Parents, students cry as ASUU grounds 40 federal, 44 state varsities

Academic programmes in all public universities in the country were, yesterday, truncated, following an indefinite strike called by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU. This came as parents and students, especially final year students, yesterday, expressed frustrations that the strike might prolong their stay in the university. About 40 federal and 44 state universities in the country, would be affected by the fresh strike which took effect, yesterday. ASUU’s leadership insisted that the strike was total, comprehensive and indefinite and also threatened to sanction any institution that would defy the strike order to conduct lectures, examinations or any nocturnal meetings for the period the action would last. The strike followed the outcome of the National Executive Council, NEC, meeting held by ASUU’s leadership and state chairmen on Saturday in the FCT, Abuja. The meeting culminated in the official announcement of the strike at the headquarters of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Abuja, yesterday. Speaking while declaring the indefinite strike at a press conference, National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said the action became necessary due to breach of the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, for the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement on financing of state universities; breach of conditions of service; refusal of government to honour the Earned Academic Allowance, EAA, and re-negotiation of the agreement. Ogunyemi said the 2009 agreement revolved around conditions of service, funding, university autonomy and academic freedom, all of which government had been lackadaisical in implementing. The Federal Government is believed to owe universities over N880 billion in intervention fund as a fallout of a NEEDS Assessment report. Also on the list of the union’s demands are government’s foot-dragging over ‘funds for the revitalisation of public universities, non-release of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) operational licence, non-payment of earned academic allowances, payment of fractions/non-payment of salaries, retired professors and their salaries and university staff schools. 2013 MoU with FG In the 2013 MoU entered with ASUU, the Federal Government agreed to make funds available for the revitalization of the university system, amounting to N1.3 trillion in six years, based on yearly release of N220billion.  This was to have started with N200 billion in 2013. There was also an agreement to open a dedicated revitalization account with the CBN to warehouse the fund, including setting up a central monitoring committee to monitor the implementation of the revitalization of the universities. ASUU also accused government of reneging on payment of outstanding balance of the Earned Academic Allowances after verification of the payment made from the initial N30 billion, among others. The union said:  “Consequently, based on a nationwide consultation with our members, an emergency meeting of the NEC of ASUU rose on Saturday, August 12, 2017, with a resolution to embark on an indefinite strike. “The nationwide action is total and comprehensive.  During the strike, there shall be no teaching, no examination and no attendance of statutory meetings of any kind in any of our branches.” It will be recalled at a recent public function, where the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Abdulrasheed Abubakar, met with bursars of universities across the country, he stated categorically that university administrators should jettison clamours for full autonomy as the Federal Government would never concede to such demand. He explained that in view of the fact that public universities relied on government for subventions to operate, granting them autonomy would be tantamount to throwing away its regulatory rights, especially in checking financial excesses in the institutions. Efforts made to get the reaction of the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, did not yield any results but one of the aides in the office said the ministry was still studying the reasons for the strike. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, who serves as the bridge between unions and the Federal Government, refused to pick his calls and also failed to reply text messages sent to his GSM for his reaction. We ‘re in solidarity with ASUU but —NANS Reacting to the indefinite strike, president of  National Association of Nigeria Students, NANS, Comrade Chinonso Obasi, said the students body was in solidarity with ASUU but noted that the timing was wrong. Obasi said that in view of the economic situation in the country, ASUU should have tarried a while instead of embarking on strike immediately, adding that university lecturers had always ignored the students when taking decisions. He said: “Their demands are right because the welfare of the lecturers is very paramount.  The lecturers cannot lecture the students well if they are not properly taken care of. “Our disappointment is that we as students, go to bed only to wake up to hear that there is an industrial action. If ASUU wants to go on strike, they should, at least, carry the student leaders along; we are their children and they are our parents. “Their welfare is our concern. But each time, they just take decision without giving considerations to the people who they are lecturing. What if we come with our agitation that they are not even qualified to be our lecturers? So, I feel there should be a relationship between the student leaders and ASUU.” Strike stalls UI postgraduate students’ exam At University of Ibadan, many postgraduate students of Faculty of Social Sciences and others whose examinations were fixed for, yesterday, were disappointed as lecturers began the indefinite strike. The strike shocked the authorities, students and some lecturers who just got hint of the strike yesterday morning. Though, there was uncertainty about the commencement of the strike in the morning, information about it spread at noon and paralysed academic activities in the school. UNIJOS yet to comply to directives The University of Jos chapter of ASUU was yet to comply with the directive at press time. A member of ASUU in the institution, who did not want to be named said: “As at today (yesterday), we are still working but we have a meeting tomorrow (today). It is at that meeting that we will discuss and agree on when to join the strike. “Right now, some students are writing their exams and some even have papers tomorrow, we will decide as a body and it is not in my place to pre-empt what