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Nigerian University Teachers Defy Government, Continue Strike

Nigeria's government-owned universities remain closed Friday as an indefinite strike over pay increases entered a fourth week. The teachers declared a strike last month to push the government to honor an agreement on an enhanced pay structure and conditions.

The strike continues despite pressures from the federal government to resume classes. The government says there is no justification to continue with the strike after the teachers had been awarded a 40 percent pay rise and other concessions.

The umbrella Academic Staff Union of Universities, or ASUU, has rejected the offer, saying the union was not sufficiently consulted before the government arrived at the decision. Union leader Ukachukwu Aweze says the government acted arbitrarily.

"The federal government has violated the rules of collective bargaining because whatever it announced on July 10 is not a product of negotiation," Aweze said. "The unilateral pronouncement by the minister of labor is therefore not acceptable to ASUU. The government has no power to abolish an agreement signed legitimately by its predecessor."

Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities insist the federal government should take a standard setting role in adopting the new salary structure. Education Minister Sam Egwu says while the government is willing to implement the new pay structure, it could not compel state authorities to pay the enhanced rate in institutions set up by them.

"Government is bound, including state governments that have established universities, to pay that amount. That would not be fair to state-owned universities; they may not have the financial muscle like the federal government to give even this 40 percent," Egwu said. "Everything that is done, is done with good intentions because we do not want to commit state governors or state governments to what they are not part of."

The most prominent demand is a hike in pay. But the umbrella body of university teachers in the oil-rich West African country is also seeking greater autonomy for universities and increased funding, among other demands.

There has been a lack of investment in the public school system, leading to a crumbling educational system. Nigerian university teachers have fought for better conditions for more than a decade now.

Many feel that the government is putting off reaching a settlement because the children of the rich don't attend public universities.

Nigeria has witnessed a series of strikes lately, particularly in the public sector. State-owned radio and television workers called off their five-day strike on Monday while electricity workers and medical doctors are threatening a strike.