THE Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, was founded in 1978 principally to demand the rights of academic staff in Federal and state universities in the country. In the exercise of this mandate, the Union had never shied away from embarking on warning and indefinite strike actions or even acting as a watchdog against corruption by its members who hold key positions in its member institutions.
In July 2002 under the presidency of Dr. Oladipo Fashina, the Union petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, to investigate the management of the University of Ilorin for financial mismanagement and corruption. In May 2008, the Union embarked on a series of warning strikes to press a range of demands, including an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers who were earlier dismissed.
In June 2009, the Union ordered its members in federal and state universities nationwide to proceed on an indefinite strike over disagreements with the Federal Government on an agreement it reached with the Union about two and a half years earlier.
On July 1, 2013, the Union embarked on another strike which lasted five months and 15 days. By the strike, the Union demanded adequate funding and the revitalisation of the public universities, as well as the payment of their earned allowance which was in arrears of N92 billion. One thing is certain: the Union has always been vocal in resisting whatever it perceives as injustice to its members, and has been at the forefront of the call for the revitalisation of public tertiary institutions.
It would be recalled that the proliferation of universities in Nigeria got the attention of the leadership of ASUU who lent a voice towards criticising what it referred to as ‘constituency projects’. The National President, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, had reportedly noted that: “Our position on that had been that the Federal Government is toying with the future of the society. They are turning universities into constituency projects where every village must have a higher institution; the purpose is not to have good universities and a good environment for academic excellence.
“Every politician wants to have a university in his village. This is not how a system is run. They are establishing a university of medical sciences and other specialised institutions; why not go and fund those old universities so that you can upgrade the faculty of medical sciences to professional standards, so that the Nigerian politician, including the President, who usually go outside the country for medical attention, will have their medical issues solved here.
“But we will not do that; rather, the Federal and state governments are busy establishing mushroom universities. It is very unfortunate. But as a union, we are also thinking of what we can do in the future to compel them to stop this. One of the things we did in the earlier agreement was that we agreed that the National Universities Commission, NUC, law should be reviewed to make it almost impossible for any governor or Federal Government to start a university without adequate preparation for funding for over 10 years. But till now, that resolution has not been implemented. What we are saying is that the law should be reviewed to give NUC power to ensure that before you can start a university, you have to show good evidence that you can fund the system.”
Truly, the establishment of universities by the Nigerian federal and state governments without a sustainable plan of adequate funding is one which calls for concern. To this end, one cannot but agree with the Union that the funding and upgrading of the old universities to international standards is a better call than merely establishing mushroom institutions which will, in the nearest future, suffer the same fate of neglect as the current institutions.
Public perception of the Union’s strike actions: No doubt, the Union has always embarked on warning and/or indefinite strike actions to press home their demands. Naturally, the Union’s strike actions have always fostered divergent opinions and reactions by those affected, directly or indirectly.