By Emmanuel Edukugho
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has condemned the Federal government recent decision to call off negotiations with ASUU as a propaganda stunt done to create the incorrect impression that the Federal government was taking positive steps aimed at speedy resolution of the current imbroglio but for ASUUâ€™s belligerence. â€œWe therefore deem it expedient to explain the issues thoroughly to all Nigerian students, parents and poor Nigerians who have been concerned about the turn which events in the education sector has taken.â€
The so-called negotiation from which the Federal government announced its withdrawal does not exist in reality except in the imagination of government spokespersons.
The so-called negotiation is a unilateral step taken by the Federal government in pursuit of its wrong conception that signing the Gamaliel Onosode re-negotiation committee agreement contradicts the principle of federalism. What this illegal negotiation implies is that the Gamaliel Onosode Committee agreement will be presented to the separate Governing Councils of each University so that they could decide whether to accept it or not. This why ASUU rejected it because it goes against the principle of collective bargaining. We in the ERC equally hold this view.
As far as we are concerned, the principle of collective bargaining provides for employer of labour and workers to negotiate through a negotiating committee after which agreement reached will be binding on both parties. After the completion of negotiation and the drawing up of agreement acceptable to both parties, none of the parties can come back again to withdraw from the agreement or set up extraneous processes to amend the negotiated points of the agreement.
In this instance, the Federal government has no power under the law or constitution to amend any part of the agreement or to refrain from signing same. The Governing Council of any institution does not power to meddle into such a process because the federal government has an overriding responsibility over education policy and standard in the country.
In this light therefore, the steps taken by the Federal government to turn over an agreement duly negotiated over a two year period by a negotiation committee duly authorized under the relevant labour law is condemnable. Equally, the refusal of government to sign an agreement reached through a negotiation it freely entered into is an evidence of government insensitivity to the plight of students and staff in the education sector.
We condemn Gamaliel Onosode for picking up a role in the orchestra of lies and propaganda by his utter misrepresentation of fact at the press conference at which government decision to withdraw from the so-called negotiation was announced.
We also condemn the impression being created by government that it really wants to resolve the issue but that the refusal of ASUU to suspend its strike action is affecting the process of resolution. This is a lie because there would have been no strike in the first place if the federal government had signed the agreement.
For us in the ERC, all steps taken by government so far are negative measures aimed at dodging the real issue of signing a mutual agreement freely negotiated by a re-negotiation committee it set up out of its own volition. The Federal government has been beating about the bush instead of treading the path of honour and responsibility.
We condemn the propaganda that signing the agreement amount to contradicting the principle of federalism. First and foremost, the re-negotiated agreement that is the crux of the current strike action is a continuation of the 2001 FGN/ASUU agreement which is supposed to be reviewed every 3 years. We dare to ask: how was the 2001 agreement signed?
Was it through a negotiation committee or through separate governing councils of each University? These are the questions that the Federal government needs to answer to prove whether there is any iota of sincerity in its dealings with ASUU.
From all available record, the 2001 FGN/ASUU agreement was reached and signed through a negotiation committee and not through governing councils. So far the agreement reached at the Gamaliel Onosode re-negotiation committee is a review of the 2001 agreement, the process of signing and adoption of the agreement must be through the same route and not otherwise.
More so, the terms of reference of the Gamaliel Onosode re-negotiation committee does not provide for the agreement to be presented to governing councils of each Universities, instead it empowered the teams of both ASUU and the Federal government to negotiate and draw up a list of mutual agreement for signing and implementation by both parties.
This is why the current steps taken by the federal government on the basis of so-called principle of federalism is a fraudulent attempt to shift the goal post in the middle of the game.
Secondly, nothing in the agreement compels state governments to provide for what they cannot afford, the agreements set up uniform standards which all Universities must meet in order to provide quality education. This is the same thing the National University Commission (NUC) and Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and other agencies do without contradicting the principle of federalism.
The argument of federalism is therefore a conveniently fraudulent excuse being used by the Federal and state government to avoid their responsibilities towards the funding of education which is readily forgotten when the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) awards jumbo salaries and allowances to political office holders at all levels irrespective of their revenue.
Conclusively, the Federal government has been going on a fruitless merry-go-round since the strike started 7 weeks ago without taking any visibly positive step to resolve the issue. Now, it has come back to the same spot it started from. As far as we are concerned, the purported withdrawal of federal government from its illegal and unilateral negotiation is good riddance to bad rubbish.
ASUU has rejected this form of negotiation and what government must do now is to sign the agreement reached at the Gamaliel Onosode-led re-negotiation committee so that ASUU can call its members back from the strike action and for academic activities to resume.
We Nigerian students will not accept a situation where the federal government continues to dilly-dally on this issue while we waste away at home. We support the demands of the all the staff unions on strike including ASUU, SSANU and NASU and call on the Federal government to sign and implement agreement with all these unions so that we can resume.