The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has suspended its eight month old strike over the non-implementation of the 2009 agreement entered into with the federal government; this was after a long battle with the government to ensure that the government keeps to its agreement. The decision to suspend the industrial action was taken by the union at the National Executive Council meeting after meeting with the speaker of House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila. The meeting was held to review development especially the order of the court of appeal which had ordered it to obey the earlier order of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) by suspending the industrial action before it appeals the judgment of the trial court.
The President of ASUU Prof Emmanuel Osodeke in an interview revealed that the suspension was as a result of the intervention of the speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajiabiamila who assured them that they will meet with the federal government and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that their needs are meant.
In the history of Nigeria the just suspended strike is one of the longest in the history of ASUU industrial actions in the country.
Although the strike has been suspended by the union but the power of ASUU may have been broken by the federal government with the registration of a new union in the university to battle with ASUU as well as water down its power. This is the first major challenge ASUU will be facing since its inception in 1978 when it was formed from the then Nigerian Association of University Teachers ( NAUT) an association founded in 1965 which was to cover academic activities in the University of Ibadan, University Nigeria Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife and the University of Lagos. But ASUU was formed as a result of the poor stand of NAUT on national Issues as it was almost sympathetic to the government on issues hence the death of that union and a new union ASUU was birthed to agitate on the welfare of university lecturers and other national issues.
Since the formation of ASUU in 1978, the association has been known for its hard stand on national issues and described as one of the strongest voices of Nigerians which has led to development in some areas. ASUU leadership has made mark in the history of Nigeria as a pressure group which has made good impacts in the country. The union has been seen as very rugged and uncompromising on issues relating to its members welfare and the political space.
The first national strike by the union was in 1988 to obtain fair wages and University autonomy and this led to the proscription of ASUU on the 7th August 1988 by the administration of General Ibrahim Babangidda and all its property seized but was allowed to resume in 1990, and after another strike in 1992 it was again banned on the 23rd August 1992.
Poor funding of Universities and inadequate payment of academic staff have been the major causes of ASUU strike. The numerous ASUU strikes have led to slow academic calendar, poor students’ performances, increase in crime rate, and loss of confidence in the Nigeria Educational System.
The just suspended ASUU strike which lasted from February 14 to October 16 2022 is seen as the longest strike in the history of Nigeria as it lasted for eight months while the second longest was in 2003 due to non-implementation of previous agreements. This strike lasted this long as a result of the inability of both the government party and the union leaders to reach a compromise while efforts by various stakeholders to mediate hit a brick wall hence the strike lasted for eight months thereby making it the longest ASUU strike in the history of Nigeria.
In a bid to end the strike and shame the members of ASUU the federal government through the minister of Labour Chris Ngige on Tuesday 5th October 2022 registered a new academic union of the universities “Congress of Nigerian University Academics”, with Dr Niyi Sunmonu as the national coordinator who justified the need to democratise the academic environment which should be the main aim of the lecturers instead of their personal gains. In an interview Sunmonu stated that there should not be a “just this way or the highway” mentality when it comes to solving problems. He further noted that the use of strike action to press home demands in the country had been on for over 40 years without concrete solutions to the problems being clamored to solve. “In the 40 years, we’ve had different kinds of government, the military dictators, the democracy that we all enjoy; we’ve had one response and that response is put pen to paper on agreement and renege on the agreement later”. He said further that the union is forced to sign agreements, “we are of the opinion that these agreements, to us, are actually done under duress; where you have a situation in which the other party which is the government that you’re actually discussing with, comes to a meeting with a relaxed mind that once they have an agreement that is workable; when they put pen on paper to sign, they would honour that”
The union leaders however agreed that the only way to solve such problem is for both parties to come to a round table to resolve issues instead of a strike action which can lead to many casualties. The casualties according to Sunmonu are lecturers who will not be paid their salaries within the time such industrial action lasted, students who are supposed to be taught within the period and parents who pay the fees for their children. These are the justifications of the leadership of the ASUU breakaway group of Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) which was just registered by the federal government to bring down the power of ASUU.
Many believe that the registration is aimed at killing ASUU by the federal government to ensure that ASUU is no longer in monopoly of the academic union in the universities and by so doing the federal government and those of various states will always have their ways.
