By Abdulwasiu Mujeeb
SIR: For the past eight months, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the union that represents universities’ academic staff has been on strike, grounding all academic activities in the universities. Despite a series of unproductive meetings between the federal government and ASUU, the strike does not appear to be ending soon with the union’s insistence that all their demands must be met.
The union says the strike is as a result of the disagreement between them and the federal government over the implementation of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which ASUU said encroaches on the autonomy of the universities. And that the government also failed to implement the 2019 Memorandum of Action (MOA) signed with the federal government in 2019.
The strike is an infringement on the rights of Nigerian students to education. There are some key provisions in the 1999 constitution as amended and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights that guarantee the students’ right to education. While section 18 of the constitution says that “Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels”; Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Right provides “that every child shall have the right to an education and prescribes measures that states must undertake as part of their efforts to achieve the full realisation of this right, including regarding school discipline and pregnant girls”.
That the government has allowed the current ASUU strike to continue for many months by not reaching agreement with the lecturers, has inflicted mental torture on the students, who are denied their right to education.
Also, among the key provisions of the law is the re-designation of public institutions in the country for better accessibility to students, but the country has been under-investing in education for years, and is even far behind other developing countries and emerging economies in terms of public investment in education.
For instance, according to the World Bank data, the allocation to education, as a percentage of Nigerian government’s total expenditures averaged just 7.7 per cent between 2015 and 2020, incomparable with South Africa’s budgetary allocation to education which was consistently above 18 per cent in the same period, rising above 20 per cent in 2020.
It should also be noted that the nexus between the university and students is naturally contractual. All parties must be bound with terms therein. For example, on admission into the university, conditions, references, and duration of study are issued to students. By implications and subject to the conditions, their rights will be encroached upon in situations where their duration of study is delayed or has been extended.
By and large, the interests of the student should be prioritized in any fight between the federal government and ASUU. Federal government should increase education allocation in its yearly budget, so there will be enough funds to fulfill agreements with the university lecturers and all other education sectors in the country. Students are a body too and they have their own rights like ASUU does. Nigerian government should also give ultimate respect and attention to the provisions of the constitution.
- Abdulwasiu Mujeeb, UDUS, Sokoto.