By Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik
It is no longer news that the strike declared by the Academic staff union of the universities (ASUU) on the 14th of February 2022 is in its 6th month. The strike in on the renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU-FG Agreement that has dragged for about 10 years, the welfare of university lecturers, the fraudulent IPPIS that has been confirmed to be fraudulent by the Auditor General of the Federation’s report, and the report from the Berekete family Human Right Radio, proper funding of the university, the proliferation of public universities while the existing ones are underfunded, etc.
There have been several comments on the ASUU strike and the latest is Ngige’s commentary on the unpublicized report of Prof. Nimi Briggs’ renegotiation panel. According to Ngige, the panel recommended a salary increase of 108% to 180% for academic staff. This he said is not acceptable because it will increase the take-home salary of a Professor to N2m. Meanwhile, the current take-home salary of a Professor at the bar is N416,000. I like the N2m monthly pay. Nut supposing we take the upper limit, how 180% of N416,000 will increase N416,000 to N2m is what I have not been able to calculate.
The recent National Industrial Court order that the federal government should commence a monthly payment of N10m to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), N9m to other justices of the apex court, N9m for the President of the Court of Appeal, and other judges between N8m and N7m made the season more interesting. It reminds me that the academic job was one of the best jobs in Nigeria until the late 60s when the successive military governments began to destroy it.
At independence in October 1960, University employees occupied a relatively high position when compared to their counterparts in other offices in the state civil service. As of 1965, the university professor was the second-highest-paid public servant, after the Chief Justice of the Federation and the Vice Chancellor of the University College Ibadan (now UI) was the next highest paid after the Prime Minister.
The Chief Justice of the Federation was on an annual salary of £3,600 while a Professor earned £3,000. Not only were the university lecturers paid better than their civil service counterparts, but there were also other benefits such as housing, allowances, social status, and working conditions that were very attractive. Adequate funding of universities, attending overseas conferences every three years, etc. Going by the status as of 1960, if a CJN should earn N10m and N9m for other justices of the apex court, Professors should be earning like N9.5m per month.
However, the emergence of the military into Nigerian politics in 1966 brought a gradual shift in the hitherto systems of reward in various occupational groups around the country. That marks the beginning of the growing disparity in the salary of workers in different sectors. And unfortunately the beginning of the reversal of the fortunes of academics.
By 1966, despite salary reviews that were skewed positively towards the military, the annual salary of the university professor remained £3,000. This figure was still higher than a Federal Ministers’ salary of £2,700 and a top civil servant of the rank of Permanent Secretary who was paid between £2,500 and £2,940. During this time, the salary of an assistant lecturer was £950, while his peers in the federal civil service (i.e. those with similar academic qualifications) were offered £720. If it were to be in 1966, a university Professor will earn higher than Chris Ngige as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But when the military took over, the condition of service of University Lecturers began to depreciate. University education seizes to be too important to the military regime as a priority. The University Professor and his other colleagues were reduced from the upper class to the lower class. They were turned to Bergers. The University was missing from the priority list and was not getting the desired attention either. The Lecturers now have to start fighting for themselves and the system.
From the stagnation of the salaries of university lecturers and the continuous depreciation, there was a request from ASUU for a pay rise in 1972 that the government rejected. Thereafter a strike was declared in 1973 to force the pay rise. The strike ended abruptly when the government of General Yakubu Gowon threatened to evict the academics from university quarters.
Another strike was declared in 1988 over conditions of service which equally failed. ASUU was proscribed and members were intimidated and terrorized by the government. With ASUU proscribed, the university lost its voice. At that time, the value of the Naira has depreciated such that the stagnant monthly salary of a university professor was equivalent to less than $100 per month. The professor that used to earn next to the Chief Justice of the Federation then started earning much less than a director in the civil service.
In 1990, ASUU was de-proscribe and within this period of proscription, the degradation in the university was already very visible. The academic standard had fallen. There was the marginalization of the intellectual class and the growing irrelevance of the educated elite. ASUU again rallied more attention to the state of the universities and submitted a set of demands for negotiation. The union made efforts but was ignored for 2 years.
Then another strike was declared in 1992. ASUU was proscribed again and members were traumatized. For the first time, the weapon of hunger was deployed by the government through the stoppage of their salaries to break the members, a measure that failed. The failure forced the government to negotiate with ASUU after 3 months. This led to a new package of the condition of service, an arrangement on funding, and university autonomy.
There was again a strike action in 1993 and 1994 for 4 months and 6 months respectively to defend sections of the 1992 agreement. I was already in the university then and I lost 1 year due to the 1992 to 1994 strike actions. This destruction wouldn’t have been possible without the help of former academics and a Professor in the person of Prof Ben Nwabueze who played his role as the Secretary to Education in 1993. The 1994 strike was about funding, autonomy, and democracy.
Then you expected that the coming of democracy should usher in a new era towards creating a knowledge-based economy instead of a military-based economy. But it did not work that way. They came in with the rejection of an agreement signed between ASUU and the Abdulsalam Abubakar’s administration in May 1999. Then a strike was declared in August 1999 for the refusal of the government of Obasanjo to accept the agreement with Abdulsalam Abubakar’s administration. After about 4 months of the strike, an agreement was then reached and signed with Obasanjo’s government in October 1999, an agreement that was not different from the agreement with Abdulsalami Abubakar’s administration that was earlier rejected.
