Strikes are sweeping across Nigerian universities in a dispute over salary differentials. Teaching in most of the state universities has been disrupted although federal universities continue to run lectures.
Nigeria is gradually implementing two conditions of service for universities and the move has implications for the quality of teaching, staff recruitment and research.
All federal and private universities are operating because they implemented a new salary scale and other conditions of service as set out in a 2009 agreement between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
But many of the state universities have yet to begin their academic activities this semester, with lecturers demanding that state governments implement the federal agreement. The states' executive governors, who are also by law Visitors at some universities, insist the agreement is not binding on them because education policies under the constitution are determined by each state.
Academic union National President Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie disagreed with the governors' position. Awuzie told a press conference that Adams Oshiomole, Governor of Edo State and also the Visitor of Ambrose Ali University Ekpoma in Edo State, was one of the main architects of the agreement.
"The Governor of Edo State is implementing this agreement. And the academic staff of Ambrose Ali University are not on strike," he said, adding that representatives of the governing councils of state universities took part at all stages of negotiations that led to the agreement.
Awuzie said the Governors' Forum, a platform of 36 governors of the Nigerian Federation, had approved the 2009 agreement. "I salute those state governors who are implementing this agreement," he said.
In universities where the agreement has yet to be implemented, members of industrial unions are also on strike. In the six south-eastern states, the governors met with the unions' local branches seeking a solution to the crisis.
The governors insisted the agreement should be re-negotiated but the unions rejected this. They maintained that because the federal, private and some state universities were implementing the agreement, there was no basis for a re-negotiation.
Academics in these universities have been urged by the academic union to continue their industrial action. The union's national president is on the staff of Imo State University, one of those not implementing the agreement.
The situation at Lagos State University is peculiar: a previous salary scheme gave Lagos an edge over many other universities because it was paying its academics 30% more than many others in the country.
The standard of living in Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria, is higher and the university attracted many academic staff. Now, because the Lagos government has yet to implement the agreement, this is about to change.
Officials of the academic union believe that pressure from students and civil society organisations will convince strike-affected universities to honour the 2009 agreement.
"This is an election year and many of the Visitors will not want to face the wrath of the electorate," declared Kanu Nwoko, a spokesman for the academic union. "They must use part of the money they have allocated for the elections to pay the new salary structure [because] they have no choice."
Some 12,500 academics are employed by the103 universities in Nigeria but about half do not have PhDs. Some with PhDs are about to retire unless the National Assembly passes a new law raising the retirement age to 70 for professors.
The current numbers of academics are not enough to meet the needs of the universities and academics are likely to migrate to those universities implementing the new salary scheme. Many programmes could be forced to close if a mass migration occurred.
The National Universities Commission, an agency mandated to accredit academic programmes, is soon to start routine accreditation in all the universities. Universities fear that non-implementation of the new salary scale will seriously jeopardise their futures.
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