Kogi varsity students face uncertain future as lecturers stop work
Students of the Kogi State University Anyigba are unarguably in a tight spot as the disagreement between the institution’s chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the state government over salary payments lingers.
ASUU had on April 19 embarked on “No pay, No work” action to prevail on the state government to offset all the arrears of salaries owed lecturers of the institution. The nearly three month’s labour action has apparently grounded classes and socio-economic activities at the university.
Thousands of students who have been forced out of the university campus following the industrial unrest have recounted their ordeals.
Ruth Adejoh is one of the Business Administration students who completed her programme from the university in December 2015.
Ruth, like her counterparts from other departments, had expected that the institution would have computed their final results and forwarded their names to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) for onward mobilization for the mandatory national service. But the lingering industrial unrest seemed to have shattered Ruth’s dream of the NYSC.
Ruth expressed worries that she and some of her of contemporaries who had eagerly longed to be part of the National Youth Service might eventually be disqualified on the account of age due to the lingering strike action.
“The NYSC only mobilizes graduates who are not above 30 years. Some of us finished our final exams while almost reaching that age limit. With the lingering labour action, those of us in that category would be exempted from service, which is actually unfair,” she said.
Ruth said she had decided to learn tailoring in the meantime to keep herself busy pending when her results would be ready. She appealed to the state government and lecturers to find an end to the dispute in the overall interest of the students.
On her part, Peace Abah, an undergraduate student in the department of English, said life has not been easy staying idle for close to three months.
Students’ unions have also raised concerns over the face-off, which they said had impacted negatively on students.
President of the Student Union Government (SUG), Comrade Shaibu Philip Omepa, said the ‘No pay, No work’ action embarked upon by the academic staff of the university had taken its toll on students and want an immediate end to the stand off.
He said many graduates of the university who ought to have been mobilized for the NYSC as well as the Nigerian Law School are being deprived of the opportunity due the quarrel between ASUU and government over wages.
On his part, President of the National Association of Kogi State Students (NAKOSS), Abdulmalik Hadi, urged all stakeholders in the state to intervene in the impasse to bring respite to students. He appealed to government and ASUU to go back to the negotiation table, saying “it’s the grass that suffers when two elephants engage in a fight.”
According to him, it was in the best interest of both government and ASUU to bring the situation to an end as all parties concerned are suffering several consequences arising from it.
He said while the students have been pushed to the wall over the matter, their leadership believes in consultation and dialogue as the best means of addressing issues rather than confrontation and called on those concerned to settle their differences. He also asked the members of the state House of Assembly and other relevant stakeholders to wade into the standoff.
But ASUU has vowed to sustain the ongoing industrial action until the arrears of two months’ salaries were cleared by the state government.
Acting Chairman of ASUU, Dr. Daniel Aina, who addressed a press conference in Lokoja, said its congress has resolved that the labour action will be sustained till the ‘last kobo’ owed is paid and that the action will be invoked anytime delay in salary payment goes beyond the 7th day of the succeeding month.
ASUU, which acknowledged that government has cleared backlog of five months’ salaries since the inception of its industrial action, however insisted it will not resume work until the outstanding arrears are settled.
Dr. Aina said that the insistence of ASUU that all outstanding salaries be paid before resumption of work was in view of its intolerance for corruption amongst its members, adding that “corruptive tendencies would be rife” once salary payments are delayed.
The union expressed worries over the poor response of the state government to some of the issues affecting lecturers in the university, adding that government must live up to its responsibility for the institution to attain quality academic standard.
“We are committed to this and the government, being the sponsor, has to be equally committed to it. It has become clear to us that the government is not favourably disposed to fulfilling its obligation of paying salaries as and when due,” he said.
“The issuance of threats of sack or “No work, No pay” will not solve the problem and every repressive move against ASUU will not solve any problem.
“It is erroneous to be biased that ASUU means trouble. What will solve the problem is an objective and open minded engagement of ASUU on the issues at stake with definite commitments. This, we require from government as a prerequisite for having strikefree sessions in KSU,” he said.
He urged the government to pay the two months’ outstanding salaries for the lecturers to return to the classrooms within three days.
The chairman indicated that the operation of the university system is by strict adherence to academic calendar universally hence it cannot be subjected to the civil service whims without something going berserk.
“The government must see the university as it is in practice and not by convenience, to eliminate rifts and bumps in its operation. ASUU wishes to state very loudly and clearly that the issue of salary is only but a fraction of the issues at stake.”
Dr Aina said besides the issue of salary payments, there were other grievances bordering on heavy taxation, non-implementation of contributory pensions, arrears of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) between 2009 and 2014 and university autonomy which are yet to be addressed.
He said the university has witnessed mass exodus of lecturers to other institutions in recent times while lecturers who would have come to the institution on sabbatical are often discouraged from coming due to the situation on ground.
When contacted, Commissioner for Education and Technology in the state, Dr Tolorunleke Sunday, said efforts are ongoing to resolve the lingering standoff between ASUU and the government to ensure academic activities resume at the university in the interest of students.
Meanwhile ASUU had on Monday July 25 directed its striking members to resume work to enable students conclude their exams.
Acting Chairperson, Dr Aina in a statement issued at the weekend, said the decision followed an understanding reached with the University Management Committee (UMC).
“This agreement does not in any way truncate our earlier resolution and struggle but to allow students write their outstanding exams now slated for August 1st 2016.
“ASUU leadership shall abide by our earlier resolution on the total payment of the backlog salaries as the only condition for the suspension of the ongoing struggle,” it said.
Governor Yahaya Bello had last week directed the Vice Chancellor of Kogi State University to re-open the university for academic activities with effect from today.
He said the lecturers were expected to return to their classes since government has met their major demands, adding that his government should be trusted by ASUU having paid them six months’ salaries within his six months in office.