The “total strike” declared Monday, Nov. 5, in public universities by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) enters the eighth day today. The strike decision was taken during an emergency meeting of the union. Speaking after the meeting, ASUU president, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, said “the strike is total and commences with immediate effect.” He gave “failure on the side of the government to honour the memorandum of action signed between the union and the federal government in 2017 and renegotiation with ASUU which the government intentionally ignored with impunity” as reasons for the work-to-rule.
However, Prof. Wale Babalakin, chairman of the federal government’s negotiating team, appealed to striking ASUU to return to the negotiation table. He asked “well-meaning Nigerians to prevail on the union to return to resolve issues based on accurate and verifiable data.” Babalakin, who addressed journalists in Lagos at the weekend, said Nigeria would require N2 trillion annually to fund university education. According to him, the figure exceeds the money available for capital projects in the country. “We also believe that no Nigerian should be deprived of university education because of his/her financial circumstance. This position is consistent with that of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari”.
Babalakin, the pro-chancellor of the University of Lagos, said the government was committed to “a permanent resolution of the recurrent industrial disputes that have militated against the progress of the Nigerian University System.” He dismissed what he called the misinformation by the ASUU that the team proposed N500, 000 as university tuition fee. “Aside from the fact that our committee has no power to impose fees on students, we are at a loss regarding the source of the said figure. However, the contradiction demonstrates clearly that the figures are incorrect and should not be countenanced by anyone. We do not know from where ASUU got the figures that it has been peddling around the whole country”. He added: “We don’t have the mandate to impose school fees. That was an unfair comment; we have not prescribed any schools fees. We urge all well-meaning Nigerians to appeal to ASUU to return to the negotiating table and resolve issues based on accurate information and verifiable data”.
If, indeed, Prof, Babalakin was speaking for the federal government, then the second reason ASUU gave for calling the strike is no longer valid. He said the government was prepared to reopen talks with the university teachers’ union. We suggest that ASUU give the man the benefit of the doubt and return to the table, if only to test the government’s sincerity. What ASUU has said about the university system is true: It is in decay, but the decay is only symptomatic of the rot in the education sector. The two must needs be taken together, not separately. This is what the federal government said it would under a plan to declare a state of emergency in the sector sometime this November.
There is another reason why ASUU should consider calling off the strike. It is that the goodwill and understanding the union has gained should not be lost at the altar of grandstanding. The Nigerian Senate fully backs ASUU in this matter and has asked the FG to negotiate with it. The union should not draw a wrong conclusion from the ‘victory’ of NLC/TUC over the new national minimum wage palaver. NLC declared an industrial action because the government broke off talks that were already ongoing. In the ASUU case, the government says it is determined to find a lasting solution to the crisis in the university system. We urge that commonsense be allowed to prevail over blackmail and emotiveness. This ASUU should do in the interest of the nation, but particularly to secure the future of university students, a future that being endangered by the present strike.