The saying “when two elephants fight, it’s the ground that suffers it” has been the fate of Nigerian students since the inception of the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU). Since 1998, every student has had their share of the repeated strikes rocking the educational sector. And since February of this year, the union has been away from academic work, leaving students to rot at home.
ASUU, founded in 1978, was an offshoot of the Nigerian Association of University Teachers (NAUT), which was established in 1965. At that time, NAUT consisted of only five universities including the University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Ife, and the University of Lagos. The first President of the Association was Professor I.O Agbede, and its current President is, Professor Victor Emmanuel Osodeke, who was elected on May 30, 2021.
According to the union, the lingering strike is a result of the failure of the Nigerian government to implement the Memorandum of Understanding and Memorandum of Action signed between the union and the government in 2009 (the government’s poor commitment to the payment of academic earned allowances; the continued use of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System and refusal to adopt the Universities Transparency and Accountability Solution, and proliferation of the universities in the country).
Findings by SecretReporters showed that in the past 23 years, the ASUU strike has nefariously kept Nigerian students at home for over four years since its inception in 1978.
SecretReporters gathered that due to the breakdown of negotiations between the union and the Federal Government regarding the working conditions in Nigerian colleges, ASUU went on a nationwide strike in 1999. The strike lasted for five months but began immediately after the Obasanjo-Atiku administration assumed office. The union went on strike again in 2001 to demand the restoration of 49 academics fired from the University of Ilorin.
The failure of the Obasanjo-led government to put into effect an agreement it entered with the union during the previous strike led to another two-week walkout in December 2002. Public universities in Nigeria were closed for six months in 2003, because of another strike by ASUU over the failure of earlier agreements to address issues with inadequate university funding, wage inequality, and retirement age.
The narrative was not different in 2005 as university professors took a two-week vacation from their schools, forcing students to return to their parents. During a three-day warning strike in April 2006 that ultimately extended to one week, academic operations at public universities were severely hindered.
On March 26, 2007, the union again embarked on strike for three months. When the union decided to go on strike in 2008, the topic of the 49 lecturers fired from the University of Ilorin came up once more. The union also called for a better pay structure. One week was spent on the strike.
After a four-month-long strike, the government of the late President Umaru Musa Yaradua negotiated an agreement with the union in 2009. Before the union agreed to end its strike, the agreement, known as the FG/ASUU 2009 Memorandum of Action, was signed. The government’s subsequent refusal to put the 2009 agreement into effect served as the push for further strikes in the years that followed.
ASUU went on another indefinite strike that lasted more than five months due to the Federal Government’s refusal to put into effect the Memorandum of Action that was agreed upon with the union in 2009. The strike began on July 22, 2010 and ended in January 2011.
Because of the 2009 agreement and the Federal Government’s failure to adequately fund universities in the country and implement the 70-year retirement age limit for university lecturers’, ASUU again attempted to halt academic activities nationwide in December 2011. The strike lasted for 59 days before being called off in 2012.
Another strike started because of the government’s inability to address requests such as raising the retirement age for academics from 65 to 70, approving financing to revive the university system, and increasing budgetary allocations to the education sector by 26%. On July 1, 2013, the strike began and ended on Tuesday, December 17, 2013. The duration was five months and fifteen days.
Once more, the union announced an extended strike on August 17, 2017, due to ongoing disagreements with the Federal Government. September saw the end of the strike. On November 4, 2018, ASUU began a three-month nationwide strike in protest of the Federal Government’s inactivity. After a meeting between the ASUU leadership and a government team led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, the strike was, however, called off on February 7th, 2019. Ngige remarked that the government had settled the eight contentious points that had sparked the walkout.
In March 2020, the union began a two-week warning strike in protest at the federal government’s failure to carry out its 2019 agreement and resolution with them. However, the strike persisted for more than nine months due to the epidemic and the government’s lack of response to the academic body. It was one of the longest strikes ever before it was finally called off in December 2020.
So far in 2022, the union has been on strike for more than five months, and despite numerous pressure group interventions and students’ protests, the union and the government have not been able to come to a truce.
What is sad is how successive governments have not been able to provide a permanent panacea to the repeated strikes. While students affected by the strikes rot at home, children of Nigerian politicians do not share in the spoiling, as they are being sent abroad to school. For Nigerian politicians, it does not matter how long the strike lingers. If their children are schooling abroad with looted funds, there is no call for alarm.
This explains why, despite the dismal situation of the Nigerian sector that has left students rotting at home, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila posted a ‘braggadocious’ picture of himself while studying at Harvard University. “Back to class. In a leadership course at @Harvard @Kennedy_School. Forget the number of grey hairs, one is never too old to learn, broaden or sharpen your skills”, he wrote on his verified Twitter page a few days ago, showing how insensitive Femi and other Mephistophelean politicians are to the plights of Nigerians.