Iyayi's timeless nuggets on the ASUU struggle

THe late Professor Festus Iyayi simply called Festus by  his contemporaries was killed by
a car in the convoy of the Kogi state government last week.  Across the labour movement, news of his death spread like wild fire: Iyayi, who was president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities  in1986 is no more. For those of us who reported his activities as ASUU president, we knew that the labour movement has lost a committed comrade.  He led ASUU to confront the military government on issues affecting the university system.
This edition of Labour Vanguard is a tribute to Professor Festus Iyayi the intellectual, the  unionist, a decent man by all standards.  We share with our readers his thoughts on the current ASUU strike. He spoke to a magazine , The Worker; published  in Abuja.   May his soul rest in peace.

WE thought Government was sincere on 2009 agreement: The truth is that ASUU went on strike over the fact that the federal government refused to implement the 2009 agreement. The provisions in the Memorandum of Understanding dictated by the Secretary to the Federal Government of the Federation (SGF) on 24th of January 2012, and then the Needs Assessment that was carried out in July 2012, a number of issues were involved, and are still involved. One is funding of the universities.

The 2009 ASUU-FGN Agreement was specific in terms of reversing the rot and decay in Nigerian universities.

Funding of universities

The chairman of the Federal Government Team that negotiated with ASUU, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, said he wanted to enter the history books as the chairman of a Government Team that not only identified the key problems of Nigerian universities but has also provided the solutions.

He also said that he would not sign any document, any agreement; any item that he knew that government was not going to implement and that was why the negotiation took us three years – from 2006 to July 2009. That agreement had four sections namely; funding of universities, conditions of service, academic freedom and university autonomy and then other matters.

On the question of funding, the agreement provided that within a space of three years, government will provide 1.5 trillion naira in order to address the rot in the university system. Between 2009 and 2011, nothing happened.

ASUU wrote over 200 letters to government on the agreement, nothing happened. On the 4th of December 2011, after a number of warning strikes, ASUU embarked upon an indefinite strike.

Then in January of 2012, the SGF apprehended the strike and called us to meetings in his office. So we took that back to our members and our members were not happy saying that we cannot trust this government, it is just on paper. I said look, I moved the vote of thanks to Pius Anyim at the end of negotiations. I did so because I thought he was very sincere, very honest.

From that time up to now nothing has happened. Since then ASUU had interacted with the Ministry of Education, interacted with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation pressing for the implementation of the approved recommendations by the president and nothing happened. It was at that stage that ASUU then went on strike; and since the strike started, what have we heard?

We have been called by the National Assembly Committee on Education chaired by Senator Uche Chukwumerije. Very interestingly, when we got to the meeting with the committee at the National Assembly, it was clear to all the members that the reason for the strike was because government refused to implement the agreement, the Memorandum of Understanding, and the needs assessment as approved by Mr. President.

‘ASUU strike not just about money for lecturers': “ When they said that all ASUU is after is money, money, money, they mean for example that we are after salaries, we are after the money that comes to the pocket of ASUU but fortunately, when anybody sees the Memorandum of Understanding, the Needs Assessment Report and also has read the statements credited to ASUU in publications, they will know that ASUU is after the Funding of education and not after money. In any case, if you have worked, shouldn’t you be paid; if ASUU has worked, shouldn’t it be paid? It is said that a labourer is  deserves  his wage.”

ASUU’s struggles: “ ASUU’s struggles have also been about conditions of service. In the 2009 agreement, we talked about earned academic allowances. These are allowances in relation to responsibilities, that is, responsibility allowance; like you are a head of department, allowances in relation to supervision, you supervise PhDs, you access professors; allowances in respect of  excess workload.

In Nigeria, the NUC said that the student-teacher ratio should be between 1 to about 40. In some Nigerian universities, we have a situation of one lecturer to about 500 students. In Harvard, it is about one to three, in Yale it is one to about five, you know, the ratio varies but in Nigeria, in our public universities, no teacher teaches a class, on the average, that is less than 150.

We teach far above and we have consistently said that look, employ enough teachers, when you employ enough teachers, you won’t have to pay for excess workload because teachers are carrying more than the workload that they ought to carry.

So, staffing, not just academic staff but non-academic and all staff of universities, they have  not earned allowances which government has not been paying since 2009 and it has accumulated and comes to N92 billion for both academic and non-academic staff.

ASUU, because we recognise the interconnections between the academic staff and non-academic staff; we say pay everybody. We could have said look, pay us the academic staff allowances and leave that of the non-academic staff. ASUU said we work in a system; if you pay us and you don’t pay the others, there will still be crisis; so bring the money so that all categories of staff are paid but government is saying no, it doesn’t have the money; it only has N30 billion.

. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, [Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy] at a meeting in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the course of this strike told us: “I have cash; 30 billion naira cash, I am putting it on the table, take it or leave it. if you don’t take it you can be on strike for the next two or three years. Yes, that is what Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said!”

‘Government can fund the agreement' Government has money. We do not believe that government has no money. As we told Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, we are a union of intellectuals, we have economists, experts in economics, and so we have access to the figures that government itself produces in relation to its revenue string. Government has a lot of money.

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