On Monday 4th November, 2013, the leadership of our Union had a meeting with a government team led by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The meeting was necessary because all the previous government teams (separately led by the Minister of Education, Gov. Gabriel Suswam, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and by the Vice President) had failed to address the requests made by our Union ASUU to implement the 2009 Agreement in accordance with the 2012 Roadmap, and to commence the process of review of the said Agreement thereafter.
Gentlemen of the Press, the benefits of implementing the 2009 Agreement have been articulated severally in a number of addresses I made. Suffice to restate again that the objectives of the 2009 Agreement are:
i. To reverse the decay in the University System, in order to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development;
ii. 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 wage structure;
iii. To restore Nigerian Universities, through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and,
iv. To ensure genuine University autonomy and academic freedom.
These objectives were made even more potent by the findings of Government Committee on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities in 2012. The shocking findings of that Committee should make any serious government thoroughly ashamed of its colossal failings.
At the end of the meeting with President Jonathan, a message was given by the government to the members of ASUU nationwide. Branches deliberated and debated on the message and gave their responses to the National leadership of the Union. These responses were articulated by the National Executive Council (NEC) of ASUU and sent to President Jonathan through the supervising Minister of Education.
Gentlemen of the Press, since the issuance of the Union’s response to the said letter, the salvos that have been coming out, allegedly from the Minister of Education makes one to wonder whether the person that is charged with the responsibility of superintending over the Nigeria’s Education system has the wherewithal to handle such a vital national assignment. It is my intention this afternoon, therefore, to clear the air on the rumours, lies and mischiefs that are milling out of government circle (especially from Ministry of Education and National Universities Commission), all with the intent of misleading the Nigerian public. I will therefore speak to the letter from government and the yet-to-be-replied response of our Union. I will establish, to all discerning minds, that ASUU did not bring any ‘new conditions’ as claimed by the Minister of Education and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Mr Doyin Okupe. Rather, it is government that is trying to avoid taking responsibility.
2. THE LETTER FROM GOVERNMENT TO ASUU
The letter from the Government was communicated by the Federal Ministry of Education, ref. FME/TE/SS.IM/C.I/1/99 and was titled “Resolutions reached at the meeting between Federal Government and Representatives of the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU)” The content of that letter was not the judgment of a court: it was not, and could not be properly taken as conveying the words of a commander who must be obeyed.
3. GOVERNMENT’S COMMUNICATION WAS AS FOLLOWS:
1. “That the Federal Government is irrevocably committed to the overall improvement in the quality of education especially at the tertiary level in the country.
2. That there is an overarching need to find a lasting solution to the challenges facing university education in the country through the development of sustainable, affordable and implementable strategies that are within the revenue profile of government.
3. Arising from the above understanding, it was further noted with particular emphasis on funding that:
(a) Nigerian Universities must be revitalised for effective service delivery.
(b) All the provisions in the extant agreement/MoU for the revitalisation of the University system shall be fully implemented as captured in the 2012 Needs Assessment Report.
(c) Federal Government shall mobilise resources towards this goal.
4. IN VIEW OF THE ABOVE UNDERSTANDING THE FOLLOWING RESOLUTIONS WERE REACHED:
i. Federal Government shall provide funds for the revitalisation of the University system in the following manner in the next six years
|Total||6 years||1.3 trillion|
ii. A dedicated revitalisation account shall be opened at the CBN by Federal Government. Funds shall be paid into [sic] on a quarterly basis from which the Universities will draw. Federal Government shall ensure that these funds will be ring-fenced.
iii. That a central monitoring committee shall be established in addition to monitor the implementation of the revitalisation of the university and shall submit quarterly report to the Minister of Education.
iv. Earned allowances: It was agreed that the Implementation Monitoring Committee (IMC) shall monitor and verify the level of payment already made from the 30 billion Naira released by Government and report back on the exact situations in the Universities on this matter. Federal Government undertakes to pay the outstanding balance after the verification report for the period 2009 to 2012. Furthermore a practicable and affordable strategy will be put in place to mainstream the payment of earned allowances in the University system.
v. Government is willing to engage the services of the universities in special consultancy series such as geological/solid minerals survey, biotechnology, environmental impact assessment, shelter belt and mineral mapping amongst others to boost the IGR base of the Universities.
vi. That FGN requests that ASUU shall within 7 days call off its four month strike action.
vii. The above resolutions were reached in good faith by all the stakeholders that attended this crucial meeting.”
