The suspension of industrial action by university teachers on the basis of mere promissory notes from the government and a lack of resolution on outstanding issues is proving to be a bitter pill to swallow for members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, or ASUU.
At post-settlement emergency meetings of ASUU branches held in all public universities, members expressed their anger and apprehension over the way in which the month-long strike was called off, as well as its outcomes.
Among the sources of unhappiness is the lack of regional university representation on the government’s negotiation team. The team is traditionally composed of pro-chancellors from both regional and federal universities, which means that all agreements are legally binding and implemented at the same time.
However, in this case, there were no representatives from any of the over 30 regional public universities on the government side of the negotiation team. This is despite the fact that all members of public universities actively participated in the strike.
In addition, regional or state universities received only a single mention in the signed Memorandum of Action or MAC, as follows:
“State Universities: Recognising the concurrence of education in the Constitution of the Federal Republic; and bearing in mind the utmost need to uphold the quality of education in the country, the Federal Ministry of Education would ensure that the National University Commission carries out its regulatory functions.
Also the Minister of Education will present a memo to the National Council of States and the National Economic Council to draw attention of the governors to the problem of the education sector regarding the proliferation of tertiary institutions especially the universities without adequately funding the existing ones."
John Lamido, senior lecturer in political science at the University of Gombe, Gombe State, said he was curious as to how the union’s negotiation team could have accepted the invocation of the constitution in respect of state universities.
“Yes, education is under the concurrent list. However, where salaries, allowances and other perks meant for the governors and legislators of 36 states of the federation are concerned, it is the Revenue Mobilisation Commission set up by the federal government that determines all the privileges for the political class of all states. Now that it is the issue of the rights of state universities, the federal government is invoking constitutional issues," he said.
"What is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. ASUU must reopen discussions on the plight of the state universities at the next meeting with the government negotiation team,” he said.
State universities in Nigeria consider themselves to be in a difficult position owing to what is considered a proliferation of state universities at the directive of state executive governors.
A pro-vice-chancellor of a state university in the Southern region, who requested anonymity, described the proliferation of state universities without adequate funding as a “tragedy” which was producing unemployable graduates.
On the strike settlement, he said: “I am disappointed by the so-called Memorandum of Action signed by ASUU and the federal government. Unfortunately, it contains only promissory notes which are not legally binding. Nigeria is currently sitting on a social time bomb of hungry and angry graduates. It may explode anytime."
The MAC contains promissory notes pertaining to the following issues:
- Funding for the revitalisation of public universities
- Earned academic allowances
- Pension Scheme provisions
- Payment of salaries of professors upon retirement
- Staff schools
- Salary shortfalls
- A single treasury account.
None of these items were fully resolved because the government pleaded for more time to look into the issues and consult relevant agencies.
According to information given to University World News, the intervention of Ayuba Wabba, president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, was required at one point during the negotiations after the ASUU team threatened to abandon the talks.
During the talks ASSU member Professor Biodun Ogunyemi also expressed frustration at the failure of government to respond to ASUU’s communications relating to the problems facing the public universities.
Despite the ructions, the union acceded to an appeal by Labour Minister and government negotiating team leader Dr Chris Ngige to suspend the strike and return to work in the overall interests of the students and their parents.
According to delegates, Wabba advised ASUU to give in to the government’s proposal as a tactical move to gain public sympathy, and suggested they reserve the right to resume industrial action if the government reneges on its promises.
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