Govt: We’re satisfied with progress of re-negotiation
Union: Hope for return of peace, stability to varsities imminent
The age-long disquiet and sour relationship between the Federal Government, and the university lecturers, under their umbrella union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) may soon end. REGINA OTOKPA reports
FG, ASUU moves towards strike-free varsity system
How peace and stability will finally return to Nigerian public university system in view of the age-long face-off and the attendant incessant strikes rocking the system, particularly by the university lecturers under their group, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and change the narrative of incessant strikes for the umpteenth time are being pursued.
The universities, in the last few decades have been bogged down by incessant strikes undermining the development and growth of the system.
The various university staff unions, including the ASUU; the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU); Non- Academic Staff Union (NASU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) have over the years been at loggerheads with the Federal Government over non-implementation of the numerous agreements reached with the unions to move the system forward.
The face-off, resulting in incessant strikes has continued to paralyse academic and administrative activities, and thereby disrupting the stability and smooth running of the system.
For instance, academic activities in the Nigerian public universities were paralysed for almost 10 months, between March and December 2020 due to the indefinite nationwide strike declared by ASUU.
However, while the university system was yet to recover from the protracted crisis engendered by the ASUU’s strike, the nonacademic staff unions – the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, Non-Academic Staff Union and the National Association of Academic Technologists also embarked on indefinite strikes, which further hampered the resumption of students and disrupted administrative activities in the system.
But, ASUU has said that for the system to enjoy stability and peace there was the need for the Federal Government to keep faith and implement the Memorandum of Action (MoA) signed with the Federal Government in 2020, insisting that without the implementation of the agreement, it would be difficult to ensure stability in the nation’s universities.
The National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, told New Telegraph that unless this is done, nobody could guarantee whether or not there would be no strike again.
He, however, listed the contending issues discussed with the Federal Government in their March meeting, where they reviewed the MoA to include non-payment of the salary of some members of the union, nonremittance of the union’s check off due, and migration to the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).
“We protested against the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) over the salary of our members, though they have started paying this. But, we are now worried that the AGF is sending its agencies out to harass us to move to IPPIS platform aside from our UTAS,” Ogunyemi said.
The President, who vowed that the union would not be happy until these demands were met, therefore, urged the government to fast-track the process of the integrity test for the imple-mentation of the UTAS.
“The Federal Government needed to do all these in order to end the process that has been dragging for months so as to ensure stability and peace in the university system,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, New Telegraph has it from authoritative source that this is the puzzle the current moves between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities are set to address; to end the crisis of incessant strikes in the Nigerian University System (NUS) brought about by the failure of the government to address the contending issues.
However, critical stakeholders and education pundits, who are seeking lasting solutions to the worrisome challenges and development besetting the system, have expressed consternation over the delay, but were delighted that the moves to resolve the lingering crisis would promote stability in the universities.
Due to the face-off, ASUU has persistently in the last two decades shut down the entire university system for almost three years at different times, disrupting academic calendar in the institutions.
Thus, if the current relationship and understanding said to have been reached between the union and Federal Government is anything to go by, it appears that there will be a new dawn and better days ahead of the public university system in the country.
The incessant industrial actions embarked upon by ASUU and other non-academic unions, have left in its trail anxiety of extra number of years students in Nigerian public universities spent for a four-year programme.
The university system was shut down for almost 10 months in 2020 because of a protracted strike by ASUU in which students were forced to stay at home, while series of negations between the government and the union, as well as appeal by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to find a common ground and arrive at a logical conclusion to resolve the issues failed.
As critical stakeholders in the university system, any move by the unions to down tools or withdraw their services, every other activity in the university is automatically placed on a standstill with its deafening effects on the system.
Other contentious issues between unions and the Federal Government include the non-payment of salary arrears of members and pending agreements reached by ASUU with the Federal Government, especially as related to the FGN-ASUU 2009 Agreement and the Memorandum of Action (MoA) 2020; mainstreaming of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) into the annual budget through legislation, the amendment of the Executive Bill in respect of the National Universities Commission (NUC) Act 2004 and most recently, the call for deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) against the use of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) introduced by the Federal Government as payment plan for university system, and non-release of the Universities Revitalisation Fund.
