The events of the last few weeks featuring the sad demise of the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Umar Yaradua and culminating in the emergence of a new President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, have been quite momentous.
TEXT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE ACADEMIC STAFF UNION OF UNIVERSITIES (ASUU) PROFESSOR UKACHUKWU AWUZIE, fnia AT THE END OF THE 16TH NATIONAL DELEGATES CONFERENCE OF THE UNION HELD AT THE BENUE STATE UNIVERSITY, 15TH €“ 16TH MAY, 2010.
Gentlemen of the Press,
It is my pleasure to welcome you all to this forum arranged by our Union to share our views with you and through you, with our fellow countrymen and women.
The events of the last few weeks featuring the sad demise of the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Umar Yaradua and culminating in the emergence of a new President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, have been quite momentous. They have no doubt altered various calculations and equations in our body polity but have not erased the deep-seated problems which have confronted our people these many years. While we appreciate the fact that the country has been able to survive the recent challenges, in spite of their complication by various factors and forces, we must warn that the emergence of a new leadership does not necessarily translate to the solution of existing problems. It is therefore our wish to draw attention to some of these problems, lest we forget the urgency which they desire.
The 2009 Government-ASUU Agreement
The Union wishes to draw the attention of the public to the slow pace of implementation of the October 22, 2009 Agreement reached between the Union and the Government of Nigeria. When we signed the Agreement, our hope was that it would form the basis for a rejuvenation of both the Federal and State Universities.
The Agreement recommends a progressive funding of education by both Federal and State Governments until the UNESCO benchmark of 26% annual budgetary allocation to education is attained. Unfortunately, there is no evidence, given the 2010 budget which is just above 8%, that the various government are willing to honour this section of the Agreement. We wish to alert Nigerian people to the fact that the poor performance of the education sector which manifests in the low quality of school graduates at all levels is a product of the lukewarm attitude of Government to proper funding of Education.
That Agreement is but a benchmark for sustaining the ideals of one university system in Nigeria in terms of academic standard, entry requirements, funding, conditions of service, autonomy and academic freedom. It is regrettable that many State Governments are either too slow or unwilling to implement the various aspects of the agreement, especially the issue of condition of service and funding. This failure tends to create an unnecessary dichotomy between state and federal universities and would not augur well for the Nigerian University System which, in the first place, has the same minimum standards administered by the same commission, the NUC.
Pension for University Academic Staff and Compulsory Retirement Age.
The non-implementation of the section of the agreement dealing with 70 years retirement age, pension and gratuity to our members has become a major source of inconvenience. Some of our members who have now attained the age of 65 have not been permitted to continue with their service until they reach the age of 70 years as stipulated in the Agreement. Various Universities give the excuse that the relevant laws have not been amended. Yet the Agreement came into effect for that purpose nearly six months now and those of our affected members have been facing uncertainty in the future of their career.
In spite of the Supreme Court ruling on the illegality visisted on 49 of our members at the University of Ilorin, the authorities of that University have failed to obey the courts orders on the financial entitlements of those members. We wish to draw the attention of the Nigerian people to the continued show of impunity by the University of Ilorin and to request that Unilorin authorities should do the right thing, immediately and give peace a chance.
Worsening Existential Conditions of Nigerians
As we approach fifty years of political independence, it is sad to find that our collective existence as a nation is still threatened by the insistence of a corrupt, unpatriotic and visionless political class on perpetuating the implementation of the neo-liberal, anti-people policies of the psst two or so decades.
Since 1989, the implementation of World Bank and IMF inspired social and economic policies has brought the nation to its knees. These policies have no doubt led to the accumulation of massive wealth by a few individuals; but they have also intensified poverty, brought untold hardships on families and households across the nation, leading in many instances, to intense social conflicts, the likes of which have not been seen since the end of the civil war.
More specifically, data from national and international organizations show that poverty rates are between 50-70% of the population living below N150.00 a day, a situation that is much lower in rural areas. In the twenty years or so since the beginning of the implementation of those neo-liberal reforms, Nigerias rank on the Human Development Index changed only marginally, rising from 0.438 to 0.511 from 1999-2009. This places the country as the 158th of a total number of 182 countries for which data is available. This means that Nigeria is well behind Lesotho (ranked 150th) and Uganda (ranked 157th). Life expectancy (pegged at 47.7 years is behind that of Mali (pegged at 48 years). Mozambique (47.83 years) and just better than that of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Pegged at 47.6 years).
