THE Academic Staff Union of Universities has spent 1,500 days or 4.09 years on strike since the return to democracy in 1999, findings by this newspaper suggest. This implies that about 19.5 per cent of every academic year is spent on strike.
According to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, about 94 per cent of students attend Nigeria’s public tertiary institutions. However, most students spend more than the necessary time in school due to the usual clash between the government and lecturers.For example, in 1992, during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, a decree was promulgated which made strikes by teachers a treasonable felony.
The lecturers stuck to their guns and the Babangida junta bowed to pressure.
However, findings by The PUNCH shows that the advent of civilian rule seems not to have improved tertiary education in Nigeria going by the frequency of strikes.
In 1999, the same year President Olusegun Obasanjo was inaugurated, ASUU spent 150 days on strike and in 2001, the union spent 90 days on strike largely due to the sacking of some lecturers at the University of Ilorin.
In 2003, ASUU embarked on a strike that lasted for six months and spilled to 2004.
Earlier in 2003, students had witnessed interruptions of their academic calendar due to a strike which was called by the Nigeria Labour Congress under the leadership of Adams Oshiomhole over the increment in petrol price by the Olusegun Obasanjo government from N26 to N44.
Between 2005 and 2006, ASUU spent only 10 days on strike but in 2007, the union embarked on strike for 90 days and then for one week in 2008. However, the strikes became more frequent from 2009.
In 2009, the union embarked on a strike that lasted for 120 days from June to October.
The government, in a bid to end the protracted strike, made several agreements with the lecturers’ union some of which included salary increments, improved funding for universities and amending the Pension Act such that the retirement age of professors would be put at 70.
However, nine months after the 2009 agreement, the South-East zone of ASUU embarked on a strike.
The schools that were affected include Ebonyi State University, Abia State University, Anambra State University, Enugu State University of Technology and Evans Enwerem University.
The strike, which affected over 250,000 students, started on July 22, 2010 and ended on January 18, 2011.
The reason for the strike was the refusal of the South-East governors to commit to the agreement made between the Federal Government and ASUU regarding salary increment.
Although the strike was not nationwide, it was given full support by the national body of ASUU, led by its then President, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie.
Between 2011 and 2012, ASUU embarked on a nationwide strike that lasted for 90 days due to the refusal of the Federal Government to review the retirement age.
On July 1, 2013, the union again embarked on an industrial action because of the government’s failure to release special funds for universities as stated in the 2009 agreement.
Tensions heightened when the then acting Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, threatened to sack all lecturers if they refused to return to work.
The government eventually bowed to pressure and released $1.3bn into a fund at the Central Bank of Nigeria. The strike was eventually called off on December 17, 2013, after five months and 263 days.
There was respite in 2014, 2015 and 2016 as no major ASUU strikes occurred across the country except a seven-day warning strike in 2016.
However, on August 17, 2017, ASUU embarked on a strike that lasted for 35 days due to the government’s failure to honour the agreements of 2009.
Similarly, on November 4, 2018, ASUU again embarked on a strike that lasted till February 7, 2019, a total of 95 days.
On March 23, 2020, ASUU embarked on an indefinite strike, the same week in which the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), imposed a lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Federal Government and ASUU have been at loggerheads over the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, a platform which the Federal Government said all lecturers must be registered on or they would not be paid a salary.
However, ASUU opposed IPPIS and insisted that lecturers would rather use the University Transparency and Accountability Solution.
The strike has been on for over 259 days.
When contacted on the telephone, ASUU President, Prof. Abiodun Ogunyemi, said the union had been doing well to put the government on its toes.
He said if not for ASUU, Nigerian public universities would have been worse than public primary and secondary schools.
Ogunyemi stated that it was through ASUU’s protests that TETFund was born.
Ogunyemi stated, “If you are looking at the negative side of the strikes, you should also look at the positive sides. If not for ASUU, there would be no TETFund. TETFund has been funding infrastructure and capital development both at federal and state levels with grants from TETFUND.”