By Bolanle Bolawole
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When we thought the dust had settled on the eight-month-long strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), President Muhammadu Buhari’s fumbling and wobbling administration came up with its pro-rata as opposed to half-pay nonsensical dichotomy. In this instance, what is the difference between half-salary and the pro-rata payment the ASUU members received last October? For lecturers who had gone without pay for eight months, especially those of them with no other visible or viable means of livelihood other than their monthly salary, the semantics of half-pay and pro-rata is not only frustrating, it is also the last thing they had expected from a government alive to its responsibilities, especially to our youth who have wasted, in one stretch, close to two academic sessions that cannot be totally regained, no matter what the lecturers do to try to cover lost ground.
According to Google, “A pro-rata salary is when employers pay their employees for the number of hours they worked in proportion to what they would earn if they worked full-time. This often occurs when an employee does not work for their predetermined hours in the given pay period or month” In the case of ASUU in this instance, they went on strike on the 14th of February, 2022 and called off the strike on the 14th of October, 2022. Meaning, therefore, that if ASUU members resumed work on the same day their leaders called off the strike or were deemed to have so resumed work, then, their salary in the month of October, calculated on pro-rata basis, would run from the 14th of October to the 31st of October – a period of 18 days.
Half-pay, on the other hand, means “half of a person’s normal or previous salary or wages” In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries British Army and Royal Navy, half-pay referred to “the pay or allowances an officer received when in retirement or not in actual service” There are climes or organisations where workers are paid in two instalments every month, first at the beginning of the month and then at month-end. An indicted worker awaiting the final foreclosure of his employment status or one under investigation can also be placed on half-salary pending the outcome of investigations and the final determination of his employment status. Some of Nigeria’s state governors notorious for owning a backlog of workers’ salaries also introduced percentage payment of salaries, in which case workers on different grade levels were paid different percentages of their actual monthly salaries, some with a promise to pay the balance at a later date and others with no such promise.
In this instance, what ASUU members got was not half-pay but pro-rata payment of their October 2022 salary. Government, in fact, maintains that ASUU will not be paid for work not done; meaning that for the period that ASUU was on strike – from 14th February to 13th October, 2022 – the lecturers would not be paid. In other words, the government is not indebted to the lecturers in respect of any salary arrears and the lecturers should not expect any such windfall from the government. The Federal Government pegs its decision on the law of “no work, no pay”. I have stated repeatedly that I support that ASUU should not be paid for work not done in respect of its last strike.
While it is true that ASUU has gone away with getting paid for work not done in the past, this time around, its feet should be held to the fire. It is because they reckoned they would be paid eventually that they allowed the strike to drag for so long. Their insensitivity to the plight of students and parents alike must not be allowed to go unpunished this time around. ASUU cannot continually have its cake and eat it too. The damage they have done to the school system cannot be easily repaired like they are parroting all over the place. What of the confidence that parents and students alike have lost in the system? What of the bad image of the country’s university system that they have portrayed to the outside world? Now that classes have resumed, the break-neck speed with which they are driving their students; the trauma many of these students are going through; the hardship they necessarily must suffer for no fault of theirs necessitate that ASUU members must take their own part of the punishment for the eight months that they abandoned classes.
ASUU said they are not casual workers: Do they have two heads while casual workers have only one? Is it only casual workers that the law must apply to? Let no one tell us they will cover lost grounds! Even if they and their students are super human beings, they cannot! We, too, attended university and we knew how things worked in our days! We still remember how the system worked – whether the “Almighty June” or the semester system. ASUU’s incessant long strikes have bastardised the university system. It is now no longer the citadel of knowledge that it used to be but centres where students go to procure meal tickets. Learning these days has been reduced to “cram and pour” The mad rush the students are being subjected to leaves them with little or no time for reflection and meditation on what they have been taught. There is little or no time left for students to engage in independent thought, research and study. And, of course, there is hardly any room or space left for extra-curricular activities like we used to have.
