The ASUU Strike and the dramatic September

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By Prof. Abdelghaffar Amoka

A lot happened when we look at the panoramic view of September over the current ASUU strike. The beginning of the month was dominated by the continued discussion on the no-work no-pay oppressive policy that is meant to subdue workers’ rights, especially university lecturers who are always resilient in fighting for Nigerians to have access to quality university education. The custodians of this policy always prefer to employ it instead of amicable engagement with striking workers to resolve issues that caused the strike. This is evident in their lack of being proactive to solve the problems that necessitated workers to embark on strike. However, they prefer to not engage with the workers for months but to sit in their comfort zone and use their privileged positions to talk about no work and no pay like they are talking to their slaves in the 21st century.

This was followed by the meeting of the education minister with the VCs on the 6th of September and the anticipation that the VCs will be directed to open the universities that were never closed. If the universities were closed, SSANU, NASU, and NAAT members that have called off their strike will not have a place to go. Subsequently, the Education Minister was featured on Channels TV Politics Today where he re-echoed his internal anguish on the ASUU strike to Nigerians. There have been questions about whether he still believes in what he wrote on the ASUU strike in his column before becoming the education minister. Thereafter, on the 11th of September, Ngige dragged ASUU to Nigerian Industrial Court and sought a speedy trial.

You know a court case can last for ages. But in an effort to avoid tackling the issues that led to the strike they told their counsel to seek a court order to get ASUU members back to class. The Judge, Justice Polycarp Hamman, gave them exactly what they wanted and it was a huge celebration galore by government empathizers, with Lauretta Onochie, saying ASUU wings have been clipped. I laughed hard in “Swahili” following their celebration. We told them it was too early to celebrate their supposed victory but they didn’t listen. The appeal filed on the judgment by ASUU brought an end to their premature victory celebration.

Then, the emotional outburst from a supposed “learned” fellow and FG Counsel that the Federal Government has tolerated ASUU for too long. I never knew the frustration has gotten to that level to the point that it would make a SAN act so incoherent. This was unbelievable. Then, the bizarre circular, signed by the NUC’s Director of Finance to the VCs to reopen the universities and ensure that lecturers start lectures was deliberately leaked and trended for about 24 hours before it was followed by a circular of withdrawal signed by the same official of NUC.

However, the former circular to the people that have their reasoning capability intact knows that it won’t stand a taste of time. Their reasons are: universities are never closed in the first place, so how do you reopen open universities?; Aristotle said, “pleasure in the job put perfection in the work”, therefore, how do you compel displeasing workers to carry out the academic job which is an intellectual job, unlike other jobs? If lack of pleasure can affect the efficiency of work, what would you think of displeasing academics forcefully doing the intellectual job? No responsible leader will do that to education.

There is a common adage attributed to Mark Twain that said “give a young boy a hammer, and he will treat everything as a nail. Senator Solomon Adeola, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance who does not seems to understand what an IGR means in the university system decided to also contribute to the ASUU strike discussion. To him, every money collected is IGR and he said it is high time the federal government stop funding universities to the extent of salary and recurrent. To the chairman of the Senate committee on finance, everyone must generate revenue except those in government that are consuming the bulk of it. If they focus this attention on crude oil theft, they would have unraveled the mystery.

There was later a piece of information that the charges paid by students for health service, laboratory practicals, ICT, library, SIWES, field trips, etc are considered as internally generated revenue by the government, and 25% is expected to be remitted to the government. That’s amazing. There is a need to organize a workshop for the owners of our public universities and other government agents to educate them on the tertiary institution system.

There was the AIT news on the 15th of September 2022 and it featured my article on “The beautiful life of the Nigerian lecturers that you do not know”. The salary of lecturers was X-rayed by the TV and that rekindled the discussion on the slave wage of Professors. After 2 years of our efforts to educate people on the salaries of lecturers, some people still didn’t believe that the take-home pay of a starting Professor is N332,000 and that of a Professor at bar is N416,000. Before now, most Nigerians do not believe that a Professor earns less than N1m.

As the reality of university lecturers is dawn on us, some argued that the figure is just basic without allowances. Dear doubters, there is no upfront, no wardrobe allowances, no newspaper allowance, no nothing allowance. That is the whole package they are taking home from January through December. As a matter of fact, before the coming of IPPIS, only the basic salary was taxed. But with IPPIS, the entire salary which they refer to as consolidated and include rent and all other allowances are taxed. That led to a significant decrease in the salaries of lecturers when IPPIS was introduced. Professors are possibly the only worker in Nigeria with about a 30% deduction from their gross salary.

Some brought a dumb argument that every professor is visiting professor to other universities and that make their salary big at the end of the month. Visiting professorship is a global practice. Visiting Professors are used to build a new system or used to fill a knowledge gap. For example, if a department wishes to start a program in high voltage insulation and the university have got no manpower in that field, they reach out to experts in that field to help nurture the program.

The lecturer may decide to accept such an offer if he can sacrifice travelling up and down to serve that university as a visiting lecturer. The late Pius Adesanmi that was a Professor in Canada was a Visiting Professor to about 3 universities in Africa. He was on a plane to visit a university when he lost his life. Meanwhile, only very few lecturers and professors are on visiting jobs. In my department, for example, I am aware of just one lecturer that is a visiting lecturer at a university.

We’ll be deceiving ourselves and the system if you expect an unmotivated person to do an intellectual job. I was discussing remuneration with a colleague in a Lagos state-owned tertiary institution and the disparity is wide. FG need to ask Lagos how they are doing it. Ngige can’t come on air to say it’s unacceptable for a Professor to be taking the ridiculous salary of N332,000 that they have been on since 2009 and still say there is no money to implement a reasonable salary increase. Double standard. If there is money to pay someone about N900k after all deductions to help the president to tweet and post on Facebook, there should be money to give lecturers a significant salary increment and not another ridiculous 23.5% increment. That’s an insult.

Meanwhile, as the court case was on and circulars were flying up and down from the executive arm of the government, the Speaker of the House of Representatives had initiated an intervention to end the crisis and the first meeting took place a day before the court judgment.

The meeting between the legislative, executive, and ASUU yesterday on the 29th of September 2022 was very interesting and it revealed the man behind the mask of the 7 months old strike that is still dragging. It revealed the man telling the president that ASUU is behaving as an opposition party and need to be crushed. From Dr. Ngige’s outburst at the meeting, it became obvious that rather than being a Conciliator, the Minister has constituted himself as the stumbling block to the amicable resolution of the crisis. Rather than serving as an instrument to solve the problem, he seems to be busy complicating the crisis that is in its 8th month.

He accused the ASUU President of inciting the public against the ruling party. Like seriously? Nobody needs to incite anybody against you when you have already incited the public against yourself. You can’t drag an issue that could have been resolved within a few days for 7 months and still accuse someone of inciting the public against you. You are the one inciting the public against yourself. If Ngige cared that much about the future of his ruling party, he would have ensured that the crisis is sorted out long before yesterday’s meeting. You can’t treat Nigerians like a piece of worthless rag and expect to be hailed.

Who knows, maybe Dr. Chris Ngige has a hidden agenda. As we start October, maybe it’s time Dr. Ngige is asked to stay away completely from the negotiations with ASUU.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily