By Taye Obateru, OLA AJAYI, IBADAN, LAJU ARENYEKA & IKENNA ASOMBA
The hope that the four month old strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, may be called off this week, following President Goodluck Jonathan's intervention last week, may be dashed as the 61 chapters of the union are divided over the move to call off the strike.
President Jonathan held a meeting with the leadership of ASUU last week, where he made some offers which ASUU was expected to take to their members for deliberation with the hope that it will pacify them into resuming academic activities this week.
Congresses of the 61 chapters of the union were therefore held, yesterday, while the National Executive Council, NEC, meeting will hold tomorrow in one of the northern universities.
The outcome of the union's congresses indicated that there was disagreement on the need to call off the strike.
Vanguard gathered that while some ASUU chapters were ready to suspend the strike in the light of the President's intervention, others insisted that they will continue the strike due to what they described as their distrust for the government.
It was learnt that while the University of Lagos, UNILAG, resolved to suspend the strike, chapters like the University of Ibadan, UI; University of Benin, UNIBEN; University of Calabar, UNICAL; University of Jos, UNIJOS and the Lagos State University, LASU, said the strike must continue, arguing that the Federal Government could not be trusted to fulfil its promise of injecting over N1.1 trillion to universities in the next five years.
Voting at UNIJOS
Members UNIJOS chapter, yesterday, voted overwhelmingly for the strike to continue.
After receiving briefings on what transpired at last week's meeting of the union's representatives with President Goodluck Jonathan and after going through copies of the resolution of the meeting, 194 members voted for the strike to continue while 80 voted for a suspension.
Sources told Vanguard that after hours of debate by those for and against the continuation of the strike, it was obvious that majority felt that the meeting with the president did not achieve much.
Those who spoke in favour of the strike to continue wondered why the strike should be called off on the basis of pleas and verbal promises by the president, when the government is allegedly reputed for not to honoring agreements.
They were said to have argued that the suffering by students and members in the last four months would be a waste if something concrete did not come out of the strike to improve the situation in universities.
It was further gathered that those for the suspension of the strike spoke passionately on the need to consider the impact of the strike on students and the gesture from President Jonathan, who met personally with ASUU leaders and pleaded with them to suspend the strike.
A few of them were quoted as saying it was better to suspend the strike and find other ways of pursuing their demands so as not to lose the support of the people.
It was learnt that the Branch ASUU Chairman, Dr. David Jangkham, after announcing the result of the voting, said it would be taken to the national body which would collate the referendum on the issue from various chapters to come up with a position on whether the strike would be suspended or sustained.
A member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed fears that the referenda in other branches might follow the same trend "if the briefing we got here is what they got."
A source at University of Lagos, UNILAG, chapter, told Vanguard that the debate at its congress was on whether to end or suspend the strike.
He said: "We eventually moved to suspend the strike and end it only when the President pumps in the first N220 billion into the universities in January 2014.
"Although this is not totally in line with the 2009 agreement, we feel that we can suspend the strike out of respect for the President. We just want to give him the benefit of doubt, and hope that he fulfills his promise."
At Lagos State University, LASU, one of the executive members of ASUU, who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity, affirmed that though the chapter was not averse to the proposal of President Jonathan, but the consensus at its congress was that ASUU should not just be a monitoring body when the fund is finally injected.
He said: "After our congress, which lasted several hours, it was the resolve of our chapter that the strike should not be called off, because we are uncomfortable with the fact that the Federal Government has said that ASUU will just be a monitoring officer, while the Minister of Education will be the implementation officer.
"We argued that we must be part and parcel of how the funds are managed and what they have earmarked for within the period of five years.
"How can we know if the Ministry of Education and other authorities are prudently spending the funds for the proposed projects if ASUU is not part of the management committee? So, our position is that the strike should not be called off."
LASU’s internal issues
The source added that LASU chapter of ASUU may embark on its local action, after the national strike is suspended or called off if the university's Governing Council and the State Government fail to adequately address some of its local issues, which border on members' welfare and a reduction in the institution's tuition fees.
He said: "It is our resolve at the congress that if the state government and the university's Governing Council, which is meeting on Wednesday, fail to address our local issues adequately, we shall embark on local actions.
"The university management has wasted four months without addressing our local issues, which border on the casualisation of our academic staff, the steep increment in tuition fees paid by students and the non-implementation of the Universities Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 2012, which allows academic staff on professorial cadre to retire at 70 years against the former 65 years."
At the University of Ibadan, Vanguard gathered that members asked their leadership to commit the President to signing the resolution of FG/ASUU meeting held last week and include non-victimisation clause.
The Chairman, ASUU, University of Ibadan, Dr. Segun Ajiboye, said that the union had set up project monitoring committee to ensure that funds released by government was not misappropriated.
Ajiboye maintained that it was not how quick the strike ends but how well it ends, adding that the goal of the strike must be actualised.
According to him, it was regrettable that it took the Federal Government four months to think education was an important sector, adding that no country in the world plays with education the way Nigerian leaders do.
Also, former Minister of Petroleum, Professor Tam David-West said, yesterday, that ASUU would continue to go on strike as long as injustice remained in the system.
He said this at the UI-ASUU congress, where he vowed to always support all the struggles that would lead to the rejuvenation of the education sector.