By Temiloluwa Erinle
At the time of publication, it’s the fourth week into the one-month strike issued by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Yet, as we march towards the end of the period of this industrial action, things seem to be falling apart and the strike period might just be extended.
ASUU has avoided contact with the inauguration team for renegotiating the ASUU-FG agreements and its conditions, especially the 2009 pacts.
Inauguration of Renegotiation Committee
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr. Chris Ngige had previously revealed to the press the decision to create another committee, in order to review and redraft the Conditions of Service as contained in the documents of the 2009 agreements. He had also expressed this with optimism that the strike would be called off “soon.”
On Monday, March 7, at the Federal Ministry of Education, Abuja, the Minister of Education, Hon. Adamu Adamu, presided over the inauguration of the committee, to be headed by the Pro-Chancellor of Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Prof. Nimi Briggs and having 6 other pro-chancellor members, each representing a geopolitical zone in the nation.
He especially appealed “to this re-constituted committee to double its effort towards concluding the assignment and producing realistic and workable draft agreements that would holistically tackle the challenges confronting the education sector and reposition it to effectively play its very important role in national development.”
Terms of Reference for the New Committee
During the ceremony, the 7-man committee was tasked with the following Terms of Reference:
- Liaise and consult with relevant stakeholders to finalise the position of the Federal Government to the issues in the draft proposed FGN/ASUU Renegotiated Agreement;
- Renegotiate in realistic and workable terms the 2009 Agreements with other University-Based Unions;
- Negotiate and recommend any other issue the committee deems relevant to reposition the NUS for global competitiveness; and
- Submit proposed draft agreements within three months from the date of inauguration.
Adamu promised full support from the Federal Government and expressed his trust in the committee’s proven competence to carry out the outlined duties duly.
No ASUU Representatives at the Ceremony
In what could become a predictor of increasing tensions, ASUU sent no representatives to affirm the inauguration. Indeed it refused, in a decrying manner, to take part in any renegotiations.
According to the National President of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodoke, “There is nothing unimplementable in that agreement. When the agreement was being signed, were those in the government team blindfolded or charmed? The agreement passed through all the strata of government. Let us even assume that it was signed before the present regime came into office, we all know that government is a continuum. Moreover, the current government set up a committee in 2017 to see to the implementation of the agreement and nothing was raised about it then. Did they now just wake up?”
“As far as we are concerned, we don’t know any team or have anything to do with any other team than the 2017 team and to continue from where we stopped. If the government has changed one or two persons from their team, that is their problem,” he said, speaking to the Vanguard, on March 5, in an exclusive interview.
Citing cases when the Federal Government bailed out of bankruptcy banks, power-generating and power-distributing companies, he believed the government was capable of bailing out tertiary education, which is in great decline. “Why can’t the government commit just a fraction of the funds being committed into those disgraceful ventures to the education sector, ” he said.
Though it would seem that the current economic crisis in which the nation is embroiled warrants a revision of the agreements, he said the government are not getting their priorities right, and are capable of heeding to ASUU’s fund request.
Ngige Refutes ASUU’s Stance
Meanwhile, talking on Channels Television’s Politics Today program last week, Ngige defended the Federal Government’s decision to reconstitute a renegotiation team. As one of his points was that the academic union had submitted an interim report on conditions of service which was rejected by the National Salaries, Incomes & Wages Commission (NSIWC). “Because the things they have in there, in terms of allowances, were contrary to existing extant financial regulations,” he said.
The public, especially students, await the next ASUU-FG meeting and its results. The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has declared unrest for the nation should the strike continue beyond the initial duration. However, given the alleged failure by ASUU to create a working alternative payment platform and the developing conflicts of interest highlighted herein, the ropes might remain stretched for an unfortunate while.