Students and their parents jubilated on Tuesday over the suspension of the 169-day strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
Even though ASUU ordered its members to return to work immediately, students of most public universities might not return to their campuses because of the Yuletide .
The union embarked on the strike on July 1 to demand the implementation of an agreement it reached with the Federal Government in 2009.
ASUU President, Dr. Nasir Fagge, who announced the suspension of the strike which started on July 1, said the union had accepted the resolutions it signed with the government on December 11.
The resolutions include immediate commencement of the revitalisation processes as contained in a letter with reference number FME/PS/398/C.1/Vol i.1/110, dated December 12, 2013, titled, “Opening of Dedicated Account for Revitalisation of Nigerian Universities.”
Fagge told journalists at the Bosso Campus of the Federal University of Technology, Minna in Niger State, that the revitalisation funds for five years would be provided by the Federal Government.
He said, “Finally, NEC has resolved to suspend the strike embarked upon on July 1, 2013, with effect from Tuesday, December 17, 2013 and directs its branches to resume work forthwith.
“First we expect that implementation monitoring committee which has already been constituted to the satisfaction of government and ASUU, will work assiduously so that the process of revitalisation of Nigerian universities will receive the much needed boost, and our students and their parents will begin to see the fruits of the ASUU struggles.
“ASUU would have preferred to undertake the re-negotiation of the 2009 agreement in the second quarter of 2014, but we were persuaded to shift the date to the third quarter, and we agreed as a gesture of goodwill.
“It is our hope that government will honour these resolutions as signed. ASUU hopes that the common position between government and ASUU that nobody shall be victimised in any way whatsoever for his or her role in the process leading to these resolutions and agreements will be implemented.”
According to him, ASUU and the government also agreed that an Implementation Monitoring Committee should meet to verify the level of implementation of the Earned Academic Allowances of the union members.
He added that the Federal Government agreed to provide fund for the payment of the outstanding balance.
Fagge said ASUU expected the government to act quickly to engage the services of the universities in special consulting services as contained in the resolutions.
“This is one of the challenges that the universities have been asking the government to throw to Nigerian universities; we are more than ready to meet the challenges,’’ he added.
He therefore urged parents and guardians to demand better funding of the public universities, better living conditions of students, laboratories on campuses, and freedom for their children to enable them to get all round education.
“We appeal to parents to take more interest in the proper education of their children and work with us for the revitalisation of public universities,’’ he said.
Promising that ASUU members would make up for the lost time, Fagge said, “The five months’ sacrifice is worth it. We will engage ourselves in producing quality students through research in various institutions.”
While appraising the strike, Fagge condemned some vice-chancellors, who he alleged tried to sabotage the efforts of the union.
He said, “We condemn, without any reservation, vice-chancellors, who made efforts to undermine and in some cases, attempted to break our strike”.
Earlier, he had apologised to the Nigeria Union of Journalists, especially its members who were reportedly assaulted by some ASUU members during the NEC meeting on Monday.
Fagge said, “I apologise to you for what transpired yesterday (Monday). It is not in our habit to chase away the press. We felt mosquitoes were biting you people and you were outside in the cold.
“Please whatever transpired between you (media) and ASUU was not in our nature. On behalf of the NEC and the whole ASUU, I tender an unreserved apology.”
The National Executive Committee of ASUU had on Monday met for several hours at the FUT, Minna to deliberate on the agreement with the Federal Government.
The union’s leadership had on November 4 met with President Goodluck Jonathan for over 13 hours over the non-implementaion of the controversial 2009 agreement.
At the end of the marathon meeting, the Federal Government agreed that it would inject N1.3tn into public universities beginning from the last quarter of this year.
• Students, parents express joy
However, as the news of the suspension of the strike spread yesterday, students of the University of Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Calabar, and the Cross River University of Technology jubilated but said they would not return to their campuses until the beginning of next year.
In Akoka where UNILAG is located, some female students living in private hostels,were seen exchanging banter on the streets.
Even parents expressed happiness that the Federal Government and ASUU finally reached an agreement that led to the suspension of the strike.
A final year Law student of the university, who gave her name simply as Ann, said, “Thank God that the strike has ended. I am sure you won’t understand what it means to be at home for almost six months doing nothing and hoping for an end to the strike.
“But now that ASUU has had mercy on us, I feel elated because very soon, I will become a graduate.”
Ann however said she would not rush to the institution because “normal academic activities would not hold until early January when most students would have returned from the Christmas and New Year festivities.”
Mrs. Edna Okonkwo, whose son is an Architecture student in UNILAG, said, “Even though ASUU dragged the strike for too long and lost our sympathy, I am pleased that my boy will soon return to school.”
In Ile-Ife, OAU students, were seen jumping and congratulating one another.
“Thank God that the strike has been suspended,’ they chorused.
Though they were sure that lectures might not hold again this year, the students said suspending the strike was an assurance that academic activities had resumed in OAU.
