Gbajabiamila convenes education summit in a bid to resolve the ASUU impasse, writesAkin Omowale

Education is too important to be toyed with. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) avers that education transforms lives and it is a great tool for eradicating poverty. According to the global body, education can uplift millions in poverty territory into the region of comfort. This is known as social mobility. In fact, UNESCO stipulates allocation of 15 – 20 percent of the total developing nations’ budgets for education. 

The pivotal role education plays in the socio-economic development of the nation made the Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt Hon. Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila to wade into the crisis plaguing the sector, in particular the industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).  It took the patriotic moves and intervention of the speaker for the striking University lecturers to return to classrooms after withdrawing services for eight months over unfulfilled agreements they had with the federal government.

The specific demands of ASUU are as follows: Funding for the revitalisation of public universities. The federal government, in its agreement entered with the union in 2009 and 2013, agreed to inject a total of N1.3 trillion into public universities in six tranches, starting from 2013. Only N200 billion has been released since 2013. Payment of earned academic allowances (EEA). The federal government had in 2019 agreed to pay lecturers EAA, but failed to implement it. The government finally agreed to pay the first tranche of the backlog of allowances in November 2019 and the second instalment by August 2020, but nothing was paid. In 2020, the federal government agreed to pay N40 billion. It also said it has released N22.127 billion earned allowances of both academic and non-academic workers of universities to 38 universities. Reconstitution of the FGN/ASUU 2009 Renegotiation Committee. The federal government agreed to renegotiate the 2009 agreement to review university’s conditions of service, funding, university autonomy and academic freedom. The conditions of service included a separate salary structure for university lectures to be known as ‘Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure’. Thirteen years later, the government inaugurated a seven-man committee to renegotiate the 2019 agreement, led by Nimi Briggs. Adoption of UTAS. ASUU kicked against the introduction of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), and wants the government to accept its own UTAS.

Also ASUU wants: the constitution of visitation panels. The union is demanding that the government ought to visit its universities every five years, according to the law, but the last visit was conducted in January 2011. The Nigerian government finally inaugurated 10 panels for 36 universities, six for 25 polytechnics, and five for 21 colleges of education. The union is calling for the review of the Nigeria Universities Commission (2004) Act to tackle the proliferation of universities. Withheld salaries and non-remittance of check-off dues. These are contained on December 22, 2020 Memorandum of Action. ASUU accused the federal government of deducting check-off dues on behalf of the union and refused to remit the same between February and June 2020 and 26 percent budgetary allocation to the education sector. In a bid to improve the education sector, the union wants 26 percent of Nigeria’s annual budget to be allocated to education, and half of that allocation to universities. The above demands were partly met with commitment to gradually improve on sundry matters raised by the lecturers. 

While, the parley brokered by Speaker Gbajabiamila was getting through, the federal government on its part stuck to its decision on ‘No Work, No Pay’; the October salaries of lecturers were paid on pro-rata basis. The action expectedly angered lecturers.

To forestall another round of ugly industrial action, Gbajabiamila, who was the chief mediator between federal government and ASUU waded in. He assured that the needful will be done by the federal government, while urging the lecturers to also show understanding.

In furtherance of this, and in order to find a lasting solution to the nagging matters, he convened the education summit on the state of tertiary education in Nigeria that is scheduled to hold on November 22 and 23, 2022.  

Gbajabiamila, in his welcome remarks at the resumption of plenary on Monday, said the summit will “begin the long overdue national conversation.” According to him, stakeholders including scholars, tertiary education administrators, are billed to submit papers for presentation.

“The presentations and submissions will inform the policy recommendations of the summit and be published in a journal for policy action and academic reference. So far, public interest both within and outside Nigeria has been impressive. We must ask and answer complex questions about the operating structure of our public tertiary institutions, sustainable funding, education quality and access”, Gbajabiamila said.

What Gbajabiamila has shown is called pragmatic leadership. He has consistently displayed his dexterity as a national leader that can be trusted. Many Nigerians who have lost hope in the leadership of the country, have gradually started having a change of mind that all hope is not lost. 

At a critical period like this in the history of the nation, leaders that will shed all partisanship for national development are highly needed. Gbajabiamila has earned a place in that elite class of leaders who are thinking about the general wellbeing of their people at all times. 

Whenever a crisis emerges, he is always ready to nip it in the bud. Not buck passing but taking responsibility as a leader. History will forever be kind to Gbajabiamila for his many nationalistic interventions that have saved Nigerians from pains and pangs. 

As the Education Summit kicks off next week, it is hoped that resolutions and recommendations that will be submitted by stakeholders will permanently resolve the perennial problems plaguing the nation’s citadels of knowledge.

 Omowale writes from Ilaro, Ogun State

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