THESE may not be the best of times for the Nigerian education sector as the comprehensive and indefinite strike action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has continued. Twelve weeks on, and with no end in sight to the impasse between the union and the Federal Government, Vanguard Learning critically examines issues raised by the industrial action.
Twelve weeks after the commencement of ASUU strike, a major cabinet shake-up by President Goodluck Jonathan hit the sector as the Education Minister, Professor Ruqqayatu Ahmed Ruf’ai, was sacked from office alongside eight others, leaving the Minister of State, Mr. Nyesom Wike, to take charge until the appointment of a substantive minister.
Investigation reveals that her sack was not unconnected with political calculations in the countdown to the 2015 general elections and her alleged passivity to settling the agitations of tertiary institutions’ staff unions, which led to a two-month strike by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), and the ongoing ASUU strike. This is even as Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) just ended a seven-day warning strike to call government’s attention to the welfare of its members.
As Rufai’s sack continues to raise mixed feelings among stakeholders, another dust was raised with the call by the Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, to disband ASUU over its adamant position to continue with the strike unless government meets 100 per cent of its demands.
Amidst the ongoing knife-to-the-throat situation, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), last Wednesday, disapproved of the protracted strike by their aggrieved lecturers, and called on them to resume negotiations with government to ensure that public universities were reopened without further delay.
The issues raised in the 2009 agreement and then modified in the 2012 MoU include: “Funding and requirement for revitalizing the universities; Federal Government’s assistance to state universities; progressive increase of annual budgetary allocation to education from 2013 to 2020; Earned Academic Allowances (EEA); amendment of the pension/retirement age of academics on the professorial cadre from 65 to 70 years; establishment of a pension fund administration for universities; reinstatement of university governing councils; transfer of Federal government’s landed property to the universities; setting up research and development units by companies operating in Nigeria and the Budget Monitoring Committee.”
Of the 10 items agreed upon in the MoU, it’s arguable that the fulfilled are reinstatement of the Governing Councils and the retirement age of lecturers in the professorial cadre.
Three weeks after the lecturers downed tools, government intervened by inaugurating a 22-member implementation committee on National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy, (NEEDS) Assessment of Nigerian Universities headed by Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State and Professor Mahmood Yakubu, TETFUND Executive Secretary, as Vice Chairman.
The Suswam-led committee was mandated to interface with all agencies providing support to public varsities with the aim of channeling assistance to priority areas, as well as stimulating private sector investment into public varsities; monitor the progress of project implementation; produce quarterly report for submission to government; and intervene in matters that would be crucial to the achievement of the assignment.
After a week of heated debates and consultations, the Suswam-led committee submitted its report to government, which culminated into a letter to disburse N100bn for the implementation of identified needs of the public universities and another N30bn to off-set the EAA of teaching and non-teaching staff.
Despite this acclaimed commitment by government, ASUU still stood its ground, vowing to continue with the strike over issues bordering on government’s insincerity and the fact that the acclaimed disbursed funds are yet to translate into cash for earmarked varsities.
A critical examination of the distribution document made available to Vanguard Learning reveals some controversies in the disbursement of funds to federal and state varsities. While ASUU is contending that the N100bn is nothing near the N500bn due for 2012 and 2013, as contained in the 2009 ASUU/FGN agreement and the January 2012 MoU signed by both parties, some other discrepancies discovered include that government’s claim to distribute the released funds to varsities based on student population was not religiously followed.
Partitioned under four categories with student population of 30,000 and above; 29,000 and 25,000; 24,000 and 15,000; 14,000 and below, it was found that some varsities with lower student populace got more funds than their counterparts with higher populace.
For instance, Ebonyi State University, with student population of 23,437 got N3.050bn while Lagos State University with the highest student population of 90,885 got N1.300bn, University of Abuja, with 62,528 students got N3bn; National Open University of Nigeria N850m with 57,759 students and University of Calabar N1.250bn with 29, 357 students. Also, our findings revealed that of the 40 federal varsities, 13 were left out.
They include: Federal University, Gashua; Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa; Federal University, Dutsin-ma, Katsina; Federal University, Kashere, Gombe; Federal University, Lafia, Nassarawa; Federal University, Lokoja, Kogi; Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi; Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa; Federal University, Wukari, Taraba; Federal University, Birnin-Kebbi, Kebbi; Federal University, Gusau, Zamfara; Federal University, Oye Ekiti, Ekiti and Police Academy, Wudil, Kano State.
