Nigerian Universities Strike: To Redress Or Regret Past Neglect?

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

The complaints will increase as the workplace continues to require more people with more education, and people educated not just in specific skills but in how to learn. Nigerian government should understand that charity begins at home; leaving our schools in a sorry-state at home and sending their wards abroad is never a solution. From standard education, Nigeria can accomplish sustainable human development–including economic growth, social development and environmental protection–in an equitable manner. Undergoing university programs may include both formal and informal initiatives for poverty alleviation, human rights, gender equity, cultural diversity, international understanding, and peace. Challenges exist in implementing these concepts within education, such as incorporating sustainable science into curricula; strengthening collaboration between different levels of education; and compensating for the unequal access to information and knowledge in different parts of the world.

Proponents of University autonomy believe that it can create a more flexible and responsive system of university teaching and research. In spite of the autonomy entrenched in the laws setting up these universities, government and its agencies, and proprietors have continuously imposed conditions of service and bureaucratic rules on how the universities should be managed. Again, there has been erosion of university autonomy over the years especially during the prolonged era of military regimes in Nigeria (period between 1966 -1999). During this period academic freedom was strangulated and conditions of service were dictated by super permanent secretaries from the federal civil service.

Nigeria’s universities were closed on May 3 because of a strike by the Academic Staff of Universities Union. In early October, the strike ended and the universities reopened. The Government lifted its bans on the ASUU and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in 1993. Academic freedom is generally respected, although some groups allege that government security agents maintain an active undercover presence on the campuses and that university authority’s act at the behest of the Government to suspend or expel student activists. Student political activists continued to face harassment from university and security officials.

Apart from this growth, the system lacks autonomy, facilities and infrastructure to absorb the teeming number of applicants each year. The lack of autonomy and facilities has negative impact on admission of students, manpower recruitment and retention. For example about over a million candidates apply each year but less than 30% get admitted. As part of the ongoing restoration and democratization efforts in Nigerian public institutions, ASUU sponsored the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003 that among other things makes new provisions, for the autonomy, management and re-organization of the universities in Nigeria. Major features of the bill include the restoration of the powers of the council on administrative matters and that of the senate on academic matters, as well as the participation of students in aspects of university governance.

The bill was passed by both houses of the National Assembly on the 3rd of July 2003 and given assent by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the 10th of July 2003. During his second tenure however, the President in 2004 introduced a belated bill, which among others gave enormous and arbitrary powers to the vice chancellor and the visitor as well as entrusts much of crucial matters in university governance on persons or bodies external to the university. Essentially the President in the new bill sought to modify the previous one not just to suit its cost recovery reforms, but also to do so through means considered an erosion of university autonomy. Part of the paradigmatic shift in official policy is the liberalization of university ownership in which private universities are promoted as a model for the Obasanjo government’s deregulation policy. But more than serve as a model, the private universities are viewed more or less as competitors with state owned universities rather than a complement.

The incidences of strikes in the University System could be traced to early 1970’s. However, most of these strikes were related to problems between students’ and university authorities on one hand and between Students’ and the Government Policy of the day on the other hand. It was not until early 1980’s when University staff started agitating for improved conditions of service. Before this time, each university had a condition of service which was applicable to the University. The University Conditions of Service came into being after the 1975 Udoji Salary Review Commission. In 1981, the Federal Government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari constituted a Presidential Commission on Salary and Conditions of Service of University Staff known as Cookey Commission. The Commission among other things recommended the University Salary Structure (USS) for University staff and rehabilitation/maintenance of existing facilities. In 1982, the National Universities Commission carried out a Rehabilitation Inventory Exercise in response to paragraph 17 of the Government White Paper on the Presidential Commission on Salary and Conditions of Service of University Staff. The cost estimate needed to rehabilitate all the facilities in the Universities, following years of decay, came to N462, 000,000.00. In 1985 Government released to the Universities the sum of N85, 000,000.00 for the rehabilitation of facilities.

The Universities Strike organizers and trade unions were exposed to court orders and damages by the narrowing of the statutory immunities from judge-made liabilities. In this way, secondary industrial action, solidarity and political strikes, picketing away from the pickets’ own universities and official action not preceded by ballot were, ineffective, made unlawful. Much of that legacy remains in place in the present Rule of Law regime. In away that is unique in Nigerian legal history, unions as private organizations became subject to a pervasive regulatory framework in which their internal rules were overridden, and autonomy removed–usually on the assumption that ASUU members needed to be protected against their own organizations. Intervention was also rationalized on the basis of a need to make unions more ‘democratic’ and to prevent ‘abuse of their privileges. In addition, the reduction of strikers’ dependants’ entitlement to Academic benefits, and the widening of the Federal government and the National Universities Commission’s freedom to sack Lecturers’ without incurring the risk of liability for unfair dismissal, were put in place in order to make individual workers think twice before withdrawing their intention to go on strike.

