BY CHRIS OCHAYI,
AbujaIndication that the ongoing industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would be prolong emerged yesterday as the Federal Government backed out of further re-negotiations with the body, opting to henceforth, negotiate with individual University Councils and their appropriate staff unions.
The leader, Federal Government/ASUU Re-negotiating Committee, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode who stated this at a media briefing in Abuja, explained that, the individual negotiation was in view of the autonomy already granted the universities, which empowers them to negotiate directly with the government on issues concerning wages and salaries.
He said, that definitive step has been taken by the government on the issue of funding of the varsities in the country in order to improve on infrastructural and instructional facilities and staff development. Deacon Onosode who also released details of the Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure (CONTISS) for the Senior Staff Association of Universities (SSANU), explained, that henceforth, individual universities will exercise their negotiating power instead of ASSU.
Already, some analysts have seen the governmentâ€™s new position as a deliberate attempt to disband the national umbrella body from all the Federal Universities in the country.
Onosode also confirmed earlier report that the benchmark for the salary increment for the Federal Universities has been pegged at 40 per cent, as it could not implement the earlier agreement reached by the both parties.
Although he was initially secretive about the exact offer the government had made, he was later compelled by the inquisitive journalists to announce the exact amount. However, ASUU was not represented at the meeting, a development Deacon Onosode described as unfortunate, noting, â€œunfortunately we invited ASUU to this meeting and they did not come.â€
He said, ASUU was contacted but at a very short notice, adding, â€œI called the president of ASUU on phone and he told me that he was somewhere near Asaba, Delta State. The notice was necessarily short because we wanted to ensure the matter was brought to this conclusion within the time lagâ€. He also claimed that the re-negotiation dragged on for two reasons; firstly to get the government position and secondly, the withdrawal of ASUU from the negotiation.
According to him, â€œon the 14th of September, 2007, after several months of rigorous negotiation, the re-negotiation committee provisionally agreed a consolidated salary structure for Academics in the Nigerian University System which reflected the reconciled version of the various inputs made by both teams.
â€œOn 28th of November, 2007, I forwarded to his Excellency, Mr. President, through the minister of education, a request that Mr. President consider and approve the provisional agreed Consolidated Salary Structure, for Academic Staff of the Nigerian University System.
â€œOn July, 2009, I was authoritatively informed by the minister of Labour that the Federal Government had taken a final position on the salaries of staff of federal universities. This information was officially conveyed to me, in writing, on 9th July 2009 by the permanent Secretary of Ministry of Educationâ€.
â€œI considered it most desirable to reconvene without delay the Re_negotiation Committee now that I had received my Principalâ€™s definitive reaction to the provisionally agreed salaries. The purpose of this meeting, therefore, is to afford me, in my capacity as leader of Government Team, the opportunity to represent to you the Academic Staff Salaries that are acceptable to the Federal Government as affordable and sustainable.
â€œIn the light of governmentâ€™s current position on University Autonomy and Academic freedom as set out in the university (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003 as gazetted on the 12th of January, 2007 the proposed salaries and other matters covered by the provisional draft Agreement which was initialled by both team leaders, for identification purpose, are now to concluded by individual university Councils with their appropriate Staff Unionsâ€.
He stressed further â€œdefinitive action has already been taken by government on the issue of funding, with a view to improving university infrastructural and instructional facilities and staff development through the Education Trust Fund (ETF). The relevant Bill he said is currently before the National Assembly.