IT’s been over seven months now since academic activities in most public universities across the country were suspended due to an embarked strike by the Academic staff union of universities (ASUU). Well, this is actually not the first time the FG and ASUU will be having crises. Neither is ASUU striking a new thing or even something to be surprised by. In fact, it is fast becoming a tradition for ASUU to strike at least once every year or in two years. The reason has always been that the FG is owing lecturers and has refused to fulfill payment. However, this time around, It was learnt that the dispute between ASUU and the federal government which gave birth to the strike of nearly eight months resulted from the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS) which the federal government adopted for the salary payment of lecturers. In 2019, an order from the Presidency had directed all federal workers to capture in the IPPIS for the purpose of receiving salaries effective October 31, 2019, as a way of checking the incidence of ghost workers in the government payroll. However, the newly introduced method of salary payment did not go down well with the university lecturers, which triggered the grievances that led to a protest against the system.
Just in case you do not know about the IPPIS, here is a brief about the IPPIS. IPPIS Secretariat is a Department under the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation responsible for payment of salaries and wages directly to Government employee’s bank account with appropriate deductions and remittances of 3rd party payments such as; Federal Inland Revenue Service, State Boards of Internal Revenue, National Health Insurance Scheme, National Housing Fund, Pension Fund Administrator, Cooperative Societies, Trade Unions Dues, Association Dues and Bank Loans. With this information given about the IPPIS, one will begin to wonder why these university lecturers have refused to key into the system. ASUU has given its reason why it does not agree with the system. But could the reason be worth suspending academic activities for this long? Or are there other reasons that ASUU may not want us to know about? Or is it only using the IPPIS as an excuse to embark on strike because of the money the union claims the federal government is owing and has refused to pay them?
Whatever the case may be, I am mostly concerned about the innocent Nigerian students who happen to feel the heat in the fight between these two elephants. Following the normal calendar, students are supposed to spend a minimum of four years in the university, apart from students studying professional courses like Medicine, Law, Engineering… Who may likely spend five, six or even seven years. However, when this strike hits the system, it happens to affect mostly the students whose academic years will be staggered. Sometimes, students are left with no choice but to spend five or six years studying a course ordinarily designed for only four years. If a student spends five years for a four year course, then what will be of a student studying a course of six to seven years, how long will that student remain in the university? I think ASUU needs to put these things into consideration before embarking on their usual strike.
I have experienced this heartbreaking moment as a university student. In 2016, I was admitted into the Niger Delta University (NDU) Amassoma, Bayelsa State. However, newly admitted students did not resume until the following year because of an internal strike that had rocked the university which delayed the resumption of students coming in for the new session. After we had resumed, just after spending some months in school, about two weeks to the first semester examination, ASUU embarked on a strike and sent students home again. The students who were trying to meet up the normal academic calendar had to suffer another setback because of the ASUU strike. Well, before that time, I had already made plans to leave the school because I never liked the course I was given to study in that university. I had applied for an admission in the faculty of law, only to find myself in the faculty of Arts, studying for a degree in Fine and Applied Arts. Luckily, during the period of strike, I got admitted into the new school I had applied for, to start the 2017/2018 academic session. That was how I left the Niger Delta University, for Ajayi Crowther University where I’m pursuing a degree in Mass Communication, a course I willingly accepted because of my passion for journalism. What I’m simply driving at is that today, I’m in my final year at Ajayi Crowther University, but my ex classmates at the Niger Delta University who ordinarily should have been a year ahead of me and probably graduated are still in school because of the issue of strike.
I also have a friend whose name I won’t mention. A law student at the University of Benin (UNIBEN) who got admitted in 2017, as a law student, it’s the norm that he spends a minimum of five years studying the course. However, it’s been four years since he got into school and he still doesn’t know his fate or the year he will bag a law degree. Like he told me, he was in the middle of his first semester in 300 level when all universities were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Today, the FG has re-opened all schools, but he still cannot go back to school because of the strike. Even after the strike, he has to begin 300 level all over again, and he doesn’t even know when this strike will be over for him to start the academic level again. You can see how the federal government and ASUU are frustrating students. Today, students now prefer to attend private universities where they are sure of graduating with a degree at due time. Still, not every parent can afford to send their children to private schools because of the cost. So, what will be the fate of students who can only get a university degree through public schools? How long will they continue like this?
I understand the fact that university lecturers are going through a lot, I also know that the Federal Government has refused to pay attention to some of their plight. But I also want to implore ASUU to find a better means of settling their differences with the Federal Government. If not for anything, for the sake of students who will suffer the outcome. Let me also urge the Federal Government to seriously attend to the demands of the lecturers.
- Tobin writes in via Reginaldtobin2@gmail.com
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