However, as part of moves to end the lingering crisis in the system, the National President of ASUU was said to have raised the hope of return of peace and stability to the universities, noting that the major objective of the 2009 Agreement, in particular, have been made more potent by findings of the Federal Government Committee on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities in 2012.
He stressed that the agreement, when implemented, would “reverse the decay in the Nigerian University System (NUS) with a view to repositioning the system for greater responsibilities in national development.
“The agreement is to reverse the brain drain threatening the university system, not only by enhancing the remuneration of academic staff, but also by disengaging them from the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure; as well as restore Nigerian universities through immediate massive and sustained financial intervention; and to ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom,” he added.
Although the strike had been suspended and some of the issues addressed, ASUU is particularly worried that the engagement of full implementation of the Memorandum of Action (MoA), salary arrears and payment of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) were taking too long. Recently, a faction of ASUU and the Congress of University Academics (CONUA), a faction of ASUU at Ambrose Alli University in Ekpoma, Edo State, were engaged in a war of words over the morality of the ASUU to withdraw its services over the alleged failure of the state government to fulfill its obligations to its members.
The Chairman of the university’s chapter of ASUU, Dr. Monday Igbafen, had insisted that the strike had become necessary owing to the non-payment of the lecturers’ salary arrears, the union’s check off dues and other sundry deductions by the university running into billions of naira.
“These financial entitlements when put together are running into billions of naira at the time of the commencement of the strike. For the avoidance of doubt, members have not been paid salaries for four months while check-off dues and other sundry deductions have not been paid to staff unions’ welfare associations and cooperative societies in the university for close to a year,” he noted.
But, the Chairman of the university’s CONUA, Iyawe Hanson, however, argued that the timing was wrong and that the planned action was insensitive to the plight of students, whose parents were managing to pay their fees. He, therefore, advised students to disregard the strike and remain committed to their studies and the forthcoming semester examinations. Few days after the Ambrose Alli University crisis, the Federal Government and ASUU agreed on a periodic review of the implementation of the Memorandum of Action (MoA) with a view to ending strikes in the system.
This move, according to ASUU, will forestall the incessant disagreements and tensions between the Federal Government and ASUU, which mostly degenerated to lingering strikes by the union.
Ogunyemi, who said it was a welcome development which would go a long way to help the union to refocus its activities and chart a new course for a strike-free university system, noted: “Put together, we want to agree that we had fruitful discussions and we have strong hopes that there will be fruitful and harmonious relationship in achieving the provisions of the MoA of 2020.”
The ASUU President added: “We want to agree that it is a departure from the past because, now, we have agreed on intermittent or periodic review of the MoA so that areas that will create tension would be apprehended and tackled before matters degenerate.”
Leading the government team, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who also expressed satisfaction with progress made in the renegotiation, said despite the pockets of protests both parties had finally found a common ground on all lingering issues responsible for the tensions in the university system.
Besides finding a way to streamline outstanding payment of the N30 billion universities revitalisation funds into the national budget or into a special fund, the Federal Government had paid N40 billion for Earned Academic Allowance to all the unions (ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT) through a sharing formula provided by the National Universities Commission (NUC) for all university workers.
On payment of staff salaries that was not captured by the Office of the Accountant- General of the Federation (OAGF), which resulted in partial payment of salaries to some lecturers since December or January 2021, notes were said to have been exchanged on how to ensure that such an incident never reoccurs.
As part of the reconciliation moves, the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and ASUU had agreed to appraise and reconcile available records on payment of the union’s check off dues, which have not been remitted to the union by the government.
Still on the reconciliation, Ngige added: “The issue of state universities and the NUC Bill were equally addressed and they agreed that both parties should look at the draft bill and the final bill knocked out for transmission to the National Assembly. “We also looked at the issue of UTAS and also made certain recommendations which will be communicated to the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, who heads the supervising ministry.
“This is to enable them to fast forward the various tests that are needed on the UTAS system like stress test, integrity test and the rest of them.”