Human poverty has not just expanded but also intensified rising from 46% in 1996 to 76% in 2009, with over 77% of urban residents living in slums. This is testimony that both broad macro-economic and more specific measures being implemented as the main ranks of the neo-liberal reform have not only failed; they have woefully done so.
Our Union has consistently said and forcefully demonstrated that the policies of deregulation and privatization together constitute an assault on the people of Nigeria. Such policies are nothing but a capitulation complicity by successive regimes to consign Nigeria to slavery.
Our Union opposes and will continue to oppose slavery and recolonization. It challenges and will continue to challenge the impoverishment of our people and the policies of deregulation and privatization.
Anxiety and Fear Over 2011
In a few months time, Nigeria will be going into the 2011 general election to elect leaders who will be directing the nations affairs. Yet, there are indications that the country is not ready to conduct a free and fair election in 2011. There has, for instance, been no credible move to implement the Justice Uwais Committee Report. All that Nigerian people have been confronted with have been motions without movement €“ tinkering with the report while attempts are made to expunge the very important aspects of the same report.
While it makes a lot of sense to remove the INEC Chairperson, Prof. Maurice Iwu, the cleansing must include the removal and replacement of all the Commissioners for they were all complicits. People can no longer be deceived by mere tokenism. The cleansing of the electoral system must be thorough and wholistic and must involve the full adoption and implementation of the Uwais Report.
The Union wishes to make it clear that it will continue to collaborate with NLC, LASCO and other Civil Society Organizations in a struggle for actualization of the electoral reforms. The Union also strongly condemns the unfortunate statement recently credited to the Senate President that the Uwais Report is neither the Quaran nor the Bible. Mr. Senate President should know that the Uwais Report is a product of consultation amongst a wide spectrum of Nigerian people, and commands more credibility than whatever tinkering the National Assembly might want to do. It is therefore, regrettable that a €˜representative of the people can dismiss with a wave of the hand the collective yearning of those he claims to represent. The Union therefore calls on all public official to show some restraint in their public utterances.
Unification/Centralization of Salary Structure
Recently, the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, GCON alluded to the intention of the Federal Government to unify salary structures across the country. Components of this plan include leveraging on the advantage of e-payment, indexing of the salaries of all Nigerian workers and abolition of wage differentials between workers of the same sectors, etc.
In our view, the rationale for wage centralization is flawed because it does not address the fundamental problems that give rise to industrial disharmony in Nigeria. The Nigerian worker is the most devalued and debased compared with her counterparts in other countries of the world. Operating under these debilitating conditions, he has no choice than to continue to ask for improvement.
Consequently, while as a responsible Union, ASUU would be ready to support all progressive measures to stabilize the economy, it must be made abundantly clear that the Union would resolutely resist any attempt to infringe on the rights of its members to unionize and defend their collective interest. The proposed unified salary structure contravenes international conventions on labour rights, the principle of collective bargaining and consequently constitutes a fundamental breach of freedom of association. The government cannot yesterday sign an agreement with ASUU on the basis of these principles and today plan to jettison them. That would be unacceptable.
Poor Funding and the Education Crisis in Nigeria
The recent revelation that only 2 per cent of the total number of candidates that sat for the 2009 NECO examination passed with the five subjects required for entry into Nigerian Universities and other tertiary institutions is a clear testimony to the crisis in the education system in Nigeria. It also vindicates the Academic Staff Union of Universities, as it confirms its position since 1978 that our educational sector has been under intense threat from the combined onslaught of gross underfunding and its attendant inadequacy as well as the decay in infrastructure and poor staffing.
Indeed poor funding is singularly responsible for inadequacy in classroom space and staffing which have led to the perennial violation of the internationally accepted teacher-student-ratio. For, whereas it is internationally accepted (and Nigeria, on paper, subscribes to same) that the teacher-student-ratio should be one teacher to between 35 and 45 students, the practice in Nigeria grossly violates this. In some cases there are as many as 150 students in one class alone. The situation cannot permit the close personal interaction which is required between the teacher and the student to foster excellence.
The consistently poor performance of our Senior Secondary School Students in key University Entrance Examination is a testimony not only to the virtual collapse of and serious systemic crises in our primary and post-primary educational system, but also a measure of the states total lack of seriousness and commitment, in spite of Governments policy pronouncement and grand standing.