There is no doubt that the aim of the federal government to register CONUA is to break the power of ASUU and create disunity among members by sponsoring another group to come up with a new name to now take up the responsibilities of ASUU seeing ASUU as too strong for the government to handle. Every Nigerian government had in the past made efforts to proscribe ASUU in order to prevent it from functioning properly this is why the government is intimidating the union members with no work non pay policy to coax them to accept the government offer. The breakaway members who formed the new union “CONUA” may have done that out of hunger to enable them collaborate with the government and get their own share of the national cake. Unionism in Nigeria has gone beyond meaningful but a “man must waak thing” which almost every union member is now interested in to put food in his table. The formation of CONUA may not be unconnected to greed of some few members hence there were ready to be used by the government to achieve the government objectives.
The registration of a new University Academic Union could lead to the death of ASUU if the federal government is able to use the new union to penetrate into the rank of ASUU leadership. All indications at the moment have shown that the new union CONUA will definitely be the bride of the federal government to break into one of the most vibrant trade union in the country. From conception to the time of registration and the sudden issuance of certificate to CONUA which is a faction of ASUU from the Obafemi Awolowo University branch everything was shrouded in secrecy as nothing was heard about the union until the day it was issued certificate of registration by the minister of labour and productivity Dr Chris Ngige.
The development seems to dash the hope of the angry parents, undergraduates who are rusting away in idleness each time there is strike action by members of ASUU. With the emergence of CONUA and National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA) the two new unions many are worried over the intention of the Federal Government, the magic the unions will perform and the fate of ASUU going forward.
As a helpless widow said on hearing the news of the new unions, “if that will open universities and get my two sons back to school, let’s support it because my two sons are my future and their being at home for long is my biggest worry than their tuition fees”.
According to a public affairs analyst and a lecturer in Auchi polytechnic Auchi Mr Isaac Imoagene “ you don’t resolve crisis by creating a bigger crisis. The two new unions are pro-government, so what happens when this administration goes next year, universities will be closed because it will be strike all through. The federal government should not divide ASUU but should resolve the lingering issues ones and for all as what the lecturers are demanding is not for themselves alone but for the entire university system and the country at large”.
He noted that the federal government once tried it with the polytechnic lecturers but the government failed woefully as the lecturers were united in their course.
The suspension of the eight month old strike by ASUU may not be unconnected with the registration of CONUA by the federal government as the leadership of ASUU suspended the strike to safe the union from going into extinction as many of its members and branches are already joining the new union to enable them get their outstanding salaries which were not paid for 8 months as a result of the federal government policy of “no work no pay”. With this new development of university lecturers joining the new union there is no doubt that ASUU may soon be a history if the federal government focuses attention on the new union.
Anytime the federal government wants to deal with university lecturers, CONUA will now be the platform for that as the members are ready to fight the leadership of ASUU to ensure that they take over the academic activities of Nigeria universities. It is a pity that the greed of some individuals have led to the division in one of the most vibrant unions in the country, a union that has distinguished itself from others and made name through its consistent engagement with the federal government to see that life is good for Nigerians and academic activities is strengthened in the country. ASUU has been the pride of Nigerians especially during emancipation struggles when it always mobilizes its members across the country to achieve its aims and objectives.
Now that the union is divided and a new union is birthed the government whether at federal or state level will have a free hand to operate without anyone challenging which is one of the aims of the government to register CONUA.
One may not be too sure if the new union can withstand the challenges in the academic environment by allowing the government to use it or it will wake up one day and start fighting the government like ASUU but what is certain at the moment is the collapse of ASUU which is imminent with the registration of CONUA as the government has successfully divided the union.
The success of CONUA on the other hand also depends on the cooperation from members and branches especially those who have in the past agitated that ASUU is chewing more than it can bite with its regular confrontation with the government. One thing is sure the future of ASUU lies on the success of CONUA and how far the new union is able to mobilize and convince members.
What the government has done is to polarize ASUU, weakens the university unions from its uniform bargaining power and leadership to its advantage. What will now be happening is that each time ASUU calls for strike, the Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA) will not join. The three academic unions in the university will eventually be on each other’s neck over issues a unified union would have solved, and that will make each of the unions a weapon for government or vested interest to achieve selfish objectives.
Oh ASUU! What a painful death of once a vibrant union!