By Owei Lakemfa
USUALLY, it is workers who are accused of working out of negotiations or refusing to negotiate. But the Federal Government (FG) has made a dubious contribution to the industrial relations system by breaking off negotiations it has been having with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) since December 2006.
Deacon Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode, the Chairman of the FG/ASUU Renegotiation Committee claimed that government decision is due to the ASUU strike.
Ironically, a few days before, government had announced a determined effort to conclude negotiations which will end the strike within two weeks. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan who led the government in a meeting with ASUU on Tuesday August 4, 2009 gave an ultimatum to both ASUU and the Government Negotiating team to conclude all negotiations within two weeks.
What Onosodeâ€™s announcement means is that the Vice President has been over ruled and rather than conclude the negotiations, the Government team pulled out!
The excuse that theÂ ASUU strike is the reason is childish; Government was aware that the ASUU strike was on before it gave the ultimatum and the Vice President who announced the ultimatum did not make the strike call off a precondition for concluding the negotiations.
Those who think they have humiliated the Vice President should be smart enough to realize that it is the entire Yarâ€™Adua administration that is being humiliated not the person of Goodluck.
Also humiliated was Deacon Onosode a man with a very rich background in management, personnel management and corporate governance.
In1964, he was Company Secretary of the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank. Onosode has been Chairman of Cadbury, Dunlop and the Nigerian Institute of Management.
So he knows and understands fully what Collective Bargaining is. Also, having been in government including as Special Economic Adviser to then President Olusegun Obasanjo, he knows the inner workings of government.
Striding both the corporate and government worlds, the Deacon knows that in heading the Government Negotiating Team, first, he needs a mandate; secondly he needs to consult his principals before reaching agreements on their behalf. On both, he scored one hundred per cent.
Apart from the mandate he got in 2006 from the Obasanjo government, he renewed it under the Yarâ€™ Adua administration on June 26, 2007.
Even during negotiations, Onosode briefed his principals. After the team reached a provisional agreement with the ASUU on a â€œConsolidated Salary Structure for Academics in the Nigerian University systemâ€ on September 14, 2007, Onosode the experienced technocrat wrote President Yarâ€™Adua. In the November 28, 2007 letter, he requested that
â€œMr. President consider and approveâ€ the new University salary structure.
Now, after about three years of chairing the negotiations and receiving approval on agreement reached with ASUU, Onosode who had been hurried back from his foreign trip to conclude the â€œnegotiationsâ€ faced the nation to announce his team is withdrawing from negotiations. Why would a system Onosode has served diligently and truthfully since his youth, turn round to so humiliate him in his old age?
Again, the shame is not really on Onosode but the Federal Government; a government that has taken a series of confused steps that revealed the fact that as far as industrial relations go, the Yarâ€™Adua administrations is vacant.
After the conclusion of negotiations, rather than sign the Collective Agreement, government sought to establish an inter-ministerial team to review an agreement it had not signed. Then it embarked on blackmail; that three out of four agreements with ASUU have been â€œimplementedâ€ In this, it tried to portray the lecturers as a greedy bunch who after getting 75 per cent of their demands are still not satisfied.
It then conjured up a lasting solution; instruct the Labour Minister to use his power to refer the matter to arbitration, and then get the arbitration court to order ASUU back to work. This scheme failed.
Then government argued that the Councils, not government are the direct employers of the lecturers, so ASUU should approach each Council for negotiations. If this were true, why did government spend the last three years negotiating with ASUU? In any case, this strategy collapsed because the University Councils are part of the Government Negotiating Team.
Then an idea occurred to government; since it cannot get student leaders to pressurize ASUU, why not assemble former student leaders to do the job? The meeting between them and government held, but the plan leaked, so they had to hold a meeting with ASUU also, and with that the investment on them became a waste.
The basic problem is that while government is the largest employer, it sees itselfÂ only as a sovereign entity and therefore approaches collective bargaining with the normal arrogance of governmental authority; of Law and order; power and intimidation; condescension and arrogance.