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Socialist Democracy April - May 2003 | Index

ASUU STRIKE:

GOVT MUST HONOUR AGREEMENTS WITH UNIONS

 

After series of breakdown in talks between government and striking lecturers, both parties have now agreed to set up an implementation committee. The 10-man implementation committee has representatives of government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and is headed by Prof. Ayo Banjo, former vice-chancellor of university of Ibadan and pro-chancellor of university of Port Harcourt. The terms of reference of the committee as reported by The Punch of Wednesday, March 19, 2003 is the preparation of a mutually acceptable schedule for implementation of the agreement with respect to financial implications and the recommendation of modalities for the resolution of all other outstanding issues. The committee has two weeks from Tuesday, March 18, 2003 to submit its report. This would determine further steps to be taken by the striking lecturers who had rejected the proposal by government that the strike be called off while the committee perform its assignment.

Academic activities in Nigerian universities have remained halted as the industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) persists. ASUU had embarked on the strike on 29th December 2002 to demand the implementation of the June 2001 agreement signed between it and the Federal Government. The agreement basically centres on funding, the allocation of a minimum of 26% of the annual budget to education in line with UNESCO recommendation, funding of rehabilitation of students' hostels, classrooms, laboratories, workshops, municipal facilities like roads, water, electricity and other teaching and research facilities plus assistance to state universities through project funding and other forms of intervention. The agreement also provides that there would be a separate salary structure for academics i.e. (UASS)(4.1.1); genuine autonomy based on the laws of universities and democratic governance, and that no single academic staff will be victimized for participating in the strike that led to the signing of the agreement.

The ongoing strike is as a result of government's flagrant violation of the agreements. For instance, the budgetary allocation to education thereafter has even been less than the previous one before the agreement with ASUU and it has progressively declined. 7.0% was allocated in 2001, 5.9% in 2002 and 1.83% is proposed by the government for 2003 in its appropriation bill currently before the National Assembly. Moreover, in relation to the unjustly sacked 44 lecturers of University of Ilorin, the government has not only repudiated the agreement, it has also openly aided and abetted the sustenance of their criminal and unjust persecution. ASUU has also accused the government and its officials (those of the ministry of education and NUC) of corruption and mismanagement of funds meant for the universities. For instance, N1.3 billion of the stabilisation funds, originally meant to create for shortfalls in budgetary allocation, has been mismanaged by government officials and spent on frivolous activities. It is not certain that anything will come out of the so-called implementation committee, at least judging by the conduct and utterances of government and its agents since the commencement of the ASUU strike. It would be recalled that shortly after signing the agreement in June 2001 a similar implementation committee was set up with similar term of reference, this did not stop the government from backsliding on the agreement. The government has told those who care to listen that it is not prepared, despite the struggle of ASUU and the students, to accede to demand of the striking lecturers. As far as the government is concerned the ASUU demands as contained in the said agreement is "too bogus and extravagant" to be met by this government and that is why the government has been engaging in the tactics of blackmail and intimidation and lies against the ASUU with the aim of breaking the strike.

The claim that government cannot fund the June 2001 agreement is false; neither is it true that the ASUU demands are" bogus and extravagant". The government's brazen and shameless violation of the agreement is not unconnected with its characteristic contemptible attitude to the education in line with the IMF/World Bank dictated neo-liberal policies of privatisation and commercialisation of education and other social services. The government being a government based on the selfish capitalist monetarist ethos, it does not prioritise the education of the Nigerian youth. The government does not see education as capable of yielding immediate financial returns that can be looted and converted for private purposes like the oil industries and other key sectors of the economy. Therefore, the government invests less in education and calls on parents to shoulder the huge burden of educating their wards. But education is the responsibility of government to be paid for from our collective wealth and not that of the parents who have been more economically dis-empowered the present Obasanjo capitalist government.

Under the current regime numerous workers have been sacked due to government's claim of inability to pay wages. Those still at work are paid pitiable wages. The pensioners too are owed backlog of salaries and inflation has eaten deep into the incomes of the working people. These are compounded by government's policy of privatisation of public utilities and commercialisation of social services including education, as dictated by IMF/World Bank and other imperialist forces, where in the productive sectors of the economy are placed in the hands of a tiny few officials of government and the ruling class to the detriment of the poor working majority. At the end, social services like education, health, housing, etc are reserved only for the highest bidder. All these are because our government is a capitalist government that places profit of a few before the welfare of the majority.

The DSM commends the doggedness of the ASUU leadership and the forbearance of the leadership of the students' movement, which has so far refused to be cajoled, by government's shameless tactics of blackmail, lies and deceit, into constituting an opposition to the struggle of the striking lecturers. It should however be stressed that while the struggle of ASUU is necessary and commendable, the task of revamping of education must be shouldered by every staff union in the sector (i.e. ASUU, ASUP, COEASU, SSANU, NASU, SSATHURAI, NUT etc.) along with the students. There should be joint action among the staff unions and the students. This will lead to the formation of a formidable force that can give the required strength to the struggle for far reaching reforms in the nations education sector, which is what the struggle of ASUU represents Ultimately, the struggle must be linked with the overall struggle of the working people against the entire IMF/ World Bank induced neo-liberal policies of deregulation of essential services, privatisation of commanding heights of economy, commercialisation of social services, devaluation of Naira, etc. The struggle must be equally elevated to political realm for a socialist reconstruction of the society as against the exploitative, oppressive anti-people and pro-rich system called capitalism.

 

 

 

Socialist Democracy April - May 2003 | Index