By Peter Duru
Makurdi â€” The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has resolved to carry on with the ongoing industrial action to press home its demands for better funding and the overhaul of the Nigerian university system by the Federal Government.
Rising from a three-day National Executive Committee meeting in Makurdi, the ASUU-NEC regretted that the ongoing industrial action by its members nationwide would subsist pending when negotiation with the Federal Government was concluded and an agreement signed to the satisfaction of ASUU-NEC.
Addressing newsman on the communiquÃ© of the meeting, ASUU National President, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, who was flaked by his executives and former presidents of the union bemoaned the roles being played by the Minister of Education, Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) and that of the Education Tax Fund (ETF) in order to thwart the efforts of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to resolve the lingering crisis in two weeks.
According to him, the leadership of ASUU and the Federal Government negotiating team had held a meeting with Vice President Jonathan at the end of June where a window of opportunity was opened for further meetings for the peaceful resolution of the crisis.
But he regretted that, â€œwhat we witnessed in this first week of meeting is a concerted effort by the Minister of Education albeit assisted by the Executive Secretaries of National Universities Commission (NUC) and Education Tax Fund (ETF), who were at the meeting of July 30, to close this window of opportunity opened by the Vice Presidentâ€™s intervention and also frustrate our collective efforts to amicably resolve issues in favour of the good people of our dear country, Nigeriaâ€, Prof Awuzie said.
According to him, none of the aforementioned government officials â€œfound it appropriate to guide or even inform the Government Team on the outcome of the dialogue we had with the Vice President even though they all attended the meetingâ€.
He stressed that though the negotiating teams were mandated by the Vice President, to resume negotiation on the 3rd of August, 2009, with a directive that another member of the team chair the session pending the return of the chairperson while the Minister of Education was directed to adequately brief the government team on the widow that dialogue had opened towards resolving the impasse, this he noted has been frustrated.
The ASUU National President said, â€œalthough we were invited to resume the renegotiations on Monday 3rd as directed, we have spent the first week without achieving anything because the Vice Presidentâ€™s directives were not implementedâ€.
â€œWhen we arrived for the meeting on Monday, the acting chairman, Prof Greg Iwu was only interested in knowing whether ASUU had suspended the strike or not and he was informed that a NEC meeting has been scheduled for this week to review the situation. And when he was asked to present governmentâ€™s position on the Draft Agreement, it became clear that he had not been briefed and he subsequently adjourned the meetingâ€, he said.
Prof. Awuzie informed that same was the case when Dr Gamaliel Onosode returned to his position as chairman, when he insisted that he was not briefed adequately by the Minister to warrant the changing of â€œhis position of July 10th, 2009 as communicated to ASUU awarding a 40% increase in salaries and completion of negotiation with individual university councils. He stated that he was not aware of any meeting with the Vice President.â€
He regretted that one week after receiving instructions from the Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, the Minister of Education could not produce a list of the â€˜contentious issueâ€™ that would guide the resumed renegotiation exercise.
He noted that this was the first time in recent times that they had been called upon to defend the very existence of unionizing and unionism hinting that an axe has been laid on the roots of the principle of collective bargaining , the survival of which distinguished the modern society from its primordial predecessors of feudal system, where they had perpetual lords and serf from birth maintaining that they cannot sentence themselves to perpetual slavery.
The ASUU leadership stated that â€œordinarily we would have suspended the industrial action, but because one week out of the two granted by the Vice President for the resolution of the impasse and the union is not sure that the intervention of Mr. Vice President will yield any positive result considering that the June 2007 intervention of the Mr. President was scuttled by bureaucrats hence ASUU-NEC is not sure that this intervention on the instance of Mr. President will not suffer the same fate.
â€œIt is therefore with heavy heart that ASUU-NEC resolved that the industrial action will only be reviewed if and when the instructions of Mr. Vice President are fully implemented,â€ he declared.