Take a look at the academic calendar of one of the federal universities for the 2021/22 academic session: Students return to Halls of Residence on October 19, 2022 and Harmattan Semester lectures resume the next day on October 20, 2022! Just imagine! Harmattan semester lecture ends on December 17, 2022; meaning that a whole semester runs for less than eight weeks or two months! Was it like that in our own days? Prof. Emmanuel Victor Osodeke and his ASUU members should tell us whether it was like that in their own days! After lectures end, the students will be given just five days (December 19 to 23) as lecture free week-cum-revision time. Just like lectures are rushed, examinations, too, are rushed. It begins on December 28, 2022; by January 4, 2023, Senate begins consideration of Harmattan Semester results; on January 18, 2023, Harmattan Semester examinations end; and between January 19 and February 3, 2023 is semester break. No holiday in the real sense for Christmas and New Year! It takes the grace of God for students not to break down under this mad rush! And what will they learn in the real sense of the word! What quality of work can the lecturers themselves do under this rush-rush atmosphere?
If paying ASUU members for work not done these past many years is what has encouraged and emboldened them to continue to go on strike and not think out of the box, then, they should not be paid this time around! If not paying them this time around will serve as a cautionary measure for them to think before they leap into a strike the next time around, then, they should not be paid. This is not to say that Buhari and his administration have done well on this ASUU matter; they have not! The story is told of Midas, a king of Phrygia, who is remembered in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold. If there is the opposite of Midas, it is Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari! Everything he touched, he ruined! The economy; he ruined it! Insecurity; he made it worse! Education; he brought it from top to bottom! Cost of living; he shot it through the roof! Nigeria’s unity; he shredded it! Who, in 2014, could have imagined that Buhari would bring such misery upon Nigeria! Everyone had thought he was the messiah Nigeria needed! True, then, are the words of William Shakespeare (in Merchant of Venice) that “All that glitters is not gold”! Buhari glittered and shone like a million stars before he ascended the throne but see what is left of his credibility, integrity and image with just a few months to the end of his tenure!
But rather than engage the Buharideens on their turf and assist them to bring incalculable damage to the university system, ASUU should have demonstrated a sterner stuff; it should have shown that it is a tribe of thinkers as opposed to the pitiable lack of tact it demonstrated in the way it handled Buhari – or, better still, in the way it allowed Buhari to handle it and mess it up! If ASUU has any integrity left, it should stop begging to be paid for work not done and focus its attention on repairing the damage already done to the university system. It is only by doing so that it can win back the confidence of its many publics. Fortunately for it, the pettiness of Ngige and the vindictiveness of the Buhari administration is not allowing them to see the pitfalls attendant to paying ASUU’s rival, CONUA (according to some reports), for the eight months that the strike was on while leaving ASUU out in the cold.
CONUA, too, did not work during the eight-month ASUU strike; so, the “no work, no pay” rule applies to them as well. If you pay them, you must also pay ASUU. It is a hare-brained argument to say that CONUA did not declare the strike or that it was not on strike. If it was not on strike, what work did it do? What the Federal Government should have done was to have asked the university authorities to open the universities for CONUA members to teach during the period of the ASUU strike. That way, the load of work on the students would have been somehow reduced. The lectures they will be attending now and the examinations they will be writing would have been somehow reduced. Since that was not done, there is no way CONUA will be paid for work not done while ASUU will not be similarly treated. If the Buhari administration fails in this regard, whatever administration that takes over from him must remedy the situation.
In those days when lecturers were lecturers and universities were universities, ASUU would not beg, kow-tow or genuflect because of salary arrears. Where, I ask, is the honour of our people gone? In those days, too, it was unimaginable that there would be anything like CONUA prostrating before the powers-that-be and destroying its own constituency simply for a mess of pottage! Again, I ask, where has the integrity of our people gone? ASUU and CONUA must realize very quickly that unless they put their house in order and close ranks, the powers-that-be will decimate them one after the other using the age-old divide-and-rule system. Is it not said that united we stand; divided we fall?