Disagreements between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) now appear unending, unfortunately
Virtually every administration in the current democratic dispensation has had to grapple with matters that relate to various agitations originating from the ivory tower. Not surprisingly, anytime these two “elephants” fight, the “grasses” under them, especially in the form of students, usually suffer.
Since the most recent strike by ASUU started on November 5, at least seven meetings have taken place between the two parties. While that clearly demonstrates their desire to reach common grounds, a lot more ought to have been achieved within the period.
Happily though, ASUU’s willingness to allow its members to work as ad hoc workers in the forthcoming general election, albeit in their individual capacities, indicates that it might not be belligerent after all.
Much can be learnt from those fruitful discussions between the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, and ASUU, led by its National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi.
Even with the tense atmosphere occasioned by the present face-off, the statements of the heads of federal government and university lecturers, namely Dr. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour, and Prof. Ogunyemi, after their January 7 meeting are fair representations of their intentions and interests.
Ngige was upbeat about reconciliation prospects: “ASUU has fulfilled its own side of the bargain in terms of the Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company, which is the pension fund company floated by the union to take care of pensions of those in the university system. Pension regulators have given certain conditions to be fulfilled… On the issue of state universities’ funding, we have agreed at the last meeting to set up a consultative committee to interact with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and authorities of state universities to make sure that funding is not the problem. The initial seven-man committee is now enlarged to accommodate the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of State Universities.
“On service shortfall in the universities, the Ministry of Finance and Office of Accountant General have provided evidence that on December 31, 2018, more than N15.3bn was remitted to accommodate payment of short fall in all tertiary institutions that the Presidential Initiative of Continuous Audit verified. On the issue of earned allowances, they showed evidence that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved N20bn out of about N105bn to be used to offset the outstanding arrears of 2009 to 2012 audit verified earnings in the universities. It will be released as soon as the processes are completed. The rest will be paid in tranches.
“We also discussed the issue of revitalisation which the last regime entered into with ASUU with a payment of N220bn annually for six years starting from 2009. That arrangement has not been fulfilled. Government being continuous, this government has agreed to source for funding. We have offered ASUU some token to show good faith. ASUU is satisfied with what the Ministry of Education is doing on the issue of visitation panel. We have it on good authority that the panel will in the next fortnight visit the universities to see what has been done.”
On his part, Ogunyemi put his colleagues’ stand thus: “Our members said they want to see evidence of satisfactory implementation of all they have proposed before the strike can be called off. As for the proposal, it can be disaggregated. There are items there that require implementation. If they are setting up a committee on state universities, and they actually do, it is not something we need to agree on. It is about action. If they have implemented it, it is off the list. If the government says it will pay a shortfall of salaries on a certain date, and the date comes and they release the money, it is also implementation. There is no agreement on the matter.
“On the revitalisation fund, we presented to the government that five tranches of N220bn each were outstanding. The government has not said it will release one, even if it is spread over a period of one year. There is no agreement on that. What they are offering is not even up to one tranche. Last year, they promised to release the fund but they did not till November when the strike began. Long story short, our members are saying they do not want promises again; what they want is action, implementation or disbursement of funds. The government must act in a way to convince the union that agreement has not been set aside; to show that government has not set aside the agreement, they should release one tranche. They said they would pay the shortfall of salary arrears of what was removed from workers’ salaries…”
For us to resolve this matter, adjustment of positions by both sides is required. In an article titled “Compromise, Negotiate, Mediate: 3 Factors for Conflict Resolution”, Tris Thorpe, a Vedic educator and leadership coach, explains the centrality of concession to settlement of differences.
According to her, while negotiating, each side should avoid assuming righteous postures, and also that whenever other avenues to resolve issues are explored without success, mediation becomes inevitable, especially in situations where the desire to end the dispute is mutual.
Her words: “Compromise is a critical component for any healthy relationship. Without the willingness to compromise, it is nearly impossible to find a middle ground where both sides are feeling recognized, heard, and appreciated. Whenever you find yourself at an impasse with another person, this is a good time to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to be right or do I want to have peace?’
“Be open and flexible in your willingness to compromise and recognize that each person will be giving something up in order to meet on common ground. Compromise is not a sign of weakness or giving in. Rather, it demonstrates emotional intelligence, integrity, and character. Compromise helps both sides to find a win-win and you may even come up with creative solutions that neither of you had considered before.”
The government and teachers should now demonstrate a good sense of accommodation. ASUU needs to consider the weak state of the nation’s purse as the other party attempts to address the needful. After all, at stake is the future of Nigeria, something both sides profess to enhance and protect.
By Stanley Chidi Ebube
Ebube, Public Affairs Analyst, writes from Abuja