The nation is battling a strange disease called the new coronavirus (COVID19) and obviously, everyone is paying less attention to the Federal Government versus ASUU brouhaha which led to the latter going on indefinite strike.
But it appears not all university lectures are okay with ASUU on this. The Congress of University Academics (CONUA) which is a breakaway of ASUU came out recently to denounce the strike describing it as “utterly insensitive, irresponsible and a betrayal of national trust.”
In this exclusive interview with TheAbusites.com, Dr. Aminu Abdullahi Isyaku, A lecturer in the Department of Geology and Chairman of the Congress of University Academics (CONUA) here in ABU Zaria opens up on the Academic strike, its implications for the students and academic calendar, and why CONUA refuse to be part of it.
Let’s get to meet you
Thank you for having me on TheAbusite. I remain Dr. Aminu Abdullahi Isyaku. I am a lecturer in the Department of Geology and I am also Chairman of the Congress of University Academics (CONUA) here in ABU Zaria.
Many would say they haven’t heard much about CONUA especially here in ABU. How long have you been on the ground in ABU and what is your strength in terms of membership?
Well, CONUA is certainly not new in Nigeria even if it is a new group here in ABU Zaria. The group has applied to the Ministry of Labour for registration as a Labour Union since April 2019 and since then there are about 7 Chapters in Nigerian Universities so far and ABU Chapter was formed in November 2019.
CONUA was formed as a breakaway from ASUU at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ife due to the inefficiency of ASUU and its failure to deliver progressive academic unionism in Nigeria.
The ABU chapter of ASUU has joined its parent body in the ongoing strike. What is your take about the strike?
We are not members of ASUU and so we are not on strike. Our national body is not on strike because we do not believe in going on strikes over everything not minding the consequences of the strike on the country and students in particular.
The reason for the strike is on IPPIS, where ASUU wants to dictate to the FG which source or software platform should be used to pay lecturers. We see that as flimsy because we have complied with the IPPIS and enrolled.
READ ALSO: What is IPPIS and why is ASUU against it?
Today we are been paid in spite of the rough start of the IPPIS in Universities because of the stiff resistance it is facing. We understand the hitches some staff are facing with it but we hope FG should resolve it soon.
What is your position on IPPIS? Is it a good development for the university system or not?
We enrolled in the IPPIS because of the fantastic objectives of it, that is checking corruption in our national payroll systems, that sounds good. We also complied in principle believing that the so-called peculiarities of Universities are captured by the system as publicly defended by the Accountant General of the Federation.
Those include sabbatical, visiting, the retirement age of Professors and so on. If the government believes these things are been abused why shouldn’t we support them to correct the wrongs? Instead of going on strike over these what stops us from going to court if our basic entitlements are infringed upon by Govt? Must we send our students into disarray, destroy their academic calendar just because of IPPIS?
Full IPPIS implementation will generate jobs for our jobless graduates and it has already started doing so. We have seen recruitment in many Universities just as the IPPIS enrollment began. The multiplicity of visits by lecturers will be reduced to a maximum of two places and that will free up slots for our graduates to take up. So it’s a good thing if implemented well.
Why then do you think ASUU is against it?
We wouldn’t know, perhaps you have to ask them but we are also surprised why they will lump up every lecturer and speak on their behalf and kick against it. Now CONUA is here to offer lecturers alternative platforms to differ on the excesses of ASUU. The democratization of academic unionism is the only way forward for Nigeria.
ASUU has lost it, it is no longer a think tank for the country but an opposition, due to its Marxist approach to solving problems. Its elections are not free and fair it’s always unopposed. Its financial status is unknown to members.
Therefore many lecturers particularly young academics are fed up with their approach and are increasingly interested in getting an alternative progressive union that will bring democracy and transparency onto itself and fights for the same in the country.
But according to ASUU, their grievance with the federal government isn’t only about IPPIS but also several other issues that bothered on the welfare of all university lecturers which you are part of. What is CONUA’s position on these “other” issues?
We support funding of Universities, we support increased welfare of lecturers, but incessant strikes are not the way to get these things. What do you think will happen if other critical sectors of the Nigerian system say the Police will go on a nationwide strike and say until they get the total funding they need they will not secure anybody? There will be chaos!
