LAGOS Hopes of a smooth beginning for the new session at Nigeria's 34 universities have been dashed by academics' decision to continue a month-long strike.
In May, after a month of negotiations with federal government officials, the 12,000-strong Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) signed a 2 per cent pay deal with the regime of General Adulsalami Abubakar.
After the new ministerial team was constituted and Tunde Adeniran, a former academic at the University of Ibadan, was appointed education minister, academics hoped that the agreement would be implemented. "To the utmost disappointment of ASUU that hope was misplaced," Asoukwo Uteng, of the University of Calabar, said.
The federal government made it clear that the agreement was not binding. New head of state,General Olusegun Obasanjo, said: "It was wrong for ASUU to think that such a hurriedly made agreement would be binding under the new administration. We set up another panel with the intention of involving the non-
academic staff union since we believe that its case cannot be ignored. We have given them what they want but still ASUU said that it was going on strike."
Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju, chairman of ASUU, declared that the only way forward was for the government to honour its agreement. "A government that fails to honour a legitimate agreement loses respect and credibility. In a situation where facilities are generally below minimum standard and the Nigerian academic is among the poorest paid in Africa, it is not difficult to see why degrees awarded by Nigerian universities are viewed with suspicion in international circles. A country that officially produces two million barrels of crude oil every day and still encourages a brain drain because it cannot pay its university teachers decent salaries is not serious about education."