While of the 39 state varsities, Bukar Abba Ibrahim University, Damaturu, Yobe; Northwest University, Kano; Sokoto State University, Sokoto; Tai Solarin University of Education; Ijebu-Ode, Ogun and Technical University, Ibadan, Oyo State, were left out.
With about 18 public universities left out of this distributed funds, what is the guarantee that their local ASUU chapters won’t shut-down their schools within the shortest period to fight for their share?
Minister’s sack makes no difference
Following the sack of Minister for Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i last Wednesday, stakeholders in the education sector have said that the sack will not make a difference in the sector.
ASUU President, Dr. Nasir Fagge, in a phone interview, said: “I am not too sure whether the minister’s sack will have much of an effect on the sector but we’d just have to wait and see. She did her best at the beginning of her tenure, but as we realised in our talks with government on the ongoing ASUU strike, she wasn’t really on top of the situation. She kept on referring to the Secretary to the Government and other government officials on issues pertaining to the 2009 agreement.”
The National Secretary, Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), Mr. Ade Adepoju, he believes the minister’s sack will not resolve the crisis facing the sector.
“She didn’t perform woefully as her hands were more or less tied. It is government that is responsible for the policies in the sector as well as budgetary allocation to education. Even if you bring in an angel as the new minister, that person will still have the same problems as Rufa’I because the challenges prevailing in the sector have been on long before she came into office. It is only when stakeholders come together to put heads together that these issues can be resolved.”
The Coordinator, NANS, Zone D, Mr. Adeyemo Monsur said: “I have mixed feelings about this; if she is replaced with someone who can bring about positive results in the sector, that is a good thing. But if the next person who comes in still makes a mess of the sector, then nothing good has come out of it. Also, we must understand that the problem facing the education sector is beyond the sacking and appointment of ministers; government must realise that before the sector can move forward, there has to be adequate funding of education.”
Disbandment of ASUU
Meanwhile, ASUU has described, as laughable, the call by Most Rev. Okoh, for the disbandment of the national union. Pointing out that the union is duly registered, ASUU Chairman, University of Lagos chapter, Karo Ogbinaka, and the Ibadan Zonal Chairman, Dr. Adesola Nassir separately said disbanding the union would not resolve the problems in the sector.
“Rather than call for our disbandment, government should make known its short and long-term plans of funding education so that we don’t keep repeating the same issue over and over again. Anyone calling for the disbandment of the union must be on helium as the union is fighting for the good of the university system,” they said.
Accept the N130bn and go back to the classroom
According to the NANS President, Comrade Yinka Gbadebo, rather than continuing the strike, ASUU should seek plan ‘B’, which is ‘to file a legal suit against government, return to the classroom and resume negotiations with government.’
“We wish to categorically state here that it has become imperative for the government and ASUU to understand the position of Nigerian students in the tripod that constitutes the varsity community, which is management, teachers and students.
“Having taken a holistic review of the details inherent in the agreement as signed by FG and ASUU, it has become germane for us to call on ASUU to reconsider its present adamant stand on the continued closure of our universities.
“We must, as Nigerians, accept that the problem with our universities have developed over decades and would, therefore, be unimaginable that ASUU, with its present stance, wants it totally resolved within the spate of four years that this agreement was signed.”
In the same vein, Ogbinaka said the members have worked for their earned allowances and therefore, should be paid what is due them.
“Based on the collective agreement between ASUU and government, we have worked for three and a half years without being paid our allowances. This is not free money as some people would want to believe but our sweat, so we should be paid what we deserve.”
Describing the claim to have released the N130bn intervention fund to universities as fraudulent, the ASUU Ibadan Zonal Chairman, Nassir said what government did was to hijack the resources of TETFUND which already belonged to varsities as intervention fund.
He explained: “Aside hijacking TETFUND, government is offering N30bn and is asking Governing Councils of varsities to source for the remaining funds. If we agree to this, it invariably means that the buck would lie on the students and their parents. By hijacking the resources of TETFUND, government has automatically blocked the regular intervention of TETFUND to varsities, and this is fraudulent. Despite its claim, government is yet to release a dime of the amount other than the letters written to the Governing Councils of universities by the National Universities Commission (NUC).”