As you are all aware, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) has been in negotiation with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) since 2006. The negotiation was a review of the 2001 Agreement which was due for review in 2004. It took Governmenttwo years and an ASUU strike to begin the review. Nevertheless, in the letter setting up the Negotiating Committee, the then Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, listed the terms of reference to include Funding, Conditions of Service, University Autonomy and Academic Freedom, and other matters.
PRESS BRIEFING BY THE PRESIDENT,
PROF. UKACHUKWU AWUZIE Â
HELD AT LAGOS JULY 3, 2009
Gentlemen of the Press,
As you are all aware, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) has been in negotiation with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) since 2006. The negotiation was a review of the 2001 Agreement which was due for review in 2004. It took Government 2 years and an ASUU strike to begin the review. Nevertheless, in the letter setting up the Negotiating Committee, the then Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, listed the terms of reference to include Funding, Conditions of Service, University Autonomy and Academic Freedom, and other matters.
In the course of discussion, the Committee agreed that the essence of the Re-negotiation was:
(i)Â Â Â To reverse the decay in the university system, in order to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development;
(ii)Â Â Â To reverse the brain drain, not only by enhancing the remuneration of academic staff, but also by disengaging them from the encumbrances of a unified civil service structure;
(iii)Â Â Â To restore Nigerian universities, through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and
(iv)Â Â Â To ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom.
The Federal Government Negotiating Team that negotiated with ASUU was made up of representatives of the Committees of Pro-Chancellors and Vice- Chancellors of Federal and State Universities and had, as its advisers, some Vice-Chancellors, representatives of the NUC, University administrators, the Federal Ministry of Labour; the Presidency, Federal Ministry of Education, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, the Budget Office, Federal Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Ministry of Finance. These people participated effectively in the deliberation which was conducted in the best practices of democracy under the able, meticulous and profound leadership of Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, (OFR) as Chairman.
It was the belief and indeed the right expectations that each of these officers from the different ministries and parastatals had the responsibility of briefing their ministers on the deliberations of the Committee and getting necessary directives/guidelines.Â Otherwise, their presence would have been both meaningless and wasteful in terms of time and resources. By this method, therefore, the ministries were full participants in the negotiation leading to each and every aspect of the agreement.
The two negotiating teams stated that they had the full mandate of their Principals to negotiate and enter into agreement on all the issues under the terms of reference.
For over two years, the Federal Government and ASUU Negotiating Teams searched for a minimum point from which the Nigerian University system could make significant progress towards reversing the brain drain that has deprived our country of a vital causal agency in national development, i.e. the development and sustenance of a large pool of scholars whose intellectual â‚¬â€œ scientific production would reposition Nigeria for greater responsibilities in national development.
The Negotiating Teams searched for, and arrived at minimal conditions for reversing the decay in the University System. Our University system needs immediate and massive financial intervention in order to fulfill the potentiality which it had shown but which had been called into question because of steady decay;. We realized that the way to the survival of our country in the 21st Century lies in our countrys ability to produce applied and theoretical knowledge in Science, Technology and the Humanities. We understood ourselves as having the task of producing an Agreement that is capable of revitalizing and accelerating the development of Nigerian university system into one of the best in the world, a task which can no longer be delayed if Nigeria is to become one of the leading economically and culturally advanced countries in the world. The Two teams agreed, to begin the process of repositioning the University System as envisaged, that a required minimum of funds should be provided in the public universities â‚¬â€œ Federal and State, with increased efforts by universities to generate funds without compromising the goals and integrity of universities. In view of the enormous importance of education for national development, education must continue to be funded heavily by public funds through Budgetary and non-Budgetary provisions.
We expect the funds agreed upon to be used to effectively remedy deficiencies in programmes and facilities, to systematically upgrade programmes and facilities, to advance research, create adequate living and learning conditions for our students, and to attract brilliant graduates into the universities as teachers and researchers while keeping excellent academics in the system.
The Negotiating Teams agreed that if Nigeria is to get where it ought to be, a minimum of 26% of the Annual Budget of the State and Federal Governments ought to be allocated to education. With this level of funding, we can halt the growing inability of the children of the underprivileged to get education. The Teams also agreed that, in line with what the Nigerian Constitution allows, the Federal Government should as appropriate, provide assistance to states in the areas of Higher Education.
The Negotiating Teams agreed and proposed the Amendment of the Education Tax Fund Act to make it more effective as an intervention fund needed to rehabilitate, restore and reposition the Tertiary institutions in order to develop a knowledge-based society in the twenty-first century.
We arrived at an agreement on conditions of service that could motivate scholars sufficiently to stay in our country and teach, do research and community service, assuming that a good degree of patriotism would make up for the differences that might obtain in African countries that raid Nigeria for academics.
