NIGERIA: Staff to down tools over retirement clause
Changes to the retirement age and other contentious issues were thrashed out and agreed upon during a prolonged strike that paralysed the entire university system of Nigeria for six months, two years ago.
The non-implementation of the retirement clause has undermined the stability of universities, with valuable senior academic staff being lost to institutions at age 65, which contributes to brain drain in a system desperately short of lecturers.
At a press conference, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) president declared that its national executive had decided to call out its members on industrial action if the retirement bill was not passed into law within the shortest possible time.
The sudden announcement jolted officials of the federal government and leaders of the national assembly into action. Government officials have been frantically trying to prevent the strike action, whose consequences would further compound problems afflicting the universities.
The country's president and vice-president have reportedly met with leaders of the national assembly and urged them to fast-track the bill's enactment.
The presidency also instructed the federal minister of education and the executive secretary of the National Commission of Universities (NUC) to meet with the ASUU leadership to try and persuade them not to strike.
At that meeting the two government officials urged union leaders to allow government a bit more time, and gave assurance that lawmakers would soon pass the retirement bill into law.
The ASUU president has warned that members of the union are not willing to wait indefinitely for a bill that ought to have been passed two years ago.
The national executive council of the ASUU met recently at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, northern Nigeria, to assess the state of Nigerian universities since the suspension of the union's industrial action two years ago.
At the meeting the delegation of ASUU branches from more than 100 universities presented reports of their efforts to persuade vice-chancellors to lobby various government agencies on the need to pass the new retirement age clause into law.
In his report, ASUU President Professor Ukachuckwu Awuzie spoke about his separate meetings with Federal Minister of Education Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai, and Professor Julius Okojie, Executive Secretary of the NUC, on the retirement clause, which is an integral part of the agreement. He informed members that both of the professors were concerned about the delay in passing the law.
The ASUU president said the government had sent the retirement bill to the national assembly before last April's legislative and presidential elections. According to Awuzie, the bill was ignored because parliamentarians were focusing on their re-election struggles.
He said: "Now that the election is over, their lukewarm attitude to the retirement bill still persists. We shall have no choice but to embark on another industrial action."
Some executive council members expressed amazement that neither the Nigerian President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, nor the Vice President Namadi Sambo - both former members of the ASUU, as teaching staff - showed serious commitment towards the retirement bill.
The Committee of Vice-chancellors (CVC) has a strategic role to play. Its vice-chancellor members engage with the ministers of education of regional governments and the NUC, on the one hand, and higher education institutions on the other.
According to reliable sources, the vice-chancellors have made several representations to government authorities on the retirement age clause. But the executive and the legislative arms of government have only paid lip service to the matter.
At meetings of the CVC with government officials, the vice-chancellors have painted a bleak picture of diminishing numbers of academic staff.
"Even though we fought hard to move the retirement age from 60 to 65, we now have to exert more pressure on government to move the retirement age to 70," said a vice-chancellor who pleaded anonymity.
He further declared: "Both regional governments and the private sectors are creating and funding more universities. However, the younger generation is not interested in longer years of postgraduate studies, which would eventually metamorphose them into university teachers.
"There is the urgent need to retain senior academic colleagues by pushing the retirement age to 70. Yet the government has not given this issue the priority it deserves."
Dr Karo Ogbinaka, ASUU chairperson at the University of Lagos, is also in favour of the speedy passage of the retirement age law.
"We have lecturers teaching at the University of Lagos that are above their retirement age. But they are on contract with the university. The contracts are renewed every year. This process does not provide for stability compared with those working full-time".
There are indications that all branches of the ASUU have voted unanimously for an indefinite strike if the national assembly does not pass the long-awaited bill into law by October. The Nigerian media is awash with articles calling on the national assembly to grant the request of lecturers and save students from another potentially devastating higher education strike.
I worked as a lecturer in Nigeria for almost 24 years and retired as a professor in 1996. I revisited Nigeria after 15 years and what did I see?
1. Decaying university infrastucture.
2. Empty laboratories without basic equipment for proper learning.
3. Non-existing research equipment for postgraduate studies necessary for MSc and PhD students and equally important for academic staff to further their professional development.
4.Continued breakdown of power supply.
5. Non-running tap water.
6. Worse roads and deeper pot holes making life more difficult for common people.
What a shame!!!
The situation looked far worse than it was in 1996. I was truly saddened by the current state of affairs in Nigeria despite its immense oil wealth and other resources. Where is all the wealth going?
However, I am an optimist and strongly believe that ASUU's continued pressure on the federal government can and will put the country right. After all, Nigeria has vast manpower and natural resources, the two ingrediants necessary to take Nigeria to such heights that will become envy of the world.