Union joins strike after government reneges on deal

Nigeria’s university staff union has joined a national strike to demand that the government stick to the terms of the agreement that it made with the union over public university revitalisation.

Chairperson of the Academic Staff Union of Universities in Nigeria (ASUU), Professor Chinyere Echendu, told University World News that the recent government announcement about the approval of NGN20 billion (US$55 million) to upgrade universities meant that the government had reneged on an agreement, signed between the two parties five years ago, which had promised that a sum of NGN1.3 trillion (US$3.58 billion) would be paid out over six years to the project.

Echendu, based at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in Umudike, said that there was nothing to rejoice about in the 24 August announcement by acting finance minister Zainab Ahmed: “A memorandum of understanding signed in December 2013 … would have seen the government paying up to NGN220 billion [US$605 million] each year for the next six years.”

'No cause to rejoice'

Echendu asked: “What is NGN20 billion compared to the NGN220 billion it agreed to pay each year for six years? This is not victory. There is no cause to rejoice in this, it is not impressive to say the least, and we believe government should be more responsible.”

ASUU President Biodun Ogunyemi said the union would reject the NGN20 billion, as government was still just dealing with problems on the surface and failing to follow the agreement.

Speaking to local media, Ogunyemi said: “What government is trying to do is to go back to tokenism. [This] … is not acceptable to our members as a lasting solution to addressing the problems in our institutions. What our members want to see is that that government has shown commitment; that it is ready to implement the memorandum of 2013. It should go ahead and pay what is due for at least one year, which is NGN220 billion.”

Echendu said the non-implementation of the terms had caused a series of university strikes over the past few years, the longest being in 2013, which lasted for almost five months.

Government failed to pay

According to a report in Nigeria’s Punch Newspapers, the government had paid NGN200 billion in 2014, but failed to make other funds available until the NGN20 billion payment in the third quarter of 2018.

Another stakeholder, who preferred to remain anonymous, told University World News that Buhari’s grant approval was a political move to score points within the education sector before the upcoming general elections in February 2019, “but he got it all wrong, as his move has made academics believe that the government is just paying lip-service to improving the standard of higher education”.