Both Teams agreed upon a series of provisions that would actively protect and promote university autonomy and academic freedom. We agreed on better qualification for members of university Councils. We have agreed to propose to the National Assembly as amendment of certain laws in order to give the universities more autonomy.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SIGNING AND IMPLEMENTING THE AGREEMENT
To arrive at an Agreement well thought-out and having the potential of leaping Nigerias education to a higher level is one thing, singing and implementing the Agreement to achieve the desired goals is another matter.
Since December 2008, when the negotiation between FGN-ASUU Negotiating Teams was completed, ASUU, despite having persuaded its members to exercise patience for over two years, once again resolved to do its best to avoid a crisis. But Government did not treat ASUU patience and restraint with sincerity as several dates were proposed (end of April, May 7 and 12, 2009) for the signing of the agreement but none came to fruition. The last being that proposed for May 12, 2009 which was again aborted by Government. This last scheduled date for the signing of agreement turned out, from beginning to the end to be a classic case of deception. The Federal Governments Team told us it had no authority from its Principal to sign the Agreement.
The Governments Team could not explain to us why our Negotiating Team was invited to sign the Agreement when Government did not intend to sign the Agreement. We realized that the Government had set up the fake meeting because it believed that ASUU was preparing for a strike on account of the failure of the Federal Government to sign the Agreement.
This led to the warning strike of May 18-31, 2009. It is significant that in pursuit of its programme of deceit, government consistently timed every ASUU NEC meeting for an invitation to a phoney meeting, the purpose of which was to trick NEC into believing that government was serious.
The Union has since seen through the gimmicks and will not fall for them any longer. Enough is enough.
THE CURRENT STRIKE
We embarked on a strike because the situation had remained unchanged since the end of the two -week warning strike on May 31, 2009.
In view of Governments failure to sign the Agreement reached by the Negotiating Teams, the National Executive Council (NEC), after a thorough review of the total situation, resolved that all ASUU branches should embark upon a total and indefinite strike until government signs the agreement with ASUU. The Government forced ASUU to embark upon this strike. We did all our best to avoid it.
ASUU did not rush into a strike. For two years and a half, we, despite serious reservations about Governments sincerity, did not go on strike. Both sides of the Negotiation Committee believed that the Negotiation was so important for Nigerias educational development and that the resulting
Agreement would justify the efforts, the restraint, and the expectations underlying the exercise of Collective Bargaining.
CONSULTATION WITH PRINCIPALS
I have taken time to give you this background, in order to show the integrity and the process adopted in reaching agreements in all the four items for negotiation. You may have heard that the Federal Government was not consulted by its principals. This is false. The first stage of the negotiation ended in 2007 when an agreement between ASUU and the Federal Government Negotiating Team was reached on University of Ilorin and the salaries component of the Conditions of Service.Â The Chairman considered these two issues so critical to the negotiation and the final agreement that he had, to, on behalf of the Negotiating Committee, write Mr. President, through the Honourable Minister of Education in 2007, asking for approval. The response on the UNILORIN issue, communicated orally, was that the Government would only accept Supreme Court verdict as a solution to the issue.
On the salary component of the Condition of Service, the Chairman, the NUC Executive Secretary and the then Minister of Education told the Committee that Mr. President was favourable disposed to the conditions of service proposed by the Committee.
It should be further noted that by September 2008, the Executive Secretary of NUC, in one of our meetings, urged the Committee to quickly wind up its deliberations to enable the universities access the money already provided for that agreement in the 2008 budget. In fact, later ASUUs Negotiating Team was informed that the requirements of implementing financial aspects of the agreement had been included in the budget. This was confirmed in our meeting with the House of Representative Committee on Education in May, 2009.
The Ministers Recent Statements:
The Honourable Minister of Education has made a number of really unfortunate statements recently and in the wake of our Unions strike, unnecessarily provoked by Governments insincerity and insensitivity. The issues raised in the said statements obviously fly in the face of the indisputable facts chronicled for you above. The Honourable Ministers remarks during his appearance at the NTA News of June 24, 2009 were particularly vexatious and unforfunate.
1.Â Â Â Was there an Agreement?
Â Â Â The Minister has said, in a very puzzling way, that there was no Agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Gentlemen of the Press, we request you to ask the Minister of Education:
a)Â Â Â What did the Honourable Minister invite us to do on 12th May 2009?Â If there was no Agreement to sign, what did he ask us to come and do on that date?
b)Â Â Â Could the Honourable Minister have invited us to sign an agreement where there was none?
c)Â Â Â If there was no agreement, from where did the Honourable Minister compute the N78 billion which he has been falsely bandying about as the additional fund needed to service the agreement?
