The news of the latest Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike came as a rude shock when it was first announced. After the strike in 2009 which lasted for a full four months, I thought I had heard and seen the last of strike by ASUU pending my graduation from the University. How wrong I have been! Since the beginning of July this year, ASUU has embarked on another round of indefinite strike. If I thought the news of the strike was shocking, more distressing is the reason given by ASUU for embarking on the strike action. According to reports, the resolve by ASUU to go on strike is to compel the Federal Government to implement and honour the terms of the bargain it entered into with it in 2009. Immediately, different questions begin to agitate my mind. Why should things deteriorate to the extent that ASUU must go on strike before an agreement freely entered into is implemented? Didn’t the parties agree on the modalities for the implementation of the agreement before the conclusion of negotiation? Did the federal government enter into the agreement in 2009 merely to make striking workers return to the Universities without having any genuine intention of honouring the terms of the bargain? These and other questions have greatly troubled my mind and given me quite some sleepless nights.
Then negotiation commenced between the representatives of Federal Government and officials of ASUU to find a way out of the present impasse. Initially there were talks of progress and positive negotiation to find a lasting solution to the never ending strike. According to reports credited to the head of the Federal Government negotiating team Governor of Benue State Gabriel Suswan, the University teachers would soon be returning to their various campuses based on the progress recorded in negotiation. Then, the negotiation turned on the nitty-gritty of finance and it became expedient to invite the Finance Minister Dr. Okonjo Iweala to the negotiation table. That was when the bubble burst and all hell let loose. The Finance Minister in her characteristically arrogant manner declared after the meeting with ASUU officials that the federal government does not have the financial capacity to honour the 2009 agreement. According to the Finance Minister, the Federal Government need about ₦92 billion to finance the issue of allowance which is part of the demand of ASUU. The announcement credited to the Minister generated no small denunciation with lots of people calling her all sorts of names and calling for her resignation. ASUU in turn condemned the Minister for what they termed deliberate falsehood. According to ASUU officials the amount needed to implement their demand was ₦82 billion, and not ₦92 billion as represented by the Finance Minister.
My first reaction when I heard these series of accusations and counter accusations was that of pity for the poor Nigerian students who are at the receiving end of the present face-off. Then pity turned to anger over the insensitivity and sheer wickedness of the Federal Government, and lack of tact and decorum on the part of the Finance Minister. Whether ₦92 billion or ₦82 billion, or ₦100 billion, the crux of the present imbroglio between ASUU and the Federal Government is the implementation of the agreement freely and mutually entered into in 2009. It is rather absurd and offensive for the Federal Government to come out at this stage to declare that it is insolvent to honour the bargain. It is really not the business of ASUU whether the Federal Government borrows or steals the resources needed to implement the agreement. The only thing that should be paramount in the negotiation is how soon the Federal Government will commence implementation of the terms of the 2009 agreement. The action of the federal government in the circumstances is akin to unilaterally varying an agreement without the consent of the other party. Such act clearly offends against all ethics of civil behaviour and negates the sanctity of contract.
One factor the Federal Government is apparently banking on for not honouring the pact is the fact that the agreement is not legally enforceable but binding only in honour as gentlemen’s pact. It is however the height of insensitivity for the Federal Government to capitalize on this fact as the basis for its present actions and attitude. Ultimately the loser is the federal government as it has already succeeded in holding itself out as an entity which is not to be trusted when it comes to honouring a pledge or abiding by an existing obligation. Such a trait will make other entities to be wary of the federal government in future dealings. In turn, such a dishonourable attribute can only worsen the not too good image of the country in the international community. If a government cannot honour its agreement with its citizens, it is difficult to see how foreign investors who the government is always keen to woo into the country would take deals seriously with the government on the basis of mutual trust and confidence. The attitude of the federal government in the whole ASUU-FG face off is being penny wise and pound foolish.
The sanctity of agreement goes to the root of society itself and it is the fabric that binds together the entire social order. The reasonable expectation of parties when entering into a bargain is that both sides will fulfill their part of the bargain. One of the surest ways of inviting anarchy and chaos is for men to freely break their promise and renege on an agreement freely entered into. It does not lie in the mouth of the federal government to say at this eleventh hour that it does not have money to honour the 2009 agreement. Even if the federal government is broke as declared by the Finance Minister, there are better ways of handling the situation with tact and good sense, rather than calling ASUU’s bluff as was done by the Finance Minister.
With no hope of any meaningful way out, the universities remain locked at the moment. The students are presently off their classrooms roaming the street idle. The ripple effect of such idling is best left to the imagination. The government and the likes of Okonjo Iweala can remain unfazed because their children and wards are not affected by the never ending strike. They are most probably tucked away in the safety of Ivy League schools abroad. For all the government cares ASUU can go on strike till kingdom come. May God deliver our dear nation from its callous rulers.
Aileru Yinka is a Law Student in his final year at the University of Lagos.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters