The protracted impasse between the Muhammadu Buhari government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has turned into a cold war that could go on for five years, Nigerian lecturers warn.
ASUU has been on strike for a while now after the government said lecturers must join the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which lecturers say would encroach on university autonomy amongst other objections. But the government say IPPIS would curb corruption and foster transparency.
On March 23, ASUU also declared a “total and indefinite strike” over the failure of the Federal Government to keep to the 2019 Memorandum of Action.
ASUU wants the revitalisation fund for universities, the payment of outstanding earned academic allowances, the renegotiation of a 2009 agreement, to address the proliferation of universities, and the establishment of visitation panels to universities.
While ASUU fights its battle by refusing to return to the classroom till its demands are met, the Buhari government, according to ASUU, is weaponising hunger and poverty against the lecturers as only those who joined IPPIS are being paid salaries.
Addressing newsmen at the campus of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, the ASUU coordinator, Akure Zone, Prof Olu Olufayo, noted that the Buhari government had stopped negotiation with the lecturers until the recent eruption of violence during EndSARS protests.
Also at the briefing were Dr Olayinka Awopetu, who is ASUU chairperson, Federal University of Technology, Akure; Dr. Adeola Egbedokun, ASUU Chairperson, OAU; and Dr. Kayode Arogundade, ASUU Chairperson, Ekiti State University.
“Our students have stayed at home for too long; they have been at home for almost a year now. Don’t forget we didn’t send them home.
“We embarked on strike before the advent of coronavirus. Don’t forget EndSARS protests. It was at that point that the government realised that students should not have been idle.
“So, that must have made the government to ask us to resume negotiation.
“All through the period coronavirus was strong, we were not called for negotiation.
“But now, government wants us to return to class and engage the students. If we return to class now, what are we going to do there? I can’t teach when I don’t have money to feed myself.
“Also, during EndSARS protest, the youths also said they wanted to end bad governance.
“Students in universities in Kwara State have given the government two weeks ultimatum to resolve issues with ASUU and reopen schools, otherwise they would return to the streets.
“That must have scared government and they told us to return to the classroom. But how can we resume without being paid?”
So also, the ASUU, Nsukka Zone, said it was an aberration for the Buharo government to go to court at the time negotiation was ongoing to resolve issues raised.
The Zonal Coordinator, Dr Igbana Ajir, who stated this during the press conference held at the Hotel de Victoria, Makurdi, said that the court action would complicate issues.
Members of the union at the Port Harcourt Zone also vowed to sustain the eight-month-old strike, saying that no amount of blackmail by the Federal Government would make them return to the classroom.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government on Friday in Ilorin, Kwara State, organised a town hall meeting to examine the strike by ASUU.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, represented the President Buhari noting that Nigeria was just “recovering from the ugly effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the EndSARS protests in many parts of the country.”
He stated that moves were ongoing to end the strike action, adding that the ministers involved and the ASUU leadership were still working towards resolving the matter amicably.