It is pertinent to present here the true position.
i)Â Â Â On May 12, 2009 and on governments invitation, we assembled at the NUC to sign the agreement reached between the FGN and ASUU, since December 2008. At least, two previous dates given by Government for the same exercise were cancelled by the same Government. A documented programme shows the meeting was for the signing ceremony. ItÂ was duly circulated by the same Government. In other words, there is an agreement. We are on strike to persuade Government to be serious for once and take the interest of its citizens seriously by signing the agreement already reached. Â
ii)Â Â Â Second, the much touted sum of N78 billion is actually the shortfall in the amount needed to fund personnel emoluments arising from the various agreements, which government has reached with all Federal tertiary institutions in the country (Polytechnics, Colleges of Education and Universities academic and non academic staff). Yet the Honourable Minister has deliberately tried to mislead the public to believe that ASUUs Agreement required N78 billion, when, in fact, ASUUs Agreement requires less than 30% of that amount.
It is simply not true that N78 billion is needed to fund the FGN/ASUU agreement. Again it was an assertion meant to politicise the issues, deceive and hoodwink the Nigerian people. By the way, is it not a crying shame that our government finds the sum of N78 billion too much to spend over a period of time, to revamp the Nations educational system?
The facts are:
1.Â Â Â the two teams stated that they had the full mandates of their principals to negotiate and reach an Agreement. The Negotiating Teams, in accordance with their full mandate, negotiated and reached an agreement on all the issues.
2.Â Â Â On the issues of UNILORIN and the salary component of the Agreement, the Government Negotiating Team Consulted its Principal. The Government did not accept only the agreement on University of Ilorin.
2.Â Â Â The global economic Melt Downâ‚¬Â
This should not in any way affect the agreement for the following reasons:
(i)Â Â Â The agreement on conditions of service was reached and communicated to Government in 2007 when the price of oil was about $50 per barrel. Today oil sells for about $70 per barrel.
(ii)Â Â Â Again, melt down or no melt down, none of the African countries sampled and used in evolving the African average used in the computation of academic staff conditions of service has in anyway reduced its staff emoluments because of the economic meltdown, and they are far less economically endowed than our dear country, Nigeria.
(iii)Â Â Â We keep hearing that the number of academic staff is higher. Is this on admission that Government prefers the exodus of Nigerian academics? Why, then does government pay lip service to the reversal of brain drain?
(iv)Â Â Â Even with the melt-down, government recently approvedÂ N40 billion for the construction of grain silos, whenÂ the country has not, as of now, met the carrying capacity of the existing ones.
(v)Â Â Â The issue of melt down has been brought to the center stage by government because it has misplaced its priorities and relegated the education of the citizenry of this nation to the background.
(vi)Â Â Â It is also sad to note that even though the present government touts education as one of the issues in its 7-point agenda, the allocation to education in this years budget betrays governments lack of commitment to the education of Nigerian people.
(vii)Â Â Â ASUU believes that with an average of N120 billion earned from oil each day, government should be able to fund education effectively, including free and compulsory education, under a fair and conducive environment. If it considers this impossible, then the money should be enough to increase access to education by a greater majority of our people. We cannot aspire to being one of the developed economies by 2020, if the bulk of our citizenry remain uneducated as is the caseÂ today.
3.Â Â Â Can Government truly hold that it was not properly briefed during the negotiation?
Â Â Â If it is indeed true that Government was not properly briefed, ASUU cannot and should not be held responsible for this, as its agents/representatives from the NUC, the ministries and parastatals involved in the negotiation process had this responsibility to their principal. However, this excuse is not tenable when we consider that the Chairman of the Negotiating Committee wrote when considered necessary and expedient, to Mr. President through the office of the Honourable Minister of Education. While we appreciate that the current Minister was not on seat during the greater part of the negotiation, this should not be an excuse, as his predecessor and subordinates had the primary duty to brief him well on all issues that relate to the Ministrys activities. Government is in perpetuity.
4.Â Â Â Why is it that ASUU must adopt the strike option considering its impact on that quality of education which the Union wants to raise?
Â Â Â The answer to this is simple. ASUUs resolve to forge a hitch free academic calendar has been demonstrated by the utmost restraint which it showed in the two and half years of negotiation and waiting for the signing of the agreement. This resolve is a vital component of the 2008 FGN/ASUU Agreement.
Â As a demonstration of this resolution, ASUU has in the past two and half years dialogued, negotiated and lobbied government and those who matter in the education sector for intervention and quick resolution of issues. ASUU had reached out to religious and traditional institutions and the National and State Assemblies. ASUU had prayed for intervention from organized private sector and the media. ASUU felt that it had come to the end of its tether and could go no more. Dialogue had become a discussion between the deaf and the dumb. It has been two and half years of fruitless lobbying, dialogue and negotiation. ASUU had to adopt strike only as a last option and taking that decision was painful to the Union because of our students, their parents and, indeed, the Nigerian community. In the circumstance, the only other option left is to withdraw and allow the system to collapse.
