Public universities are reopening, one after another, after the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) last month “suspended” an odd 8-months strike. The work-to-rule was declared in February after university teachers and the Federal Government failed to resolve outstanding issues from a 2009 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on university rehabilitation, staff accountability, unpaid earned allowances and sundry matters.
The stalemate led the government to take the lecturers’ union to the industrial arbitration court which, in September, ordered ASUU to call its members back to the classroom.
The government took that action after even President Muhammadu Buhari’s intervention, a move favoured by the union, couldn’t get ASUU to call off the strike. An attempt by the leadership of the federal House of Representatives also failed to break the deadlock.
The union, instead, responded to the court order by appealing that decision to the Court of Appeal which, last month, ruled that the lecturers go back to work. It was at that point that ASUU decided to “suspend” its strike. Union president, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, later would explain that it ended the strike in honour of President Buhari, House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and the Appeal Court. “We are obeying court orders, as we are a law abiding union”, Osodeke said, even he let it be known that “No agreement was signed. We hope the intervention of the Speaker of the House of Representatives will be holistic and all issues resolved as they should be.” Recall that it had previously ignored the President’s and Speaker’s advice that the strike be called off and let talks continue.
So, what was it that eventually forced ASUU’s hands? One, clearly ASUU’s national leadership knew that the “rollon” strike had gone on for too long and, so, was no longer sustainable. Public sympathy was waning and even students, who initially supported their striking lecturers, blockading highways, making it impossible for ASUU to travel to Abuja for meetings.
Secondly, ennui was setting in among the strikers. Hunger and illnesses were taking a heavy toll. Prof. Osodeke, himself, admitted many professors, 10 in the university of Calabar alone, died during the long course of the strike. That was because “they couldn’t take care of their health.”
So, now that the lecturers have agreed to go back to work, is it the end of crisis in the public university system? Osodeke leaves the question open ended. “Our members will go and teach but getting a man who is hungry, who is indebted, who is owing banks loans because his salary was not paid, to be happy to teach is another thing,” he said in response to the question.