INVESTIGATION has revealed that both the federal and state governments which are proprietors of public universities in Nigeria may have lost a huge sum of N1.5 trillion to the incessant strikes embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) since the nation’s return to democracy in 1999.
Nigerian universities have also lost four and a half study years in the last 20 years to strike actions by the university lecturers with students adversely affected any time such strike occurred, which stakeholders have observed was responsible for the distortion of academic calendar in the nation’s university system.
According to data compiled from various sources in the course of the investigation by Nigerian Tribune, the figure above represents the salaries paid to staff in the university system for a cumulative period of about four and half years during which ASUU went on strike in the last two decades.
ASUU had embarked on the current indefinite strike since March 9, 2020 and had gone on strike in each year in the last 21 years with rare exception of 2014 and 2015 when the university lecturers did not go on strike, the data indicated.
President of ASUU, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, had declared the ongoing strike following the withholding of salaries of lecturers by the Federal Government over refusal to enroll on the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS), which government directed that all university staff must be enrolled.
While declaring the current strike action, Ogunyemi had noted that though the country was under lockdown occasioned by COVID-19, the lecturers would withhold their services since the Federal Government has decided to use the weapon of hunger to fight its members.
He had also listed other demands of the union to include renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement, payment of backlog of earned academic allowance, release university revitalisation fund, and of course, attempt to force lecturers to enroll on IPPIS, which ASUU insisted its University Transparency and Accountability (UTAS) developed as an alternative would better serve the university system because its peculiarities.
Further checks revealed that the academic staff in all of the nation’s public universities went on a strike for a total of 19 times with a cumulative period of about 1,461 days.An analysis of the timelines of strikes by universities in Nigeria showed that the ongoing strike, which started on March 9, with a two-week warning and the indefinite strike, which commenced on March 29 is the longest in the history of ASUU strikes as it has lasted for about 204 days as at October 4 and still counting.
Before then, the strike in 2003 which snowballed into 2004 was the longest as it lasted 180 days, the analysis showed.
It was also observed that some of the strikes dovetailed into a new year like in 2003, which ended in 2004 and 2011, which also ended in 2012.
Nigerian Tribune investigation showed that the over N1.5 trillion lost by the federal and state governments represented total emoluments paid to the staff during the period the strikes lasted, obviously for work not done, as the Federal Government never invoked the provisions of the extant Act on “no work, no pay”.
The amount covered the payment of staff in 43 federal and 47 state universities, where the workers are unionised.
However, the staff of the nation’s 78 private universities are mostly not unionised and have not been part of the numerous ASUU strikes, investigation showed.
The latest available data on payment of salaries in Nigerian Universities obtained from the National Universities Commission (NUC) Statistical Digest 2018 released in April 2019 showed that the federal and state governments committed a total of N308.5 billion (N308, 526,701, 478.39) to payment of salaries.
The figure did not even include Rivers State University, University of Ilorin, University of Jos and Yobe State University, which for undisclosed reasons were not covered in the statistical computation released by NUC.
The amount lost to the strikes was arrived at after Nigerian Tribune used the annual payment of N308.5 billion as an average and multiplied by about four and half years of strikes by the university lecturers.
Data obtained from NUC and office of the Accountant General of the Federation showed that the least paid university lecturer earns N1,979,640 as basic salary per annum, while a Senior Lecturer earns about N3,091,505.
Similarly, a Reader or Associate Professor earns at least N3,768,221 per annum while a full Professor earns N5,004,750 per annum. It was found out that the Federal and state universities had a total of about 51,000 academic staff in 2017 but the figure may have risen to at least 61,000 in 2020 even though NUC statistical data is yet to formally report on the number of staff in the universities in the years after 2017.
While ASUU and some stakeholders blamed the incessant strikes on the Federal Government for always reneging on agreements reached with the Union, others have criticised ASUU for frequent industrial actions, urging the lecturers to explore more appropriate ways of engaging with the Federal Government in resolution of dispute.