Home Essays When Two Elephants Fight by Oluka Emmanuel.

When Two Elephants Fight by Oluka Emmanuel.

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When two elephants fight, they battle it out with their bodies and do the elephant equivalence of arm-wrestling. There is tussle for dominance and they figure this out by fighting. The fight can range from mild, to weird battles. There is much protocols involved with elephants approaching each other and leading to a fight; and when they eventually fight, the grasses will suffer.

The above paragraph contains allegory that mirrors the power tussle between two powerful bodies; the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN). In this fight, ASUU takes to strike to drive home their demands. In retaliation, the FGN will always invoke the “no work, no pay” legislation as stipulated in “Section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act Cap T8 laws of the federation of Nigeria, 2004”. When this happens, it snowballs into a case of who blinks first. The students then become the proverbial grasses that suffer the consequences.

So, what does the prolonged strike mean for these students and the educational system at large? What are the demands by ASUU? Is the government always willing to meet all their demands?  What plans does ASUU have following the suspension of the strike? What becomes the way forward for parties involved? These are the burning questions this essay seeks to answer.

Demands by ASUU

Now, ASUU downed tools on 23rd March, 2020, berating the FGN for reneging on several agreements. The striking lecturers maintain there are five-(5) key outstanding demands that must be met before they call off the strike. These include:

i, setting up of visitation panel across all universities,

ii, platform to speak with state governments on proliferation of universities,

iii, renegotiation of 2009 agreement which addresses the working condition of lecturers,

iv, payment of withheld salaries and emoluments, and

v, revitalization fund for universities.

 

The Contentious issues…

But, of these five-(5) demands, three-(3), seem to be the big elephant in the room. So, breaking them down reveals the contentious issues.

First, ASUU want the FGN to discard its Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) as the payment platform for all emoluments. ASUU say the IPPIS fails to recognize the peculiarity of the university system, claiming it undermines the university autonomy and hence, shortchanges the lecturers sometimes. Rather, ASUU pushed for the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as a replacement for the contentious IPPIS.

In a swift reaction however, the FGN posited that ASUU as an employee cannot dictate to its employers how it would be paid. The FGN accused the leadership of the union of deceiving its members and not telling them the truth about IPPIS, citing anomalies and irregularities by the universities’ hierarchy. For the FGN, the country was losing a lot of money through sharp practices in paying lecturers’ salaries. Hence, the need for migrating the lecturers from the previous Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) platform to the IPPIS. According to Chris Ngige, the minister of labour and employment, the IPPIS will eradicate the issue of paying ghost lecturers, and eradicate the practice of some lecturers teaching in more than two universities as approved in other to earn jumbo pays. To Ngige, IPPIS will also address the shortfall in tax deductions by dubious vice chancellors in connivance with bursars during salary payments.

The Second contentious issue is; ASUU wants the N40-billion sum offered by the FGN as earned academic allowances, to be for members of its union alone. But, the FGN maintain that the funds should be shared with other university unions.

Thirdly, is the revitalization fund for university education system. The FGN had initially offered N20-billion while ASUU says it will only settle for N110-billion instead of the N220-billion it originally demanded. The FGN later offered N30-billion for the revitalization fund, bringing the total amount to N70-billion.

Needless to say, the revitalization fund, does underscore the need to improve Nigeria’s university education system through adequate government funding. For instance, the funds will help to provide a conducive learning environment that is globally competitive through rehabilitating students’ hostels, expanding lecture theatres, providing reagents in the laboratories and putting modern books in the library.

Ending the Nine-(9) Month Strike

In the series of back-and-forth nine-months negotiations with the FGN’s team comprising the Ministries of Finance, Education, Labour and Employment, alongside the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, ASUU demanded that its members be exempted from the IPPIS, pending the approval of their proposed UTAS payment system. ASUU also insisted the arrears of its members be paid before they’d end the strike.

However, on Tuesday, December 22nd 2020, the minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige revealed that the government has met ninety-eight percent (98%) of ASUU’s demands. Hence, on 23rd December 2020, ASUU in its official twitter handle finally agreed to end its nine-month strike, stating the body has reached an agreement with the federal government over major contentious issues. To reach this milestone, the Federal Government agreed to exclude members of ASUU from the IPPIS. The government also shifted grounds, as it agreed to pay outstanding salary arrears to the striking lecturers before December 31st 2020, through the old salary payment platform, the GIFMIS, as well as resolve other demands for a lasting industrial harmony in the university system.

In the meantime, ending the strike was not an easy decision for ASUU to arrive at because, its zones and branches were divided on the federal government’s offer and had to put the decision to vote. ASUU’s decision may have come on the heels of the senate president’s plea with the warring parties to find a common ground in the interest of the students; urging ASUU to be prepared to meet the government halfway and end the strike so that students can return to classes.

Consequences

Now, the strike may have come and gone but the aftermaths continues to haunt everyone.

The consequence thereof is that many students have lost one academic session while the strike was on. Also, many of these students became ready tools for nefarious activities like cyber-crimes, armed robbery, prostitution, drug abuse amongst other social vices; justifying the saying that, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”.

Another consequence is that with the age limit for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme set at 30 years, the prolonged strike may have thrown a spanner in the works of many students who would nurse the idea of participating in the scheme.

Besides, the strike may have reduced the chances of most of them securing jobs and starting their lives on time after graduation due to age barrier.

Painfully, public universities suffer the risk of becoming less attractive. This can lead to its collapse in preference for private universities, making good education, a mirage for the poor.

Way forward and Conclusion

Now that strike is over, ASUU and the National Universities Commission (NUC) should constitute a monitoring team to ensure the integrity of the university curricula isn’t compromised; because, there’ll be the likelihood of most varsities to rush their curriculum just to cover for the lost months.

It’s instructive ASUU and the federal government be commended for the maturity both displayed in reaching compromises that led to ending the strike. Nonetheless, to prevent a recurrence, government must show sincerity and keep to the agreements that have led to ending the dispute, because, that has always been the trigger to reemergence of strikes.

The Buhari administration must justify the inclusion of Education as one of its cardinal priorities by investing aggressively in the sector. This can be achieved by increasing annual budgetary allocation to the sector from single digit to double digit percentages of the total budget. Government should proclaim a state of emergency in tertiary education. It will be a step in the right direction towards salvaging our public universities.

In the meantime, ASUU should borrow a leaf from the Nigeria Union Of Teachers (NUT) following the successes it recorded in managing its trade union issues. The NUT’s approach was exemplary in the way it handled the age-long dialogue and negotiations with the federal government over their plight. It was a process that was devoid of brawl and strikes; they simply embarked on sustained advocacy and follow-ups while disputes and negotiations lasted.

Nevertheless, as much as the demands of ASUU are genuine and rational, they should know when to shift grounds for the benefit of the students who bear the greater brunt. The same goes to the federal government of Nigeria. It shouldn’t always be a case of who blinks first; for when these two elephants continue to fight, the students become the proverbial grasses that suffer. Yes! When two elephants fight, the grasses will suffer.

 

 

Oluka Emmanuel Chukwuemeka, a graduate of Electronic and Computer Engineering from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University can be reached via write2oluka@gmail.com

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