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The History and Struggles of ASUU
Yar'Adua could help relegate strike to the dustbin of history
Bala Muhammad Makosa (babanjawad)     Print Article 
Published 2007-07-04 08:46 (KST)   
This article is only lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
This weekend, the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), announced that it had called off its three-month nationwide strike, which began in the last lap of the Obasanjo administration. ASUU had called on its members to stop teaching university students across the nation to demand that the Nigerian government fulfill their wishes.

Its foremost demands included an increase in their salaries of 15 percent. It also wanted the federal government to immediately increase funding to all universities, as the amount they receive yearly from the government to run the universities is not enough. The universities had been deteriorating and the standard of education drastically decreasing. Unfortunately, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, despite pressure from ASUU and other well-meaning Nigerians, could not even attempt to make their dreams a reality and salvage the nation's universities from further collapse.

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Newly sworn in President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua intervened and called on ASUU to end their strike and go back to classes in order to avoid further delay, which kept Nigerian youths idle at their homes and led to an increase in violence among youth and other acts of law breaking.

ASUU was formed in 1978, at the beginning of the decline in the oil boom, when the country faced the consequences of the failure of its rulers to use the oil wealth to generate production and a social welfare system. Military dictatorship had deeply eroded the basic freedoms in the society. Academic freedom and university autonomy were casualties of this military dictatorship. The funding of education, and so of universities, grew poorer.

These factors required a change of orientation among the union of academics in 1980. ASUU's orientation became radical, more concerned with broad national issues, and stood firmly against the oppressive, undemocratic policies of the country.

ASUU's Early Years

The assault on academic freedom was the subject of resistance by ASUU throughout the 1980s. In 1978, the Uthman Mohammed Commission Report included an instrument for the federal government's usurpation of the disciplinary functions of governing councils. The federal government directed some councils to dismiss certain members from their posts without the right of a hearing. This practice carried over into the Babangida and Abacha military regimes.

In 1980, ASUU declared a trade dispute and made autonomy an issue. In December 1980, President Shehu Shagari directed the council of the University of Lagos to remove six senior academic staff members from their jobs, following Justice Belonwu's Visitation Panel Report. ASUU protested and continued to press for their reinstatement. In 1986, the Supreme Court's judgment was given in favor of the academics at the University of Lagos, vindicating ASUU's position.

In 1980-1981, ASUU had a struggle with the Shagari government. Its concerns were funding, salaries, autonomy and academic freedom, the brain drain, as well as the survival of the university system. ASUU also worked with separate industrial unions and state chapters of the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC). It debated the direction and context of national economic, educational and other policies.

Throughout the military period, ASUU waged its struggles around,

1. The survival of the university system -- with three components -- the conditions of service (salary and non-salary), funding and university autonomy/academic freedom; the defense of the right to education;

2. Broad national issues such as anti-military struggles, the struggles against military rule, the struggle against privatization, against the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) and the World Bank's attempt to take over the universities; for example, the World Bank's 120 million loan under Babangida's military rule and the Nigerian Universities Innovation Project (NUSIP) during Obasanjo's regime. And the struggle against the re-colonization of Nigeria and debt peonage.

ASUU organized a national conference in 1984 and in 2002. ASUU's struggles during the Buhari-Idiagbon regime were based on the union's principled opposition to military dictatorship and the union's path of development. In "How to Save Nigeria," which emerged out of its conference on the State of the Economy in 1984, ASUU diagnosed the ills of the Nigerian economy and proffered solutions. ASUU saw then that a process had begun in 1984 -- the process of the disengagement of government from the economy -- and predicted that it would generate crises in all sectors of national life. The document rejected privatization and offered solutions on economic development and planning, industrialization, agriculture, debt servicing, taxation, labor, etc.

In 1985, the Buhari-Idiagbon regime began a program of retrenchment of workers and a wages freeze. It clamped down on the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) when the doctors went on strike to protest the sharp deterioration in health services. ASUU supported the doctors' union. The government sacked doctors, arrested and detained NMA and NARD leaders, as well as ASUU leaders.

ASUU was central to the resistance to the Buhari-Idiagbon regime's termination of the cafeteria system and the withdrawal of subsidies on accommodation. It also struggled against the regime's authoritarian Decree 16 of 1985, which transferred to the National Universities Commission the power of the Senate to determine, regulate and monitor academic programs. It took accreditation of academic programs away from the professionals and transferred it to the NUC. It established uniform standards and called them "minimum" standards, etc.