Another strike was declared in 2003 and 2007 for the failure of the Obasanjo administration to implement the agreement which covers poor university funding and disparity in salary and retirement age. I was a postgraduate student and lost 1 year again.
Then we have the 2009 strike which led to the 2009 ASUU/FG agreement. In the agreement, ASUU proposed a salary package that they called “African Average”. But the government barely managed to yield to about a 50% increase in salary in the 2009 agreements with the FGN as the government pleaded fiscal difficulties. This agreement was meant to be reviewed after 3 years and has never been done till now. The University Professor that use to earn next to the Chief Justice of the Federation now earns a salary that is much lower than what a Bachelor’s degree graduate earns at the NNPC, DPR, FIRS, CBN, etc.
All the strikes after 2009 have been based on the 2009 ASUU/FG agreement. The 2013 strike came with the NEEDS Assessment of public universities and their revitalization and agreement were reached on the N1.3tn that is to be injected to revitalize the public universities over 5 years.
The salary of lecturers was static as the value depreciated from 1966 to 1992. The struggle for increment that started in 1972 was not achieved till 1992, which was 20 years later after several strikes. Lobbying could not achieve that. The expansion of university infrastructures was stalled despite the increasing number of students till the coming of ETF/TETFund intervention. That was only achieved with the ASUU strike after pleading and lobbying failed.
ASUU seems to be the only stakeholder making the government commit funds to the universities unwillingly. Parents just want their kids to graduate irrespective of the state of the university and students just a certificate, the quality of thought is not important. This has made all the successive governments see ASUU as an “opposition party” to date that must be crushed to achieve their objectives.
In December 2020, the Federal government made offers to ASUU and the Prof. Jibrin’s committee for the renegotiation of the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement was constituted. An MoA was signed that was not implemented. Prof. Jibrin’s panel finished their work and the report was trashed in a bin. The declaration of the current strike in February 2022 made them reconstitute another renegotiation committee, Prof. Briggs’ renegotiation panel that has submitted their report that Ngige is currently running commentary on.
It is obvious that funding education is never a priority for the past 50 years and the public universities would have long gone if not for the struggles and sacrifices of the Lecturers. The hunger strategy that was introduced in 1992 to break ASUU has become a tool in the hands of every government to fight ASUU, a perceived opposition group. Even APC and Buhari which condemned the hunger strategy in 2013 during GEJ are now the worst in the use. It doesn’t require presidential approval. It’s for Ngige to send a memo to AGF to suspend salary.
ASUU has placed itself as the Messiah of the public university system but the other stakeholders are seeing ASUU as the problem. As we fight for the proper funding of the existing universities, Federal and state governments are busy establishing more universities that won’t be properly funded and the people are happy. University establishment has become a constituency project and the people are seeing it as dividends of democracy. I saw a job advert for the new Federal University of Technology Babura, Bauchi state that was approved last year.
The unfortunate part is that our colleagues in older universities, ASUU executives inclusive, will be hired by NUC to go accredit the courses of these mushroom universities. We are technically contributing to the University proliferation for a peanut. Courses can’t be offered without accreditation and we are given it. We can’t be complaining about the proliferation of universities and yet facilitating the sustainability of more substandard Universities as members of the NUC accreditation team.
For how long can we sustain this our “unwanted and unwelcomed messianic” struggle? You will indeed be more fulfilled when you have the right tools and environment to do your job. But the people you are fighting for a good learning environment for are not interested in it. The country that a good university will provide quality manpower for is not interested. So, why should I starve myself for people that don’t care? I think it is time to review our ideology to focus on salary review and improved condition of service.
If FG thinks that tuition is the way to fund the universities, that should not be our problem as long as the parents and students are OK with it. If they ain’t, they know what to do. They can go and lobby, protest, or strike. Stealing N90bn without notice is so easy in Nigeria. I just hope the tuition paid by students will not be swindled by our super civil servants.
IPPIS is never used in any university in any other country and we have done enough publicity on the danger of IPPIS to the growth and development of our university system. If the public and the university councils are comfortable with the strangulation of the university system with IPPIS, let it be. If they aren’t, let them fight it.
For this strike, it has started gathering attention. At least, there was the Sallah day “enough is enough” statement from the President after 5 months of the strike. That’s not bad. But unfortunately, that his “enough is enough” is not enough, he needs to act fast to stop punishing the students. Enough is truly enough for his lackadaisical attitude towards education.
To my colleagues, the 6 months warning strike has 4 weeks to go and will end by 14th August 2022. It may be followed by the declaration of an indefinite strike. We must make it a fight to finish to get a salary that will take us home. We must sustain the strike till we get that Ngige’s mathematical increment that will make our university Professors earn that N2m monthly salary.
Enough is enough!
Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik, PhD is of the Department of Physics
Ahmadu Bello University Zaria