AS the ASUU strike completed the fifth month, it became clearer than ever, that a resolution must willy-nilly, be found.
Parents are worried about children and wards that have become restive elements of their households; the students are frustrated about inability to complete sessions of academic work, while lecturers on strike must also be “war weary”, being unable to teach their students or carry out research.
The government needs a solution, because it has not come out of the crisis with any form of plaudits, despite the efforts to launch a disinformation campaign against the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
This background of disaffection all round, should normally have hastened the parties towards a resolution of the issues. And when the ASUU leadership met a government delegation at the Aso Villa, led by President Jonathan in a marathon negotiation session, it looked like the logjam was about to be broken.
The government thought presidential prestige was enough to corall the battle hardened ASUU combatants back to the lecture theaters around the country. With an eye to the political situation, the administration was hoping to get a positive rub off from the conclusion of negotiations, especially in terms of what it does to the president’s rating as the monster of the 2015 elections roars ever closer to the land. But ASUU did not seem as impressed as the government delegation on the other side of the negotiation table. It wanted cast iron assurances that the new agreements will not be treated with the contempt that followed those entered in 2009.
Memory serves the union right and government seemed unable to recover memory or abide faithfully with agreements. It was this that took us where we are, and the five-month strike which has disrupted the tertiary education system, already in deep-seated crisis even when there was no strike.
Trust government to behave predictably stupidly; and it did! First, the president told a panel of journalists at an Independence Day eve media chat that politics had crept into ASUU’s industrial action.
But in rejecting a new set of ASUU demands last week, the federal government directed vice chancellors of all federal universities to re-open their campuses for immediate resumption of academic activities. The statement threatened to sack lecturers who do not resume work.
In justifying government’s action, Minister of Education, NyesomWike, who looks more at home leading PDP thugs in brawls on the streets of Port Harcourt, than leading delicate negotiations with university lecturers, said the refusal of ASUU to call off the strike amounted to deliberate sabotage.
But President Goodluck Jonathan took hysteria a notch higher, when he said the strike action was now a subversive act. He chose to describe the action, in the settings of local PDP politics in his Bayelsa state: “What ASUU is doing is no longer trade union (SIC)”, said Jonathan.
“I have intervened in other labour issues before now, once I invite them they respond and after the meeting they take decision and call off the strike. At times we don’t even give them a long notice unlike in the case of ASUU that was given a four-day notice before the meeting…
Despite the fact that I had the longest meeting with ASUU in my political history…The way ASUU has conducted the matter shows they were extreme and when Iyayi died they said the strike was now indefinite”.
In response to the ultimatum issued to the striking lecturers, President Jonathan stood logic on its head by responding that: “we didn’t give them ultimatum it was the Committee of Vice Chancellors that took that decision, the Supervising Minister of Education only passed on the decision”. So the tail was actually wagging the dog! He then added with finality: “what ASUU is doing is no longer trade dispute but subversive action”!
And how does a state deal with subversion, except to crush it? Well, we have travelled that road before and if there is an individual that can assist the government with residual memory, it is former military president, Ibrahim Babangida. He had many bitter rows with ASUU during military dictatorship and the union was not broken!
In response to the sack threat,Babangida early this week advised government and the gung-ho Wike to: “apply knowledge and tactfulness in resolving this issue. Issues are never settled by threat and you need to settle quarrel in a tactful way”. There is a shortfall of approximately 60,000 lecturers in the Nigerian universities even in the best of times.
How the Jonathan administration hopes to fill university positions if and when ASUU members are sacked viaNyesomWike’s battering ram-like charge, remains to be seen. All Nigerians are waiting with bated breath for the solution to this long-drawn crisis; but government has not earned plaudits with its stance!.