By Emmanuel Edukugho
The public university system, comprising over 53 federal and state universities that were shut for more than three months, bounced back to academic activities when the Federal Government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) finally signed an agreement both parties reached last week in Abuja.
While Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, National President of ASUU signed on behalf of the Union Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, leader of the government negotiating team and Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), Chairman, Committee of Pro-chancellors, signed on behalf of the Federal Government.
Awuzie had declared after the signing: â€œEvery human society is dynamic. We have made commitment in writing. We hope every party to that agreement will keep its own part. When these are done, there will be progress.
No academic went into University to go on strike but we cannot allow the system to decay. We are going to pursue the next stage, which is the implementation of the agreement. Signing of agreement is one thing, implementing it is another. We are hoping all parties will keep their parts.â€
The agreement will last till 2012 when it would be reviewed. Some components of the Agreement are as follows:
Funding of Universities
The agreement does not give financial autonomy to the Universities but has made certain prescriptions that will enhance administrative autonomy for smooth and effective running of the institutions from departmental to council levels.
The Agreement prescribed UNESCOâ€™s recommended minimum of 26% of the national budget to education by both state and federal governments. About 18% should be allocated to education in 2010 budget and a progressive increase of budgetary allocation to education sector in accordance with Vision 20:2020.
The Agreement contains, in addition to the constitutionally backed assistance to state universities, a provision for a new direction of Education Trust Fund (ETF) intervention in Higher Education, access to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), among others.
Conditions of service/salary
Although government seemed to have raised the salary of university lecturers to 50% from the previous 40% granted before this agreement which the union had rejected because salary was not the main concern, no â€œpercentageâ€ issue was discussed at the last meeting with government.
The Negotiating Committee, to address the brain drain, obtained information relating to the movement of Nigerian academics to other African countries such as South Africa, Ghana, Botswana as well as the developed countries. It decided that in the present context, it was desirable and achievable to attach the remuneration of Nigerian 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 anum, 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.
Federal High Court Judge – N26,875,840; Local Government Supervisory Councillor – N12,746,875.00; Federal House Member – N35,932,346.30; Senator – N36,677,840.00.
But the Agreement with government does not address the brain drain in a way that will significantly reduce the threat to development of Nigeria. The issue was yet unresolved as government failed to meet up with the demand for â€œAfrican Averageâ€ on the salary increase.
Seventy years was agreed as the retirement age for professors.
On University Autonomy
There was no financial autonomy given to universities, recognising the fact that no Nigerien University generates the bulk of its funding to individually determine the remuneration of staff.
There will be autonomy in the appointment of vice chancellors. What was reached by the Negotiating 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 and the National Universities (NUC) Act 2004.
These would be presented to the National Assembly without prejudice to any other proposals that might be brought or have been brought to the National Assembly.
The current agreement is meant to establish and recommend minimum standards/benchmarks for the Nigerian University system.
The agreement on salary was also not compelling on state governments. Establishing minimum is justified because Nigeria operates a single university system, a single system of accreditation by NUC, a single standard of entry by JAMB, and a cross flow of academic staff throughout the system based on a single system, not a multiple system of standards.
Therefore, what the union negotiated was a minimum benchmark state governments that cannot fund their universities to meet the benchmark set up in the agreement will find that they cannot survive in the system. But the Agreement is bunding on states too.
On collective bargaining
ASUU had insisted that the federal government has no right or power to unilaterally terminate the process of collective bargaining, nor change the structure/procedure/framework of the collective bargaining process.
In violation of a principle, the Federal Government has been insisting that no agreement will be signed centrally though,Â negotiation was central and that negotiation should be transferred to individual councils.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) rule requires that the frame work of negotiation must be a result of consultation and agreement between the two parties.