These revelations demonstrate in very clear terms that the Federal and State Governments in Nigeria have been both unable and unwilling €“ indeed, they have refused to embark on policies which focus on a sustained path of people-oriented and anti-imperialist national development. Such policies must necessarily be anchored on education as the driving force of national development in spite of denials and false claims by government, the outcries and warnings of several patriotic Nigerians, including our Union, about how education has been totally neglected to the background, have been vindicated.
When recently ASUU warned against the attempt to introduce the Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examination, as it would erode the integrity of polytechnics and colleges of education and deny them high-scoring candidates for admission the Registrar of JAMB counteracted those warnings. It is sad that the same Registrar has confirmed ASUUs fears when he recently admitted to the nation that 80% of the candidates indicated Universities as their first choice.
Our Union wishes to state once again that Government (states and federal) have remained largely insincere about the provision of education for Nigerians. Their insincerity is clearly demonstrated by their conscious policies which starve the educational sector of the necessary funds to develop. For instance, budgetary allocations to the entire educational sector has declined over a thirteen year period (1995-2008) from 7.2% (in 1995), rising to 17.59% in 1997, declining to 7.2% in 2001 and rising slightly to about 7.6% currently. In all these movements, budgetary allocation to education has remained grossly below the accepted minimum of 26% of budgetary allocation to education.
In comparison with and to show the extent to which Nigeria lags far behind most African countries, spending as percentage of GDP (as at 2001) reveals as follows: Angola 4.9%, Cote dIvoire, 5.0%, Ghana, 4.4%, Kenya, 6.5%, Malawi, 5.4%, Mozambique, 4.1%, South Africa, 7.9%, Tanzania 3.4%, and Uganda 2.6%. Nigeria was a shocking and shameful 0.76%, in spite of the fact that it is better resource-endowed and possesses greater capacity to do better towards addressing some of the most fundamental requirements in building a modern, industrial, and knowledge-driven economy. It is significant to note that not one of all the countries that have industrialized in the past 50 or so years, did so without a conscious and deliberate effort to invest in and devote attention to education at all levels, sometimes to the total neglect of other sectors. Furthermore, none of the newly industrialized countries devoted anything below 26% of its budgetary allocations to education.
Whereas, our policy makers continue to demonstrate their firm resolve against proper funding for our educational sector, they find absolutely nothing wrong with thr depleting our scarce foreign reserves by creating the environment which drives our citizens out of Nigeria and into other countries in search of the good education which we have refused to provide for them. It is quite embarrassing that over 70,000 (not 7,000) Nigerian students are paying more than $1bn annually, as tuition fees, to Ghanaian Universities for education. This is not surprising, as Ghana has, for the last 20 or more years been allocating at least 30% of its annual budget to education. And this is exclusive of the amounts accruing to the sector through the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GET Fund).
Gentlemen of the Press, this brings me to the need to sound a timely alarm over the latest threat to the Education Trust Fund (ETF). That fund was established as a result of the FGN-ASUU Agreement of 1992. Right from inception the fund has suffered threats ranging from the reluctance of Government to speedily enact the enabling law, to years of delay in putting in place the necessary structure for its operation, to the introduction of contradictions and distractions in its operations. In all, it has been quite obvious that the business community in collaboration with their agents in Government would stop at nothing to kill or at least render the fund ineffective, as that would save them from parting with any fraction (however small) of the huge profits which they accumulate at the expense of the masses.
The recent move by the Federal Inland Revenue Board to introduce a bill which would increase VAT and scrap the ETF is totally misguided and a further attempt to worsen the already shameful level of funding for the educational sector. If that unfortunate move succeeds, funds which ought to go to education would end up in a common pool which would enable the authorities to allocate even less resources to education. We wish to call on all patriotic Nigerians to rise and defend the ETF, for in doing so, they would be defending the educational sector in Nigeria.
If we grant, without conceding, that there is a need to increase VAT, we totally reject the illogic that the ETF cannot exist side by side with it. Indeed, a percentage of the income from VAT should be allocated to the ETF to boost the fund and make it stronger to execute its interventions in the educational sector. For the avoidance of doubt, ASUU will resist even this, latest design to sabotage the educational sector.
The Union, in recognition of the need to forge fraternal relations with academic staff across our borders, joins the University Teachers Association of Ghana in calling for the formation of a West African University Teachers Association. Such an Association will provide a forum for the exchange of ideas, research and experience for the effective confrontation of the common social, economic and intellectual challenges which the region faces.
Gentlemen, I must thank you for your continued partnership with us. We do appreciate your commitment to the struggle for the emancipation of our people and the deepening of our democracy. Thank you indeed and God bless you.
Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, fnia
For and on behalf of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)