Following the pullout of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) from the Dr. Wale Babalakin-led Agreement Renegotiation Team to end crises in the university system, stakeholders are worried that the development signals bad omen for the system
- Committee: We’re surprised by union’s decision
- Union: Babalakin has frustrated our efforts
Less than one year it suspended its indefinite strike that paralysed academic activities in public universities across the nation, following the signing of a fresh Memorandum of Action (MoA) with the Federal Government, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has pulled out from the renegotiation of its 2009 agreement with the government. The leadership of the university lecturers’ union is accusing the government of insincerity and deliberate attempt to frustrate the implementation of the contents of the agreement.
The development, which may have, once again, truncated the peace process, has thrown the nation’s university system off-balance. ASUU, which is crying foul over the development, expressed dissatisfaction with what it described as the poor commitment of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to the implementation of the contents of the agreement. Rising from its National Executive Council meeting held between August 4 and 5, at the University of Calabar, Cross River State, ASUU said its team’s withdrawal from Dr. Wale Babalakin-led committee was not unconnected with the committee’s determination to “commercialise education’ as against the union’s promasses position. In a statement issued on Monday, August 6 and signed by the union’s National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, ASUU condemned the Federal Government’s poor implementation of the contents of the Memorandum of Action, which it noted the two parties willingly endorsed in September 2017, as a condition to end the then union’s prolonged industrial action.The statement reads in part:
“NEC took reports on the status of the implementation of the September 2017 FGN/ ASUU Memorandum of Action (MoA) and the FGN/ASUU renegotiation exercise which commenced in March 2017 and resolved to; condemn in strong terms the Federal Government’s failure to faithfully implement many items on the 2017 MoA with particular reference to: (a) release of N20 billion revitalization fund; (b) release of the report of forensic audit and mainstreaming of Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) into the 2018 budget; (c) payment of arrears of shortfall in salary; (d) platform by the Federal Government for ASUU leaders to engage the Governors on funding and proliferation of universities; (e) underfunding of university education, and undue interference in the affairs of State universities, and (f) payment of EAA claims to the union’s loyal members in UNILORIN.
“NEC also approved the decision of the ASUU team to withdraw from the re-negotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement as a result of the Dr. Wale Babalakin’s insistence on the commercialization of tertiary education in the country; update ASUU members on the failure of government to keep its promises on the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement and September 2017 MoA; and meet in due course to consider the next line of action.” The union singled out the Chairman of the renegotiation committee, Dr. Babalakin (SAN) for condemnation, accusing him of constituting himself to a stumbling block in the crises resolution efforts.
The statement further reads: “The Chairman of the Government Renegotiating Team, in the person of Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), has constituted a stumbling block in the process of the renegotiation. He has arrogantly exhibited “I-know-it-all” attitude and also conducted himself as a judge, instead of a negotiator. With unwarranted arrogance, he has disregarded the cardinal principles of collective bargaining, deliberately slowed down the process and made mockery of the core tenets of industrial democracy. He has arrogated to himself the power to decide matters that should be collectively debated, analysed, and agreed upon by the two parties.
He has also consistently attempted to substitute core constitutional provisions of Nigeria on education, including university education, by market principles of trading in and purchasing higher education, putting Nigerian children in debt peonage in order to acquire higher education. This situation is not acceptable to the union.
“ASUU has tried through several entreaties to make him see reason and return to the path of collective bargaining and respect for the Constitutional provisions on education to no avail. The Chairman of the Government team has amply demonstrated that his major interest is to force ASUU to accept the dependence of the education of our youth on debts whereas the Constitution promises free education. Since March 2017, a period of over fourteen (14) months, discussion has hovered only on funding and Babalakin’s insistence that a tuition regime must be introduced into the public universities in Nigeria.
It is significant to point out that education is a right, according to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Education is also a public good, and it is the constitutional responsibility of the Nigerian state to provide qualitative and sound education to its citizenry (Chapter II – Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy).
Since the return to civil rule in 1999, the highest budgetary allocation to the education sector was in 2015, when government allocated 11.75 per cent to education. “However, in the 2018 budget, the allocation to the education sector fell to a scandalously low point of seven per cent.
This is also unacceptable.” But, while responding to ASUU’s position, a member of the committee and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Olufemi Bamiro said the committee was caught unawares by the union’s decision. According to Bamiro, like every other Nigerian, the committee members heard of the union’s decision through the news, saying it was not only surprising, but also unexpected. He said: “We are surprised by ASUU’s decision because we never believed anything of such was in the pipeline.
We have been committed to ways to revitalise the country’s education system and we are meeting with all the workers’ unions within the university system, but ASUU never communicated its decision to us except via the media.” Bamiro, who is also the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Tai Solarin University of Education (TAUED), Ijagun, Ogun State, debunked the allegation that the committee was determined to commercialise education.He said what the committee was committed to achieve was to develop a sustainable funding system for the university, to avoid the usual rancour between the workers and the government. The don added: “The idea of commercialisation of education did come up at all, and we are surprised by this allegation.
What we are determined to achieve is to develop a sustainable university funding system that will guarantee, at least, regular funding channel for our institutions. “What we have observed is that the major challenge facing the universities is funding, and the consequences include the dearth of facilities, and more importantly frequent closure of the institutions as a result of workers’ disagreement with the managements. So, if such idea that we are bringing up is what ASUU has termed commercialisation of education, then we are surprised.” He said the public should know that it is not only ASUU that the committee was meeting and that other unions including the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).
“On the morning of Thursday, August 9, we met with SSANU and by evening of same day, we met with NASU representatives, while on Friday morning we had another meeting with NAAT leadership and they were committed to resolving all the contradictions within the sector,” he added. According to Prof. Bamiro, the committee is working round the clock to ensure that the reports are available, latest, by the end of September. But, the Federal Government is yet to respond to ASUU’s allegations.
The Director of the Press and Public Relations Department of the Federal Ministry Education, Mr. Willy Bassey, told New Telegraph that the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu was not in the country and that the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mr. Sunday Echonu, an architect, was not on ground. Bassey said: “We have forwarded our media summary to the Minister and as soon as he responds, we will surely brief the public of the government’s position. But we assure all stakeholders and every Nigerian that this administration is committed to sustaining the relative peace in our university system.
“So, they should remain calm because the FG is doing everything possible to ensure that we do not return to the era of strike in our universities. No doubt, this week, a categorical statement will be released by the Ministry.”
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