Between 1970 and 2003 (33 years), the Nigerian University System has witnessed closures due to either Students demonstrations or due to staff Union strikes. In the early 1970’s, the closures of Universities were mainly due to student’s agitation for improved academic environment, residential accommodation and feeding. In 1972, the University of Ibadan was closed due to students’ riot that led to the death of a Student (Kunle Adepoju). In 1973, the then Government of General Yakubu Gowon introduced the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Scheme. The University of Lagos lost a student (Mr. Ojo) as a result of the demonstrations that followed the introduction of NYSC scheme. In 1978, the Government of General Olusegun Obasanjo reviewed the cost of meal ticket from 5o kobo to N1.50 kobo a meal, students’ also went on the rampage and institutions were closed.1n 1986, the Government of General Gbadamosi Babangida introduced Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and another cycle of students’ riots led to the closure of Institutions of Higher learning. These closures affec

ted academic activities in the then six Federal Universities at Ibadan, Nsukka, Ife, Zaria, Lagos and Benin.

Prior to the unified salary structure of 1975, (Udoji Award), the incident of closure due to University Staff Union Strike was non-existent. University Staff Unions came into existence and multiplied as a result of the perceived erosion of condition of service of University staff.In 1981, Academic Staff Union of Nigeria Universities (ASUU) embarked on strike that led to the setting up of the Cookey Commission. Universities were closed for six months as a result. In 1992, the Academic Staff Union of Nigeria Universities declared an industrial trade dispute with Federal Government of Nigeria, the Governing Council of each State and Federal Government, the Minister of Education and National Universities Commission over three issues. These were: Gross under funding of Nigeria universities, Conditions of Service of Academic: Salaries and Non-Salary Condition of Service plus University Autonomy and Academic freedom. As a result of the Industrial Action, ASUU was proscribed. Following the resumption of negotiation, the 1992 Agreement was signed on September 3, 1992.

As a result of the negotiation, disparity in salary between Academic and Non-Academic Staff was introduced. This led to three months strike in 1993 by Non-Teaching staff of Universities, who demanded for parity. In 1994, ASUU embarked on another strike action for increase in Salary, re-instatement of disparity and non implementation of the 1992 Agreement with regards to the setting up of Education Tax Fund (ETF).Similarly, in 1995, ASUU embarked on another round of strike actions for the review of the 1992 Agreement. In 1996 the ASUU President Dr. Assisi Asobie was dismissed as a result of series of strike actions by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. Universities as a result were closed for seven months over agitation for the recall of ASUU President and the need to review the 1992 Agreement. As a result of another round of strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities in 1999 for five months, the then Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar constituted a Federal Government Negotiating Team with the mandate to negotiate with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on ‘Salaries, Wages and other Conditions of Service in the University System’. An Agreement was signed on May 25, 1999.

Following the transition from Military to Civilian Government in 1999 and the perceived non-implementation of the signed Agreement of May 25, 1999, another round of strikes actions were embarked upon by the Union. On October 26, 1999, the then Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of the Federation Chief P. C. Asiodu signed an agreement with ASUU. The Agreement covered the payment of certain adjusted allowances including Academic Allowances, Car refurbishing, Housing Loan and Rent Subsidy. The Negotiation on Basic Salaries, University funding and Autonomy was deferred.

In the year 2000, the Academic Staff Union of Universities embarked on another strike action for the resumption on Negotiation on Basic Salaries, University Funding and Autonomy. The Federal Government then set up a Negotiating Committee comprising of Pro-Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors and officials from Federal Ministries to negotiate with ASUU and other University Based Unions. Negotiations commenced with ASUU on August 28, 2000.In the year 2001, following a stalemate in the negotiation, ASUU embarked on series of strikes action which lasted for three months. The strike was finally called off with the signing of the June 30, 2001 Agreement. In year 2002, the strike actions were embarked upon by the Unions over the perceived non-implementation of the 2001 Agreements for about two weeks. In 2003, all the Unions in the University System were on strike as a result of: Inadequate fund, Non-implementation of Agreement, Disparity in Salary, Retirement Age, and Non-implementation of Allowances.

Today, the failure to fulfill a promise of welfare package by Yar’Adua’s government to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has led to indefinite universities strike. The Lecturers have launched an indefinite strike to demand the implementation of a pay agreement and adequate funding of the universities by government. After many decades of failure, with such university disparities, the Nigerian University System are deemed “in need of improvement,” meaning that this government with the university administrators must devise a two-year improvement plans following strict peer-reviewed guidelines. A third year requires the offering of supplemental services like tutoring, a fourth year triggers “corrective action”—such as changes in staff and curriculum and the extension of the academic calendars or year—and a fifth year requires the complete restructuring of the universities, which in many cases means the opening of a charter institutions in its place.

However, its performance plan that left some public universities hiring responsibilities to the Vice Chancelor, a unique stipulation that was critical to the universities recent improvement. Future Education reform attempts for Nigerians would have to: be underpinned by sustained and resolute political will; allay fears related to mobility and national pride; rely on prior coalition-building among all stakeholders; rapidly empower students, parents, universities and School Boards; maintain a high-profile media presence. Our universities owe to maintain some local autonomy and Lecturer stability, and there is a need for students to graduate without unnecessary set-back!

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