March 9, 2015, Benue State University lecturers under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), down tooled.
Their grouse with then Governor Gabriel Suswam-led administration was a delay in the payment of their February salary.
The university teachers were not alone in the strike at the time they embarked on theirs. Already, COE and poly teachers were several months old in it before the university teachers joined in.
Recall also that primary school teachers were the first to go. All the reasons for the strikes revolve around salary issues. Just like ASUU’s reason, it was either an unpaid salary matter or the inability of Suswam to accede to the demand of the teachers to jack up their minimum wage.
Suswam’s government considered to be highly corrupt could not increase salary for the teachers which culminated in the protracted industrial action by the teachers.
But in each case of the strike, the government always laced its excuses with paucity of funds at it disposal.
The strike at a point rendered the state literally and economically dead, considering the fact that Benue though prides itself as the food basket of the nation — the epithet is an empty one — remains largely a civil service state, which means that, because the workforce works from hand to mouth, once there is a disruption in the earning or payment of the workers’ regular salaries, the state becomes paralyzed socio-economically.
At some points, the grisly industrial crisis rocking the state worsened with the state government workers including the LG staff threatening to also go on strike to shut the state completely dead.
That was when Suswam had to introduce the obnoxious reduction of workers’s salary, a measure which portrayed the former Anyin-born governor of grossly bereft of ideas on how to truly govern a state like Benue.
He came across as inept, incompetent but rudely stubborn, unteachable and wicked at what he knew best to do — embezzlement of public funds — while he plunged the state into serious financial quagmire. And it burnt.
As at last count, if the statistics in some of the traditional national newspapers are anything to be believed, the strike’s tolls had hit 1200 statewide before Suswam left office as a two-time governor.
But Suswam had attributed the reduction in workers salaries, rationalization of payment of same, sometimes by half, especially in the twilight of his administration, to the dwindling allocation to the state from the Federation Account.
But even at that, pundits could not believe him for the fact that before the so-called dwindling allocation began, Suswam still was not implementing the minimum wage for the primary school teachers on flimsy excuses that smacked of sleaze in his cupboard.
That is the scenario that predates the present BSU ASUU strike which began nearly three months before Dr. Samuel Ortom mounted the saddle.
So, the delay in the payment of the lecturers February emolument being the grievance is a challenge bequeathed to the new governor by Suswam. It is not Ortom-caused. Neither has he abandoned it. If anything, the governor has demonstrated commitment to the resolution of the crisis as evidenced in his seeking for billions as loans with which he has outlined what the loans are sought for.
Among the principal items in the outline is the payment of all the backlog of salaries, including the lecturers’ of the BSU.
Evidence of his commitment is in the fact that he has so far paid the lecturers two-month salary since assuming office, whereas other set of workers in the state are yet to receive a dime in the same state where they are owed about seven months salaries.
It can only be expected of the varsity teachers on strike, if they are realistic, to give the governor the needed patience and the benefit of doubt by calling off and return to classrooms. Unless they want us to suspect that they have ulterior motive for unnecessarily prolonging the strike, it now appears there is no reason to remain belligerent.
They should also realise that Ortom, though students are always more at the receiving end of the strike, is simply being made to suffer the brunt of Suswam and, I dare say that it is not fair.
Again, hinging their return to classrooms on payment of another two months salaries is like touching the sensibilities of the rational-minded indigenes like me.
The period that they are idling away from classrooms, how do they feel asking for the salaries of service they did not render? If one may ask.
As academics, they should not touch our sensibility. We need peaceful resolution of the crisis for our children to go back to school. That is why sacrifice must be made to bury the hatchet. It is not as if anyone is a fool. Taxpayers money, those hard working people who are at work sweating day and night, is what they are asking to be paid with in their indolence. Supposing, everyone goes on strike and nobody works? Your guess is as good as mine.
ASUU, this is one strike too many, truth be told. While the rot in Suswam administration that brought us into the impasse was quite obvious and unacceptable, the academics, too, are as culpable as the government. The academics are surely sick on this present strike.