The immediate past vice-chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Prof Eyitope Ogunbodede, has called on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in the education sector as a critical move to resolve the prolonged impasse in the nation’s public university system and end incessant strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other staff unions.
This is as he suggested that the government should provide such an enabling platform for all critical stakeholders to dialogue and come to an amicable solution to the lingering impasse.
The don, who bemoaned the six-month-old strike and the continued stay at the home of students due to the unresolved logjam between the Federal Government and ASUU, noted that it was high time stakeholders in the education sector came to“ reason together and stop acting in silos and fiefdoms.”
Meanwhile, the former vice-chancellor also sought payment of school fees by students, saying the idea that university education should be free could not be sustained in view of the needs of the institutions, noting that indigent students should be supported with scholarships to pursue their education.
On the ongoing strike, Ogunmodede said: “This is not the time for negotiations spanning months, it smirks of insincerity or failure to grasp the enormity of the problem.
While not ignoring the letter and spirit of the Trade Dispute Act on the resolution of industrial actions, I will propose that the government convey an expanded assembly of critical stakeholders, and not just the ministries and the unions, to deliberate and take critical decisions that will move the education sector forward and ensure that our students, who content have been at home for five months, resume immediately.”
The proposed meeting, he stated, should have representatives of the core ministries (Education, Labour, Finance, and Science and Technology), National Universities Commission (NUC), the various staff unions – ASUU, SSANU, NASUandNAAT as well as the students, National Salaries and wages Commission, Head of Service of the Federation, Accountant- General of the Federation, and the Tertiary Education Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives.
According to him, the Federal Ministry of Education and National Universities Commission should coordinate the meetings, which ideally should be chaired by the Minister of Education. “If discussions at such a forum are open and sincere, it will be possible to chart a new course for university education in the country and forestall any future strikes and closure of our higher institutions,” he added.
Ogunmodede – recalled that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige has said that the Federal Government would incur an additional N560 billion as workers’ salaries alone in the system and that Nigeria is broke and does not have the funds to meet its obligations in the agreement signed with the unions – therefore called for a renegotiation of the terms of the agreement with ASUU in the effort to end the ongoing strike by university staff, insisting that if we continue this way the negotiations are unlikely to record any significant achievement.
Therefore, he said that the efforts of the seven-member renegotiating team, led by emeritus Prof Nimi Briggs, now appeared to be inadequate in resolving the present impasse, reopening of the universities and keeping the campuses functional.
The former Vice-Chancellor pointed out that Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS) has become an albatross bedevilling the tertiary education system in the country, further undermining the autonomy earlier enjoyed by the universities.
Heexpressedconcernthat while the unions are agitating, university administrators are lukewarm about the use of IPPIS, adding: “The peculiarities of the university system (such as sabbatical leave, the appointment of expatriate staff and other practices necessary to internationalise and make a university world-class can then be continuously built into the IPPIS software domiciled in NUC. It could ideally be referred to as IPPIS-U.
I do not expect ASUU to agree with this suggestion just as I also would not expect the Federal Government to concur. However, for the sake of the system and to bring some stability to our universities, it appears to me to be the best solution.”