By Emmanuel Edukugho
Precisely on the 22nd of June, 2009, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) declared a total and indefinite strike action which completely paralysed academic activities in 52 federal and state universities.
The background of the persistent and unending crisis is the consistent neglect and refusal by the Federal Government to pay necessary attention to Education particularly the public university system which is at the verge of collapse.
Also is the need to restore the glory of Nigerian Universities and reverse the decay and brain drain to other African countries, Europe and America.
But specifically the issues at stake in the current disputation are: (1) Salaries and condition of service, (2) Proper funding of Universities, (3) Autonomy and Academic Freedom, (4) Other Matters.
Agreements were reached on all the issues through the principle of collective bargaining. Provision was made for a 3-year periodic review intended to monitor the implementation of the Agreements and effect a systematic improvement of the University system.
The review was also meant to address the violation of the non-victimisation clause in the 2001 Agreement that resulted in the illegal sack of 49 lecturers at University of Ilorin.
The cause of the latest crisis which has entered the 9th week is the Federal Governmentâ€™s intention to unilaterally terminate the collective bargaining process that it began with ASUU on December 14th, 2006 with a full mandate to its negotiating team to sign an agreement with the union on conditions of service, Funding, Institutional Autonomy, Academic Freedom and other items.
According to the letter of invitation to the inauguration of the FGN/ASUU Renegotiation Committee by the Minister of Education (December, 2006) which states: â€œIt was agreed that a comprehensive review of the Agreement including allowances shall be undertaken every three years,â€ I am directed to invite you and your team for the inaugural ceremony of the committee on Wednesday, 1st November, 2006, in the conference room of Ministry of Education.
The Terms of Reference (TOR) as contained in section 2.2 of the Agreement are as follows:
(i) Funding of Universities
(ii) Basic Salary
(iii) University Autonomy and Academic Freedom
(iv) Other Matters
Then on 3rd April, 2008, letter Ref: NUC/ES/138/XLIV/544 by Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, Chairman, FGN/ASUU Renegotiating Teams, 2006 to President, ASUU:
â€œI wish to confirm that in the context of the current renegotiation, I have the full mandate of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) to discuss and sign an agreement on the issues set out in items 1-4 on page 3 of your letter.â€
On Funding: The re-negotiating committee did its own share of painstaking evaluation of a special sub-committee set up to identify, collate, analyse and present data to the Negotiating Committee on the funding requirements of the Nigerian University system. It reached a consensus on the quantum of funds required in the University system in the next three years.
On conditions of service:
Taking cognizance of the brain drain with the movement of Nigerian academics to other countries the Negotiating Committee decided that in the present context, it was â€œdesirable and achievableâ€ to attach the remuneration of Nigerian academics to the attainment of the remuneration of academics in selected African countries with which Nigeria competes for the recruitment of academic staff.
It was noted that the present salary of a professor in Nigerian Universities is N3,859,078.60 per annum, while a Local Government Chairman earns N13.9 million, a permanent secretary, an Executive secretary, a chief executive of parastatals and a Vice Chancellor earns N22 million per year. Senator N36,677,840.00 Federal House member 35,932,846,30, Federal High Court Judge N26,875,840.00, Local Government Supervisory Councillor N12,746,875.00).
The only major agreements reached by the Negotiation Committee were on proposed amendments to the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Act, 2004, the National Universities Commission Act 2007, and the Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act 2004.
In January 2009, after over two years of negotiation, the Negotiating Teams reached an agreement initialed by Deacon Gamaliel Onosode (Leader of Governmentâ€™s Team) and Prof Ukachukwu Awuzie (Leader of ASUU Team).
The formal signing was to be arranged. On May 12, 2009, ASUU was invited for signing. But the leader of the Government Team said he had no mandate to sign.
From 18th to 30th May, 2009, ASUU went on a warning strike, but Government did not invite the union for signing.
ASUU consequently began a strike on June 22nd, 2009 to get the Government to honour the mandate it had given at the beginning of negotiation in 2007, that is, to negotiate and sign an Agreement with ASUU.
The Federal Government resorted to â€œarbitrariness and unilaterialism foreign to the principles of collective bargaining.
On July 10, 2009, Deacon Onosode announced to the public that (1) the Federal Government has taken a final position on the salaries of staff of Federal Universities; and (2) negotiations were to be concluded at the level of individual university councils.
By this, the Federal Government had decided to unilaterally terminate the negotiation that, started in 2006 and replace it with arbitrary pronouncements and awards.
Government said it has raised academic staff salaries by 40% which ASUU rejected. It went on to allege that the lecturers demanded for 109% salary increase.
ASUU National President, Prof. Uchachukwu Awuzie reacted thus:
â€œThis is to say the least, a sad development coming from the Federal Executive Council as it is a bundle of misinformation and calculated attempt to trivialize the essence and spirit of the negotiation that lasted for two and half years. For the Minister of Information and Communication to say that ASUU was demanding for 109% pay rise is to say the least, a mischief calculated to mislead the Nigerian people.â€
So far, negotiations have come to a halt, with the leader of the Government Team and Chairman of the Renegotiation Committee, Deacon Onosode saying that government has pulled out of the renegotiation exercise.
In the view of ASUU, â€œthere are some forces in the Government bent on frustrating the emergence of a centrally signed Agreement with ASUU. These forces are aware that no agreement will be signed at individual council levels the councils do not have the financial means of implementing the funding requirements.â€
According to Awuzie, â€œAbacha tried it and failed. It is amazing that a civilian government is attempting to impose it. In fact, these forces are courting a more serious industrial crisis at the branch levels, apart from the essential disabilities of councils.â€
ASUU says its position remains the same consistent with the principle of collective Bargaining:
The Negotiating Teams should discuss all remaining contentious issues raised by either party, agree upon them, and thereafter sign an agreement.
â€œAlthough the Federal Government Team pulled out of the negotiation, our union is still ready to return to the negotiating table and would wish this to happen soonest for the good of our students, their parents, the university education system and the good of the people of Nigeriaâ€, Awuzie declared.