Written by Temisan Jackson
“Listening to the agreement that was signed by the Federal Government as Comrade Uche Chukwumerije read out, I was really wondering whether this was signed or it was just a proposal. But when he concluded, he said it was signed. It only shows the level of people the executive sent to go and negotiate on their behalf because ab initio, people must be told the truth, what can be accomplished and what cannot be accomplished. If a leader says I am going to accomplish this, he is morally duty bound to honour it. But even if you decided immediately after that you cannot accomplish it, I think it is only proper for you to go back and start renegotiating. But if you prolong it on the basis that you are still going to honour it and you don’t honour it, then it doesn’t portray us in good light.”
– David Mark, Senate President
Have read the much talked about 2009 Federal Government’s agreement with ASUU? That sounds like the Holy Grail in the muddled public discourse on the ongoing strike by Nigerian varsity lecturers.
It interesting to note that not many of those whose pro-ASUU noise rings louder than the rest of us have the faintest idea about what is contained in the contentious agreement. Not long ago, a popular online news portal published the 51-page long October 2009 agreement between the perennial warring parties. And I had to read through so as to have firsthand information on the vexing issues that have kept our children at home this long.
A Peep into the Agreement
The birthing of the agreement started on Thursday, December 14, 2006, when the then Honourable Minister of Education, Dr. (Mrs.) Obiageli Ezekwesili, on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria inaugurated the FGN/ASUU Re-negotiation Committee comprising the FGN Re-negotiation Team led by the then Pro-Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Deacon Gamaliel O. Onosode (OFR), and the ASUU Re-negotiation Team led by the then President of ASUU, Dr. Abdullahi Sule-Kano.
At the meeting, the ASUU Team submitted a position paper titled “Proposals for the Re-negotiation of the 2001 Agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria/Governments of State that own Universities and the Academic Staff Union of Universities” which reflected the views of ASUU on various issues in the 2001 FGN/ASUU Agreement.
The single Term of Reference of the Committee was to re-negotiate the 2001 FGN/ASUU Agreement and enter into a workable Agreement. Both teams agreed that the following issues will form the agenda and focus for the Re-Negotiation: (a) Conditions of Service, (b) Funding, (c) University Autonomy and Academic Freedom, (d) Other Matters
The Agreement was directed towards ensuring that there is a viable university system with one, rather than a multiple, set of academic standards; and whereas it is recognized by the Negotiating Teams that education is on the Concurrent List and by the Agreement, the Federal Government does not intend to and shall not compel the State Governments to implement the provisions of the Agreement in respect of their Universities. It was however recognized that the State Governments shall be encouraged to adopt the Agreement, as benchmarks, if they are to operate within the goals of achieving the same sets of academic standards for their institutions within Nigeria’s University system.
The agreement included details such as the breakdown of lecturers’ salary structure, staff loans, pension, overtime, and moderation of examinations. It was agreed that entitled academic staff shall be paid earned allowances at the rates undertaking in the listed assignments.
It was also agreed that Decree 11 of 1993 and the Pension Reform Act (2004) should be amended to:
(a) Increase the retirement age of academics from 65 years to 70 years for those in the Professorial cadre.
(b) Remove certain ambiguities from the provisions that allowed Professors to retire with full benefits, by reformulating these provisions (Pension Reform Act, 2004).
An academic staff who retires as a Professor in a recognized University shall be entitled to pension at a rate equivalent to his annual salary.
It was agreed that, to help in enforcing discipline and ensuring budget performance, each University Governing Council shall set up a Budget Monitoring Committee. The Committee shall comprise one elected representative each, of Congregation, Senate, ASUU, SSANU, NAAT, NASU and the Students’ Union, with an external member of the Governing Council as Chairman.
It was agreed that all laws that impede University Autonomy, Academic Freedom, Internal Accountability and Transparency, and the speed of internal operations, shall be reviewed.
The effective date of this Agreement shall be July 1, 2009, except that the effective date for the 70 years retirement age for those academics in the Professorial cadre shall notionally be January 1, 2009.
What Is Obtainable Now
The above negotiation was done in a saner manner and an atmosphere devoid of rancour, politicking, and blackmailing in the name of enforcing contractual provisions. What we see now is a bloody duel between two elephants that leaves the grasses – our children – bleeding nonstop, and is further sending our already comatose education sector further down the abyss of primitiveness.
As it is, the government claimed to have met almost all the provisions in the 2009 agreement, but ASUU has a different narrative. However, in the midst of this chaos, we need to consider the students. The longer ASUU strikes, the more our economy suffers, and the greater the spell of idleness of our youths; and we know what that means…
Does it make any sense to shut everything down and destroy the very system ASUU is claiming to want to fix? Must industrial action always be the bargaining tool for ASUU? Isn’t it a betrayal of depth that our so-called intellectuals only use the force of brawn to drive home their point? Can’t negotiation be ongoing without destabilising the education system and sending the children packing out of school?
For the sake of our children idling away at home, let each of the warring parties shift ground. Let’s not politicise the strike any further. ASUU should go back to the classroom and government should release the money it has promised to give.
On the other hand, I think ASUU simply took advantage of the ignorance of those who were sent and simply just allowed this agreement to go on because it is obvious that this is going to be very difficult piece of paper to implement. They found that those who were sent there simply didn’t know their right from their left and they just went ahead. I think that also is not fair because ASUU is an organisation in Nigeria and we are not going to go to another country to implement this piece of paper.”
– David Mark, Senate President