One of them, who identified herself as Victoria, said suspending the strike was a challenge for her to buckle up.
“I am extremely happy with the development. Though we have missed so much, this is a call for me to sit up so that I can cover up what has been missed,” she said.
Another student, Eludayo Elugoke, noted that suspending the strike would be more commendable if the lecturers began work within 24 hours.
He said, “It is not enough to end the strike but to start lectures. The earlier the better because it is annoying to have gained admission since 2012 and in 2014 you are still at the same level.
“Our lecturers should please hasten their resumption.”
When contacted, the chairman of ASUU, OAU, Prof. Akinola Adegbola, said lectures would commence as soon as possible.
“We have suspended the strike. It is expected that as soon as the branch chairmen get to their institutions, lectures should commence,” he added.
In Nsukka, an elated student, Adanna Nnanna, told the News Agency of Nigeria that she was happy that the Federal Government finally acceded to the demands by ASUU.
A parent in Enugu said, “We are happy about the development. I want to thank the Federal Government for this and plead with them not to allow a thing like this(strike) to come up again.”
Also in Calabar, Cross River State, a parent, Etim Usim, described the suspension of the strike as a welcome development. Etim, who has two children in UNICAL, however, said that in order to avoid disruption of academic activities in the future, the Federal Government should ensure that its latest agreement with ASUU was fully implemented.
A final year engineering student of the CRUTECH, Miss Helina Ado, said though students were adversely affected by the strike, they were happy that the strike had finally been suspended.
Also, Mr. Benson Williams, a UNICAL student commended the government for resolving the dispute with ASUU amicably.
• Monitoring committee inaugurated
Shortly after news of the suspension spread, the Federal Government inaugurated a 12-man monitoring committee on the implementation of the recommendations of the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities.
The Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, is the chairman of the committee.
Performing the inauguration in Abuja on Tuesday, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, applauded ASUU for suspending the strike.
Anyim promised that the committee would work to uphold the renewed confidence between ASUU and the Federal Government.
He said, “Notwithstanding the fact that some of the sessions were typically stormy, I am gladdened by the fact that the strike has been called off and we are here to formalise the process that will work to uphold the renewed confidence between ASUU and the government.
“I consider the inauguration of the monitoring committee as strategic and timely, especially in view of its potential to consolidate and add new energy to the speedy and complete implementation of the recommendations of the committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities.”
He called on all university unions to reflect on the time lost due to the strike, and take measures to regain it.
Wike also urged the committee members to ensure the judicious use of the fund.
The committee was divided into two sub-committees –Allocation and Logistics.
The Allocation sub-committee is chaired by a former Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. It has the Vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan, representatives of Committee of the Pro-chancellor, Budget office, ASUU and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities as members.
The Logistics committee chaired by the Director of Tertiary Education has as members, representatives of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities, NAT, ASUU, and the vice-chancellor of Bayero University, Kano.
• UNN Pro-Chancellor suspended
The minister, who gave the sub-committees two days to submit their reports for deliberation, also suspended the Chairman/Pro-Chancellor of the Governing Council of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Dr. Emeka Enejere, with immediate effect.
A statement by Wike’s Special Assistant (Media), Simeon Nwakaudu , gave no reason for the action.
• FG to pay salary arrears
The PUNCH reliably gathered in Abuja that the Federal Government was ready to pay the outstanding salary arrears of ASUU members.
It was learnt that the government also reached an understanding with the union to pay the lecturers ‘salaries as a precondition to suspending the strike.
A source privy to the agreement said, “The Federal Government has agreed to pay the salary arrears. It is part of the understanding we reached.”
When asked by one of our correspondents if the government indeed accepted to pay the salary arrears of the lecturers, Wike replied, “What is your problem? Has ASUU told you they have a problem with that?
“That they have called off the strike is the most important thing. For the other ones, leave the details for us. Any agreement we reached with ASUU must be honoured.”
The National Vice-president of ASUU, Mr. Biodun Ogunyemi, who was sighted at the NUC office in Abuja, refused to comment on the issue.
But The PUNCH gathered that both parties decided to be silent on the issue because of the controversy the decision of the government to withhold the salaries generated.
But our source said, “The Federal Government has agreed to pay the arrears immediately.”
• Agreement’ll be fully implemented –FG
The Federal Government, in a statement, reiterated its commitment to implementing all the items contained in the agreement with ASUU.
In the statement by Nwakaudu, the government said that investing N1.3tn (including the N200bn already released for this year) in infrastructure in the public universities in the next six years would transform them into international centres of excellence.
• Atiku urges education summit
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who also hailed the suspension of the strike, called for a convocation of a summit to chart the way forward for the education sector.
He said, “It has become imperative for ASUU, the Federal Government and other stakeholders to put in place, a mechanism for addressing crisis of this nature so that our students and their parents will not be visited with prolonged closure of our universities in future with its concomitant effects.”
Abubakar added that education remained vital for the nation’s scientific and socio-economic development.