will happen at the meeting. ‘’It is really sad if we have to toe this line, but government should do the needful and relieve us of the burden of having to take this hard decision.” Parents, students lament A parent, Mrs. Dorcas Ilumuonya, whose daughter is a 200 Level student of Psychology, lamented the situation. She said: “This is very disheartening, when one is thinking about the future of the children and counting when they will graduate, another indefinite strike will delay them and cause stress on the students and untold hardship on the parents. “I am pleading that if there is anything that the federal government, ASUU and other stakeholders can do to avert this calamity, it should be done quickly so that we do not go back to the past inglorious days in the education sub-sector.” However, a student of the University of Jos, Nathan Mangut, who said he had a paper to write today, said:  “We have been hearing about this in the university in those days, but we thought by now, things would have changed. ‘’A situation where one spends donkey years for a four-year course should have been over by now but it is sad that it is still the same old story. “I pray UniJos should pity us and allow us complete the semester since we have already written over 70% of our papers. Some people are in their first semester, while some are in second. If our local branch here should see reasons to allow us round off our respective semesters before joining the strike, it would be okay.’’ In his reaction, Dr. John Ugwuanyi, a lecturer from University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said though the national body had declared an indefinite strike, they had not received further information from the local body in UNN. He said: “The major cause of the strike is underfunding of universities by the federal government. It has to do with the non-implementation of the 2009 agreement. ASUU demands have not been met.” A parent, Mrs. Osaretin Akhigbe, said: “No strikes are welcome at this time, especially in the education sector. Government should urgently look into their demands. ‘’Besides, that sector is in a bad shape and needs total overhauling and any action that would further deteriorate the already deplorable state is far from welcome.’’ Another parent, who declined to have his name in print, said: “Why wouldn’t the union members go on strike when our President has been away for over three months? I doubt if any reasonable decision can be reached or taken in Mr. President’s absence.” For Miss Tare Adefe, the issue remains the same and the solutions never seem to be achieved. She said:  “The average Nigerian has become so abused by the conditions we find ourselves.  We just seem to turn deaf ears to events and occurrences as they unfold. “The country is in crisis. Daily, we hear of the fight against corruption and the unimaginable amounts of money being retrieved from persons who were supposed to serve the people but ended up serving themselves and their pockets. “These recovered loots could have solved a number of issues in various sectors of the economy but we never hear anything afterwards. “It’s a sad situation we find ourselves in and truth be told, there is hardly any faith left in this country we call our own.’’ Miracle Ndubuisi, a 300 level student of Chukwuemeka Odimegwu University, said: “The strike will affect students a lot, especially those currently in final year. ASUU might be suffering a lot in the hands of the government but they should please consider the academic progress of students and call off the strike.” Another concerned student, Joseph Oso, said:  “The news simply will affect educational activities that should be carried out. The strike will bring about fear in the minds of students, thereby delaying academic works, examination and other academic activities. I urge the federal government to comply with the demands of ASUU so as to allow students go back to school and continue their academic activities.” The 2009 agreement The agreement included details such as the breakdown of lecturers’ salary structure, staff loans, pension, overtime, and moderation of examinations. Part of the agreement dwelt on funding of universities where both parties agreed that universities should get, at least, N1.5 trillion between 2009 and 2011 while state universities, within the same period, should receive N3.6 million per student. The agreement also stated that the re-negotiation committee should ensure that, at least, 26 per cent of Nigeria’s annual budget is allocated to education, and that half of that allocation should go to universities. The agreement also asked that the 2004 Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, Act, and the National University Commission Act 2004, be amended. Text of the suggested amendment bills – including suggestion for amendment of the Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act 2004 – were provided in the agreement. The agreement was signed by Bolanle Babalakin, the then chairman of Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Federal Universities; Gamaliel Onosode, chairman of the re-negotiation committee; and Ukachukwu Awuzie, the then president of ASUU. The agreement demanded heavy financial commitment from the government and was an adaptation of an earlier agreement reached in 2001. It is unclear how much of the agreement had been implemented by the government but the then Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF, Anyim Pius Anyim, after one of the failed negotiations, said  most of the issues contained in the 2009 agreement had been fully met except for the earned allowances estimated at N92 billion. “Some of the issues which bothered on amendment of pensionable retirement age of academics in the professorial cadre, consolidated peculiar allowances (CONPUAA)- exclusively for university teaching staff, National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, setting up of budget monitoring committee in all public universities have been fully implemented,” he had disclosed. Promise fulfilled N200 billion paid out of one trillion; N300 billion of the Public Universities Revitalization (Needs Assessment) fund released. Key outstanding issues include payment of fractions/non-payment of salaries; non-payment of earned academic allowances. EAA; non-release of operational license of  NUPEMCO; non-implementation of the provisions of the 2014 Pension Reform Act, with respect to retired professors and their salaries; removal of universities staff schools from funding by government; and funds for the revitalisation of public universities. (Implementation Assessment Report).

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