In the buildup to the conditional suspension of 2020 ASUU Strike on the 23rd December 2020, I can remember the position of a senior colleague during the ABU Zaria chapter’s congress meeting in which he aired an opinion that largely matched what most of us held as the way to go. He opined that from the interactions he had witnessed, the government cannot be trusted and envisaged that suspending the strike without getting all the offers implemented may end up a regret and with an experience similar to that of Health workers.
Judging from previous experiences of the insincerity of the government, 8 universities including ABU took the position of continuing with the strike till all the offers by the government are implemented. Some of us were of the opinion that the minimum deal that should be considered as acceptable for a conditional suspension is the payment of all the withheld salaries and Earned Academic Allowances (EAA).
But unfortunately, the bulk of our universities appears to have developed some sort of trust on the words from the Chief of Staff to the President and they voted in favour of the conditional suspension of the strike. As part of their ulterior motive to deceiving ASUU into believing that FG is serious to the implementation was the offers made to pay only 2 of the 5 months withheld salaries which was paid on the day of the congress meetings held across the branches. ASUU as a democratic organization has to go with the option from the majority of her chapters and the strike was suspended with conditions.
The suspension was widely celebrated by the general public while ASUU members were battling with how to manage 2 out of the 5 months salary and ASUU was battling with how to resolve issues of omission and mutilated payment that affected some of her members.
Then, all the staff of the universities that enrolled in IPPIS were paid December salary on Christmas day but not the academic staff loyal to ASUU. Up till today, January 5, 2021, the December 2020 salary is not paid contrary to the agreement reached on the December 23, 2020 and there is still the outstanding 3 months withheld salaries.
The withheld salary is a budgeted item for 2020. It will be difficult to convince someone that there is money to pay the December 2020 salary of university workers that enrolled in IPPIS but not for the December 2020 salary of the Academics loyal to ASUU’s struggle and their withheld salaries. Has the budget for the salaries diverted? How? To where?
Also, the Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) was meant to have been received on or before 31st December 2020, but there is no information on that as of today, 5th January 2021.
While reflecting on the situations since the strike was suspended on the 23rd December 2020, these words in an email from Dr. Salihu Lukman, the DG of the Progressive Governors’ Forum which he publicized keep vibrating in my head. He said; “We should not deceive ourselves to imagine that simply because there is an agreement, leaders will voluntarily implement it”. It is a short but very important statement. That statement is an indication that another strike in no distant time is inevitable as you will have to always apply force for the leaders to implement agreements.
President Muhammadu Buhari was quoted to have said; “It is amazing how ASUU will stay out of classrooms for so long. There’s a need for our elites to understand the challenges facing the country”. The majority of ASUU members of the public universities decided to be reasonable by voting for the conditional suspension of the 2020 ASUU strike but the government has seems to have started to failing in the implementation of the agreement reached on the 23rd December 2020 before the conditional suspension.
Was ASUU wrong to have believed that the government will be reasonable this time around? Is the government sounding the drum of another conflict with ASUU that may result in the second wave of 2020 ASUU strike? Is another ASUU strike looming? Will ASUU or FG get the blame for another strike declaration by the end of January 2021 without notice if the government failed?
Maybe the leadership of ASUU should advice all Academics not to start lectures till end of January 2021 after proper review of the level of implementation of the agreement that led to the conditional suspension of the strike.
Nigeria and the university system is for all of us. Education should ordinarily not be a sector to take for a joke. The government should try to be responsible for the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. All the stakeholders should ensure that the December 23, 2020 agreement is implemented with the timeline to avoid another round of conflict between ASUU and FG.
Our public universities must survive.