They need funding too, every sector in Nigeria needs funding in billions, like the health sector, decayed infrastructure, etc, but they are staying on the job and perhaps using what is available to deliver as much as the could. We must build our country by making sure good governance is enshrined not by rocking the rickety boat altogether.
This current strike too will end up with an MOU or MOA that may not be honored and we will then go back to another strike and that’s the cycle and Nigerian students are tired of being used. While we continue to demand incremental funding of our Universities, the main issue is not even discussed yet.
Which is the salary of lecturers is really low, why are we not talking about that? Why should our best brains be looking at jobs in other agencies just because of higher pay? Why can’t we take care of our lecturers? Do you know how much a Professor collects? It is not commensurate with their hard work and what it takes to be a Professor.
Let us say ASUU finally has its way, Does that mean CONUA will benefit from the struggle? Or will you excuse yourself since you didn’t participate in the strike?
We work for the Federal Government of Nigeria as ABU is a Federal Institution. Lecturers don’t work for ASUU and funding for Universities is not meant only for union members, it is for the system. Already there are balances for allowances to be paid since 2012 and our members that worked are entitled to anything given to Nigerian academics by law.
What about the existing original infrastructure in ABU and everywhere else in Nigerian Universities, were they brought or negotiated by ASUU? They are government assets. Is ASUU not benefiting from them? Remember there were Universities before there was any Union. Moreso, there is a country called Nigeria that our forefathers fought for us to now have before any union was formed.
We are not fighting ASUU, we are not competing against them, we are only saying we will no longer subject to their machinations and Marxist ideologies. We are just a new group of like minds growing in numbers and we are ready to work together with anybody that is interested in developing the University education system in Nigeria and the welfare of both students and academic staff.
You said, that “CONUA was formed as a result of the Inenfiency of ASUU”. What will you do differently?
Once registered, we will redefine academic unionism in Nigeria that will enshrine democratic norms and transparency in ourselves and then fight for our collective rights from the government. We will bring back the glory of academics in the eyes of the public and Nigerian students. We will bring back community services in our domains for our students and communities.
We will opt for constructive engagement with the government particularly the National Assembly to reform our education laws and funding in Nigeria. The National Assembly has powers over the appropriation of funding and budgets, so they should be our focus to ensure more budgets are included for education. We intend to work with stakeholders to address brain drain in Nigeria and fight for increased welfare for Nigerian Lecturers.
Lastly, we want a union where until we exhaust all possible avenues for dialogue including the industrial courts, we will not institutionalize strikes and destruction of our academic calendar as is presently the case. We want a holistic education system reform because we take the products of our failed basic education that apply to our Universities and we are expected to transform them into good graduates after 4 years.
At this stage, we should be having a national dialogue about this mad rush for degrees and proliferation of Universities and what it takes for our national development vis-a-vis other technical and vocational skills that our youth actually need to generate jobs and stimulate the micro-economy.
With your current position, does that mean you are going to resume your lectures if the federal government lifts the COVID 19 closure order and ABU is reopened?
The University is run as a system. If one component is not available you cant function optimally. Of course, CONUA members and other ASUU members on IPPIS are not on strike technically. But as long as the other components of the University systems are operating, we are available to help.
Strikes by University lecturers have become an annual ritual. CONUA seems more constructive and less combative. How do you think this issue(s) can be settled once and for all?
Whether all the solutions to this problem are available or not at this time, certainly, the solution to University strikes is not the present traditional approach which has clearly failed to prevent strikes. There has to be a new inclusive approach to engagement with government and CONUA is ready to provide that.
We are in the middle of an epidemic hence I won’t let you off without mentioning it. What is your view about the government’s handling of the epidemic so far?
I will commend the government efforts in this because they started early enough. Closing borders, lockdowns, contact tracing, more testing centers, etc. Our DG NCDC was part of an international fact-finding mission to China to understudy the pandemic and he is back here and doing a good job.
But we can all do our part to slow down the spread by observing the protocols set out by the NCDC. Avoid congregations, Stay at home, wash your hands, observe physical distancing, get quarantined and tested if in contact with a risk party, etc. I see national solidarity in the fight against COVID-19.
Donations are coming in from wealthy people, the Government is providing incentives but should do more than what they are doing now. I hope that in the end, this will be an opportunity for the government to having seen first hand our decayed health systems, provide funding including to Universities to step up research in epidemiology.