ASUU President, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie

ASUU President, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie

THE Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) yesterday formally suspended its strike that paralysed academic activities in federal and state universities for 59 days.

The teachers are expected to go back to the classrooms from today. Their strike began on the midnight of December 4, 2011 and ended yesterday.

Announcing the suspension of the strike during a press conference in Abuja, ASUU President, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, said the decision was premised on the “concrete” assurances it had received from the government to address some of the issues arising from the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement, which led to the strike.

The Federal Government welcomed the teachers’ action, expressing the hope that the suspended strike would be the last in the nation’s university system.

While reacting to the suspension, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okojie told The Guardian that government had always been committed to addressing identified problems within the university system.

He said: “I’m happy they are going back to the classrooms. I’m also hoping that this should be the last strike, because strikes have really not yielded anything at all in this country. At the level of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), and the committee that was to monitor the implementation, I believe we could have solved all these problems, we didn’t need to go on strike on this matter.

“Take for instance, the 70 years retirement age for professors, the process is already going on now and we are talking about how to get money to pay earned allowances. When you stop a system, there is a psychological disengagement. If you have not worked for three months, every time you don’t work, it is a difficult thing. It is like a vehicle that is on the way running, if it requires service, you park it for three months; you go back again and picks it up. Something must definitely go wrong, even the facilities in the system.”

Awuzie said that within the last two months, government representatives and ASUU representatives had engaged in a series of talks aimed at addressing the issues.

He said as a result of the discussions, government wrote to ASUU its position in a letter dated January 24, 2012, where it re-affirmed its commitment to addressing most of the issues raised by the union.

On funding, he said government re-affirmed its commitment to the revitalisation of the universities through budgetary and non-budgetary sources of funds. For instance, government would immediately stimulate the process with N100 billion and would build this up to a yearly sum of N400 billion in the next three years.

He confirmed the government’s commitment to according special and statutory interventions to state-owned universities, and that government also agreed to “improve significantly” the budgetary allocation to education from 2013 to 2020.

On earned allowances, “government accepts in principle the payment of earned academic allowances (EAA). However, there is the need to work out the practical and sustainable ways to do this. Consequently, the mandate of the Implementation and Monitoring Committee (IMC) has been expanded to include proposing practical and sustainable ways of paying the EAA and the report is expected in 60 days. Government shall direct the universities to support internal staff development of all those not covered under the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TET F) intervention on capacity building.”

On the increase of the retirement age of professors from 65 to 70 years, Awuzie said as soon as the legislative process for the bill in this regard was concluded, the President shall assent to it not later than the end of February, 2012. He said government had directed the IMC to take all necessary steps to register the Nigerian University Pension Management Committee (NUPEMCO) within three months.

“Where the IMC has difficulties, it should refer the matter to the government for necessary action. Government also would encourage companies operating in Nigeria to collaborate closely with Nigerian universities in setting up research and development units.”

On the re-instatement of “prematurely dissolved” governing councils of universities, Awuzie said that government gave an undertaking to re-instate the councils on or before February 12, 2012, and that it might make changes in the external membership where it deems necessary.

He said going by the law, the tenures of the dissolved councils would have ended in February 2013, but that they were prematurely dissolved last year by the government. The ASUU boss said while the government had the power to hire and fire the council members, there was no way there would be stability in the university system, especially in the area of autonomy.

“On the basis of the congress resolution, each branch presented its advice to NEC through their chairmen. ASUU-NEC after collating the advice from the members across the country, having deliberated extensively, resolved to suspend the strike with effect from Thursday, February 2, 2012.”

The ASUU chairman of Anambra State University (ANSU), Dr. Jaja Nwanaegbo who as a principal officer of ASUU took part in the deliberations in Abuja told The Guardian the strike was suspended since the Federal Government pledged to implement the 2009 agreement.

On how universities would meet up with the lost days due to the strike, he said: “The universities’ senates will have to look at their programmes and change their timetables. We can’t juggle up programmes because we have standard of days the university programmes will take; I mean you can’t compromise them.”

On why the strike was suspended instead of being called off, he explained that until the agreements were implemented to the letter, the union would not call off the strike.

He said that the union may embark on another strike if the Federal Government failed to implement the agreement it voluntarily entered into with ASUU.

Meanwhile, a new ranking of universities worldwide for 2012 is out with none of the nation’s 107 universities (public and private) making the top 2,000.

Oldest university in Nigeria, University of Ibadan, was ranked 2,356th and first in Nigeria.