5.Â Â Â An award is not a Legitimate Product of Collective Bargaining.
ASUU has not begged the Government for an increase in salaries, allowances etc. ASUU has not lobbied for autonomy and academic freedom. The Condition of Service, Funding and Academic/Autonomy have been subjects of collective bargaining. Government has continually confused its status as government and its status as a party in Collective bargaining. It is a principle of Collective Bargaining that neither party can unilaterally take a position and impose it on the other. But this is what the Government is doing. The Minister has announced that the final position on the matter will be decided by an Inter-ministerial Committee. Following the work of a Technical Committee set up exclusively by Government. ASUU is not bound by any unilateral award. We did not need to go through two years of Collective Bargaining if we were ready to accept an award. The confusion is with Government which is treating collective bargaining as a process of its exclusive power. ASUU rejects this position.
Â On Wednesday, after the Federal Executive Council meeting, the Federal Minister of Information and Communication was heard telling the Nigerian people that the Federal Government has met ASUUs demand on at least three out of the four main issues. She listed them and held that the only matter left is the resolution of the salaries demanded by ASUU.
This is to say the least a a sad development coming from the Federal Executive Council as it is a bundle of misinformation and a calculated attempt to trivialize the essence and spirit of the Negotiation that lasted two and half years. The statement was, to say the least, very unfortunate. She went further to state that the Federal Government was computing the financial implications of this demand on the finances of the nation and on other sectors of the economy. Seven months after the agreement was submitted to government by its agents, within which one had two-weeks of warning strike (18th-31st May, 2009) and ten days of national strike (22nd June â‚¬â€œ 1st July 2009), government is still studying the financial implication of the salary component of the agreement and the Revenue Profile of the country. This is a clear manifestation of governments insensitivity and lack of commitment to education. It also shows lack of urgency on the part of government at resolving the present impasse.
We hold that Government is trivializing the essence of the agreement by being silent on the issue of funding. We would have expected the honourable minister of information and communication to have shown Nigerians, in graphical form, the amount and the percentage of national budget that had been devoted to education in the past 3 years and present national budget to justify her claim that the problem of funding has been resolved.
The insensitivity of government to the Education of our people is understandable as most of those who pilot the affairs of this country have their children in Europe and America. They care less about the education of the children of the underprivileged and the masses of this nation.
6.Â Â Â ASUU Demands
The Minister of Information and Communication in her press briefing of Wednesday, July 01, 2009 stated that government has met three out of the four ASUU demands. This statement is very unfortunate coming from a minister. It portrays total ignorance of the Collective Bargaining process. For avoidance of doubt, in all collective bargainings between an employer and employee, the employee first presents his/her charter of demands and the employer responds by making an initial offer. From then, negotiation commences until agreement is reached. The product of this agreement is no longer called a demand by the employee/employer. For the Minister to say that ASUU was demanding 109% pay rise, is to say the least, a mischief calculated to mislead the Nigerian people.
The truth is that ASUU never asked for 109% pay rise. What the Negotiating Committee agreed on was to pay Nigerian academics emoluments equivalent to the average of those paid to academics in those African countries that raid our country for academics. This average was determined empirically and scientifically.
7 Â Â Â Nigeria cannot pay African Average because of thenumber of Universities and Professors in them.
Information available to the union states that governments reluctance to pay the African Average is based on its claim that those countries that pay their academics well have fewer universities and fewer lecturers.
Government and its agents, have not stated that our country is less endowed than those countries. That although, the number of universities in this country is inadequate to grant access to Nigerians who are qualified to enter the universities, it must however be borne in mind that the universities were not established by ASUU. We believe that they were established because of the need for them.
For government to now argue that the salaries of Professors shall be inversely proportional to their number defeats all accepted ways of determining the wages and worth of employees.
We are aware of the real plot being played out. Government does not want to sign an Agreement because it wants to repudiate collective bargaining. This is in continuation of the IMF-World Bank prescription dished out to their clients since 2000. The Government has resorted to the false claim that it is implementing parts of the Agreement that it has refused to sign and is bent on giving an award, violating the principle of collective bargaining.
On our part, we shall defend our right to Collective Bargaining, recognized by international and Nigerian Labour Law. We are not about to surrender our rights to any government. This government claims to respect the rule of law, but it is making a mockery of the principle of collective bargaining. This government is going the way of its predecessors. It should be held responsible for prolonging this crisis. We shall defend our right to Collective Bargaining to the utmost end.
Â Â Â ASUU calls on the relevant arms of Government, the organized labour, religious and traditional institutions and all lovers of education to prevail on government to do the proper thing: sign the agreement and hence end this avoidable strike and its disruptive effects on our education system.
Â Â Â
Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, fnia