Nigeria: ASUU Strike – Has the Govt Woken Up?

The federal government seems to be ready to let the laws of its universities work without interference:

The governing council of each federal university is the appropriate agency to engage its staff on ALL matters affecting them, not “Government”.

Furthermore, the Public Service Rule (PSR) provides that all ministers shall have control over agencies under their ministries through their “governing boards only.” There is no evidence that this provision excludes the NUC or federal universities (which the NUC oversees). Until the federal government pulls away, and allows uninterrupted space to the governing councils to GOVERN their universities, including determining and implementing suitable welfare packages and conditions of service for their employees, strikes by university unions such as ASUU shall remain a nasty recurring phenomenon, with devastating consequences on our education system. Governing councils having free space to operate is an important element of university autonomy, which many enlightened Nigerians seek to see in our federal universities.

A governing council of a federal university may choose to pay its staff the salaries and allowances that it can afford. Besides, salaries and allowances of lecturers in an academic field don’t have to be the same as those of lecturers in other disciplines within the same university. Uniformity of salaries across federal universities and academic disciplines is without basis. For instance, without a deliberate attempt to belittle anyone, it makes no sense to pay professors of English Language the same salary as their colleagues in Software Engineering or Mathematics. In addition to differences in needs, it is indubitable that it is easier to find the former than the latter; and it is common knowledge that scarcity breeds high pricing.

When I was a much younger mathematics lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the military government at the time appointed a retired military general as the sole administrator of the university. This gentleman decided to give a special needs allowance to mathematics lecturers “in order to retain maths lecturers.” That was how we earned the highest salaries in the faculty at that time.

The time has come for governing councils of federal universities to be creative, more innovative, resourceful, and assertive. Now is not the time for the federal government to be forced into reactions that would force another season of strikes in federal universities only few months after a strike recess. I would call on the federal government to seriously consider selling at least 40 per cent of its ownership of federal universities to both national and international investors in education. Let us not pretend; the federal government cannot fund its universities; it has bitten more than it can chew. It is time to spit out some.

University lecturers must be paid well, and at least their 2013 US-dollar equivalent salaries should be a starting point. But the money must come from both the federal government and other sources.

My dissatisfaction with ASUU is its insistence to be paid what its members never earned during the strike, and their lack of empathy for their students who will not be compensated, neither by ASUU nor by the federal government. Nonetheless, I have affirmed, and shall continue to do so, that university lecturers in Nigeria deserve a better pay check.

Leonard Karshima Shilgba sent this piece from Abuja

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