Babangida's regime imposed the SAP and the harsh conditionalities of the IMF loan. The result was an introduction of measures that caused crises in the economy, education, health and all aspects of life. ASUU's opposition to SAP made it a target for destruction by the Babangida regime. The union took a principled position against the regime's economic and socio-political policies. Following the murder of ABU students in 1986 by Mobile Police (Kill and Go), ASUU joined the NLC and NANS in protest. Babangida's regime accused the NLC, NANS and ASUU of attempting to topple it.

The Abisoye Panel recommended the "flushing out" of some lecturers in ABU who were "teaching what they were not supposed to teach." The Mustapha Akanbi Panel was set up to, among other things, determine the role of lecturers in promoting the crisis. The Akanbi Panel's regime never saw the light of day. The military government did not get what it wanted.

In 1988, the Babangida government disaffiliated ASUU from the NLC and, to weaken ASUU, made check-off voluntary.

In 1987, the Minister of Education, Jibril Aminu, dismissed Festus Iyayi, president of ASUU, and B. Agbonfoh, a branch executive member, on a charge from which they had been previously absolved. The dismissal was a result of the branch's opposition to the imposition of Grace Alele Williams on the University of Benin as vice chancellor and a plan to generate a crisis that would rid ASUU of the influences of radical leadership and thereby weaken the union's opposition to the Babangida regime.

Meanwhile, the Obasanjo government had a different plan during its eight years (1999-2007). It had a plan, with the World Bank, to cancel central bargaining in the universities. The goal was to repudiate the June 30, 2001 Agreement. The cancellation of collective bargaining, the introduction of fees, the $68 million loan, retrenchment, etc., were aimed at by a World Bank project called NUSIP. NUSIP was a re-introduction of the old $120 million loan from the World Bank. Babangida's government had waged its war against ASUU by terminating the appointment of the president of ASUU illegally. Abacha's government had sacked a different president of ASUU and many branch officials (especially at UNN). Obasanjo's government and the University of Ilorin's vice chancellor, Oba Shuaib Abdul-Raheem had, in 2001, sacked all 49 ASUU members who had refused to break ASUU's strike and return to work. Forty-four of them were sacked for "not 'signing' the appropriate register and returning to work by Tuesday, May 22, 2001, " according to the FG-ASUU Agreement Implementation Committee (Sept. 6, 2001). The other five were union officials who led the strike.

A Reconciliation Committee (December 2001), the International Labor Organization Freedom of Association Committee, the federal government's committee on Politically-Motivated Rustication in the Tertiary Institutions all found that all 49 members had been victimized and recommended their reinstatement.

But President Obasanjo had pronounced at the University of Ilorin convocation that its sacked ASUU members would never be reinstated. On May 1, 2003, at the Workers' May Day rally, he told the entire nation that the sacked lecturers disrupted an examination. In fact, however, none of the 44 members sacked was near the examination hall and no examination was disrupted. The University of Ilorin never charged any of the 49 for disruption of examination and never pleaded disruption in the High Court.

The minister of education had written to President Obasanjo on Sept. 14, 2001, to say that the lecturers were sacked because of their role in an ASUU strike. The president was told a lie. But he stuck to the lie because he needed it to implement his agenda against ASUU. In August 2005, the Ilorin High Court ruled in favor of the 49 lecturers and ordered their reinstatement. Rather than encourage compliance, President Obasanjo called the council to Abuja and sided with those who had already appealed the judgment without the council's approval.

On Dec. 29, 2001, the National Executive Council (NEC) declared the resumption of its strike. The issues were the chronic under funding of universities, the need to reinstate the 49 unjustly sacked lecturers at the University of Ilorin, the federal assistance to state universities and the implementation of the UASS.

These short assessments and the struggles of the ASUU -- though not all the struggles are presented here -- serve as testimony to what they have undergone under both military and democratic governments.

Meanwhile, since President Yar'Adua vowed to work as a "servant to all Nigerians," there is need for him to look very sensitively to the yearning and aspirations of ASUU, as the long strike had crippled the standard of education in Nigeria. Yar'Adua could make the ASUU strike history.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Bala Muhammad Makosa

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