After hours of deliberation on Friday, the federal government finally retired 10 months of mulishness with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) by making several concessions to the body, especially by reportedly exempting its members from its controversial Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). The federal government also agreed to increase certain funding as well as pay up salary arrears accrued during the faceoff with ASUU. Despite almost two decades of acting out the same script, the incumbent federal government, as with its predecessors, has not learnt how to relate with ASUU. Sadly, this inability to learn is one of the few delicate areas where the governments of Nigeria have displayed adroitness.
While lecturers and students were forced to sit at home due to the health crisis that afflicted the globe, the government gratefully ignored the elephant in the room with ASUU. Even after the lockdown was eased in phases, the government still acted aloof to the mournful din of students, lecturers and the entire public alike. Conjuring a most disrespectful appearance of unbridled cheek, the government chirped that the members of the union could as well pursue agriculture as a career path and be done with their woes altogether. It would not, the government insisted, budge on the IPPIS. Meanwhile, lecturers went hungry as they did not receive salaries.
Faced with the EndSARS protests a fortnight later, the government scuttled to the dialogue table and ASUU made the most of the opportunity to bend the government to accede to a good part of their demands including what may be the adoption of their own payment system, University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS). The result was the eventual concessions the government made on Friday following long hours of deliberation.
The government may retreat to lick its wounds, but the wounds will be only minimal and not personal. For ASUU, which was really left with no choice in the face of the government’s offensive discourtesy except embarking on the 10-month long industrial action, there will be many wounds. Almost a year of being forced to sit at home jobless will have taken its mental toll. Victory, however, is victory. The body will meet soon and it is expected that it will call off the strike. It is also expected that the lecturers will mend the cracks which broke out in their ranks due to the IPPIS/UTAS disagreement. Their students may have aged by almost a year and the workload will be immense when they return to the lecture halls, but they will smile to themselves and say softly, “no pain, no gain”.