By Temiloluwa Erinle
Delegates of the Federal Government of Nigeria, led by Mr Chris Ngige, together with ASUU representatives met on Tuesday, March 2, 2022 in Abuja. The purpose was to discuss unresolved issues revolving around the current strike.
This week makes it the third week into the one-month strike issued by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), since February 14. This is the second meeting between the two parties since the strike was declared.
Recall that as far back as October 2020, ASUU had started to remind the public about its uncancelled strike which began few weeks before the nationwide lockdown.
Also, the association declared an indefinite strike on March 23, same year. Negotiations resumed, and after almost three months of contestation and renegotiations, the strike was “conditionally suspended” two days to Christmas Day.
UTAS Still in Contention
Anyone who followed the trends surrounding the strike in 2020, could easily recall that one of the most contested issues was the payment system through which university lecturers were paid. The university lecturers’ association contended that the payment system hampered university autonomy, stressing the need for an exclusive alternative only for its members.
Therefore, they developed and proposed University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), as a better alternative to the government-mandated Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS). Since then, the payment platform has been undergoing tests for capability and integrity.
As regards this, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr. Chris Ngige at the meeting on Tuesday, remarked that: “UTAS, which the universities developed has been subjected to test by the body responsible for that, Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), which ran a user acceptance test also called integrity and vulnerability test, but in their report, they pointed out to ASUU, the areas of lapses in that platform, which will not make it usable as presently configured.
“But ASUU has written back to NITDA to say that some of those observations were not correct.”
During the meeting, however, it was decided that a technical team comprising NITDA members, ASUU members, and neutral experts would be constituted to carry out additional tests on the payment system. The report of the foresaid analysis is expected to be submitted on March 8.
Renegotiations of Conditions of Service
According to the Minister of Labour, Mr Chris Ngige, a new development has become a major issue, which is the timely reviewal of Conditions of Service. During one FG-ASUU meeting in the year 2009, it was agreed by the Federal Government and ASUU that Nigerian university academics would enjoy certain benefits — “unique conditions of service that would motivate them, like the intellectuals in other parts of the world, to attain greater efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery with regard to teaching, research and community service, and thereby stem the brain drain,” contained in the Memorandum of Agreement created at the end of the meeting.
It was agreed upon, in the 2009 meeting, that a committee would be set up to review the conditions every five years. On this note, Mr. Ngige remarked that: “An agreement was reached in 2009 that their Conditions of Service would be reviewed every five years. It was done in 2014.
“We started one in which the former UNILAG Pro-Chancellor, Wale Babalakin (SAN), was chairing the committee.
“After Babalakin, Prof. Manzali was in charge and the committee came up with a draft document, proposed by the Federal Ministry of Education and ASUU.
“Today, Manzali’s committee has become defunct because many of the people in the committee are no longer pro-chancellors,’’ the minister explained.
But a new committee, he later informed, has been set up “because they needed to have a second look at that document, and make sure, with ASUU’s contribution, some of the allowances are not against the NSIWC’s fixed salaries and allowances.”
Else, “If you do that and propose it to the government, it will not be accepted. So, it is important that they work well. So that whatever they present can be approved by the federal executive council.”
The minister said the new committee set up by the education ministry would submit the conclusions of their analysis in six weeks’ time.
With optimism the minister shared that many of the items in the 2020 Memorandum of Action, whose creation led to the suspension of the strike in 2020, had been thoroughly dealt with and almost all have been settled. On Wednesday, after meeting with the president, he said the federal government had so far paid over N92 billion as earned allowances and revitalisation fee to federal-owned universities across the country, which were core parts of ASUU’s request list in 2020. He expressed belief that the strike would end very soon, before the end of the one-month duration assigned to it.
Meanwhile, ASUU representatives refused to comment much after the meeting on Tuesday, only revealing the intention to get back to its members and gather votes concerning the association’s next decisions. However, many Twitter posts claim that the meeting ended in deadlock.