I have made it very clear in my previous write ups that I totally support the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU) demands that the federal government should meet a legitimate agreement between both parties. And I have also made it clear that in disputes of this nature, the courts of law ought to be the place where they are settled without causing harm to third parties who were not signatories to the said legal document. With a number of hypothetical examples, and by comparing other real life scenarios I showed that ASUU’s tactic to solve the dispute in the court of public opinion was unfair, counterproductive, and quite selfish. The appropriate and more honourable path was no doubt the legal option. But ASUU has pressed its strike action into the fifth month.
When it seemed that the government was realizing that this union would not relent, it started getting very serious on the matter. The president had to intervene this month, and personally dialogued with the union’s officials and made promises, written on paper, that should have definitely cleared up the whole issue and restarted the shutdown academic system. Just when hopes were rising that ASUU would call off the strike, the union updated its demands. And according to news paper reports, the union is now saying that its members must be paid for the past five months that they have been on strike.
How can we make sense of this demand? I am taking the place of university students who have lost time; and those whose admission have had to be delayed, as well as those who have been stuck between graduating and being mobilized for national youth service. I take the place of those business men and women whose concerns rest on the stability of academic calendars, especially those ones located in the vicinity of our federal universities. How do you explain to these people that although you’ve not worked in the last five months in a bid to correct something that a court could have effectively done; although you have not rendered your services to your students who paid tuition fees and who rightly expect their academic years to be stable; that although you contributed to the downsizing of profits of businesses that depend on open universities, you would still take home your pay?
How do you explain that to the students, activists, journalists, and social commentators who felt strongly that the government ought to be strongly rebuked for not abiding with its pacts, and who [wrongly, in my opinion] supported a strike action- how do you explain to them that the strike may continue if you’re not first paid for those periods you did not work? Where is the justice in this: that ASUU did not work and by so doing distorted people’s time and lives in a bid to achieve what it saw as a greater good and now it claims that even now, striking lecturers must be paid their salaries? Where is the justice in that? How do you not work and boldly stake a claim for SALARIES?
A part of the problem lies in our ignorance of the exact costs of the ASUU strike. There’s no figure on ground. I am in no way saying that all this is ASUU’s fault. ASUU was wronged when its agreement with the federal government was broken by this same government. It had every right to seek redress. But rather than exercise that right, the union chose to put down tools while renegotiating grounds for a new understanding. I personally think that this action was wrong. And it has cost us something. It has cost us all some price, ASUU and the federal government inclusive. We bear some of that price in our universities’ academic calendar and certain academic breakthroughs, as well as businesses’ prospective growth, and in how we manage our time and lives. And it has definitely cost those lecturers their salaries. Notwithstanding ASUU’s disruptive action, this price might have been worth paying if all the parties fairly shared the cost. But with the union’s demand for pay, then it expects to do all of this free of any cost and leaves us all, including our much criticized government to bear the cost. How then could ASUU claim it was ‘fighting’ for the interests of us all if it doesn’t pay any price? Who pays the students for the lost time or recovers the profits of affected businesses among others?
It appears to me that the union has forgotten the meaning of a salary. So let’s remind them. A salary is that value you get at appointed intervals for the services you render to your employer and customers.
That this demand came through at all is such a slap to our faces. This is one slap too many. This feels like we have been held as hostages, as a leverage for ASUU to get all that it wants without having to suffer any thing. I hope that after this episode, we would insist that our legal institutions be engaged in resolving disputes involving agreements under the law rather than resorting to ineffective and unjust courts of public opinion.