President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has sought the intervention of Edo State Governor Adams Oshimohole to help in resolving the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which had put university students at home since June.
Negotiations between the Federal Government and ASUU had broken down following Federal Government’s insistence that it could not sign any agreement that would be binding on state governors.
Oshiomhole is the immediate past president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
THISDAY learnt that President Yar’Adua met with the Edo State governor last Monday afternoon in Abuja and they discussed all the issues with regards to ASUU strike and the possible way of resolving the matter.
The President was also said to have invited the Minister of Education, Dr. Sam Egwu, to work with Oshiomhole towards resolving the matter this week.
When contacted, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, confirmed that Oshiomhole was assisting the Federal Government on the issue.
He said: “Yes, I can confirm that Oshiomhole has the mandate of the President to negotiate with ASUU so that this issue can be resolved so quickly but he is working in collaboration with the Education Minister, Dr. Sam Egwu.
“The President recognises that in Labour matters, the Governor of Edo State comes with experience and expertise and is highly respected. That was why the President sought his intervention on this matter together with Dr. Egwu.
“I’m hopeful that there will be positive developments very soon so that the students can go back to school.”
The Chief Gemaliel Onosode-led Federal Government/ASUU Re-Negotiation Committee was appointed by former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, in 2006.
It concluded its work in December last year and came up with a provisional draft agreement.
The conclusion of the re-negotiation coincided with the change of baton at the Education ministry.
ASUU met the new Minister of Education, Dr. Egwu, in January this year and called for the signing of the agreement.
The union gave notice of a warning strike in May to press for the signing of the agreement and later went on a one-week warning strike, which ended on May 31. ASUU also warned that it would go on a total and indefinite strike if the agreement was not signed. The minister invited the union to a meeting on June 19 but ASUU had already resolved to go on strike and this began on June 22.
Since then, interventions by both the House of Representatives and Senate Committees on Education, Vice-Chancellors and Pro-Chancellors have been fruitless.
The single term of reference of the Onosode Committee was to re-negotiate the 2001 FGN/ASUU Agreement, which sought to reverse the decay in the university system, reverse the brain drain, not only by enhancing the remunerations of academic staff but also by disengaging them from the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure; restore Nigeria universities, through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and to ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom.
The 2001 agreement was the product of the 1992 agreement reached between the Federal Government when Prof. Babs Fafunwa was the Minister of Education under military President Ibrahim Babangida and ASUU.
The same Babangida with Prof. Ben Nwabueze as Education minister abrogated that agreement in January 1993 and the FG/ASUU crisis has been on ever since.
President Yar’Adua’s argument is that in a democracy, the Federal Government cannot sign an agreement that is binding on state governments.
ASUU, however, says the process that started more than two years ago must be concluded.
The government also says re-negotiating with ASUU when the union is on strike amounts to arm-twisting and has therefore called for at least a suspension of the strike.
But ASUU says it will only call off the strike after the signing of the agreement.
ASUU had demanded that it be paid the same wages as university academic staff in South Africa.
But the Federal Government said it would pay what was referred to as “Africa Average”which meant looking at the wages in various rich and poor countries in Africa and finding the average. This is what is regarded as 109 per cent of their current wages, a claim that ASUU has denied.