By Chris Ochayi
ABUJA â€” Striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) yesterday rejected the 40% salary increase package offered it by the Federal Government, and insisting on full implementation of all the demands contained in the agreement reached with the Federal Government.
President of ASUU, Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie who stated this at a press conference in Abuja, accused the Federal Government of unilaterally aborting efforts putting into the negotiation, which, according to him, started over 20 months ago.
He said the present administration led by Alhaji Umaru Yarâ€™Adua lacked power to abolish an agreement signed legitimately by its predecessor.
According to him, â€œall previous negotiations between the Federal Government and ASUU had established a negotiated baseline which individual councils were free to improve upon, and the 2006-2009 negotiation was meant to achieve sameâ€, warning, â€œthe unilateral pronouncement by the Minister of Labour is therefore not acceptable to ASUUâ€.
â€œThe Federal Governmentâ€™s refusal to conclude the negotiation amounts to an invalid, unilateral abortion of the 2001 agreement, since as evidenced by the government document, the 2006 exercise was a re-negotiation of the legitimate 2001 agreementâ€, he said.
He pointed out that, â€œby aborting the negotiation process, the Minister of Labour has no answer to the problem of Brain Drain other than blame those who left the country for lack of patriotism.
â€œNigerians and the general public need to be correctly informed that the figures that were agreed upon in the agreement that the federal government is denying as salaries of academics were a result of date collected from different African countries and the average arrived at after a rigorous analysis.
â€œUnfortunately, that is what government has rubbished by giving a unilateral award of 40 per cent which undermines the basic objective of stemming the brain drainâ€.
He explained that, â€œgoing by the unilateral 40 per cent increase, the earnings of a professor are lower than those of a local government councillor and less than half of the salary of a Permanent Secretaryâ€.
Linking the current approach by this administration to that of draconian regime of the former military despot, the late General Sani Abacha, the ASUU President declared that, â€œit was expected that under a civilian regime, Nigeria would cease to experience industrial autocracyâ€.
He recalled that, â€œthe abortion of collective bargaining was attempted in 1996 when General Sani Abacha terminated negotiation with Professor Umaru Shehuâ€™s Negotiation Team and asked individual ASUU branches to negotiate with their councilsâ€.
He said, â€œthe military dictator soon found out that this was futile. It is sad the in 2009, thirteen years after, under a civilian regime, the same autocratic and futile action is going onâ€, adding, â€œagain, ASUU will not accept industrial autocracyâ€.
He insisted that, â€œour Union and rights of Unions to collective bargaining is not negotiable. Our commitment to one university system as a whole is irrevocable and our collective bargaining procedure and its outcome commit no constitutional violationâ€.
Prof. Awuzie stressed further that, â€œour determination to struggle to stem the brain drain is a patriotic duty which we shall not abandon. We shall not succumb to blackmail.
Accusing the Federal Government of treading a path that has never worked, ASUU vowed it would not allow those who want to kill the public university system to achieve their aimâ€.