In the ordinary meaning of the word “resolution” the government’s letter was not a resolution. The document was a report of Government’s understanding of the decisions or agreement reached on the matters discussed with ASUU. Neither side had a final authority on the correct wording or substance of the agreement reached. The title of Government’s letter “RESOLUTIONS REACHED AT THE MEETING BETWEEN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ACADEMIC STAFF UNION OF UNIVERSITIES (ASUU) . . . showed quite clearly that there were two sides. The agreement between the two sides would be the legitimate resolution of any issue. Furthermore, representatives of both sides must sign the document of resolution to make it valid for both sides. This is why ASUU, in its reply to Government’s letter, insisted that ASUU and the Federal Government should sign the document of Resolutions. It is not an added new issue. It is a simple, required procedure, to be strengthened by some witness in whom both sides had confidence. This is not only reasonable but required in the resolution of conflicts. Whether the Minister of Education understands it or not is another matter which we shall not address here.
5. THE REPLY OF ASUU TO GOVERNMENT’S LETTER
1. The process leading to ASUU’s reply
The letter from the Government, signed by Dr. Mac John Nwaobiala, was delivered at ASUU National Secretariat on 6th November, 2013. ASUU had made it clear to Government through the Minister of Education, and at the meetings held with Government’s representative, that our Union does not have an EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT who has the power to decide for the Union on crucial matters, including and especially on trade disputes and strikes. Similarly, the internal democracy of our Union does not permit the Principal Officers to make decisions on Union matters of trade disputes without advice from the National Executive Council. Allowing branches to meet, advise and take positions is the only way we know how to run a democratic organisation.
2. The content of ASUU’s reply
Here is the relevant portion of ASUU’s reply to government’s letter, as contained in Union’s letter of 22nd November, 2013 signed by Nasir F. Isa, President of ASUU:
“On behalf of NEC I hereby convey the Union’s appreciation of the expressed concern of Your Excellency to bring an end to the crisis occasioned by the poor implementation of the 2009 Agreement and the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) arising therefrom through your personal intervention.
NEC would have taken a definitive decision on ending the strike, especially in view of Your Excellency’s intervention but for certain uncertainties, the clearance of which would have been decisive in making the relevant decision. These uncertainties involve issues on which ASUU members nationwide have strong feelings. They are about certain gaps evident in Government’s report as presented to our Union.
Specifically, our members are requesting that Your Excellency facilitates the resolution of the issues as a way of concretising their understanding of the agreed positions. This will involve the following:
(a) That the N200 billion agreed upon as 2013 Revitalisation Fund for public universities shall be deposited with the CBN and disbursed to the benefitting universities within two weeks.
(b) That the renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement in 2014 be included in the final document as agreed at the discussion with Your Excellency.
(c) That a Non-victimisation clause which is normally captured in all interactions of this nature be included in the final document and
(d) That a new Memorandum of Understanding shall be validly endorsed, signed by a representative of government, preferably the Attorney General of the Federation and a representative of ASUU, with the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) as a witness.
Your Excellency please be assured that the Union is willing to do all that is needful to resolve the lingering crisis as soon as the expressed observations of our members are addressed.
Yours in the struggle
Naisr F. Isa, Ph.D
6. JUSTIFICATION OF ASUU’S REQUEST TO THE PRESIDENT
1. The request to disburse the N200 billion agreed in 2013 within two weeks
If you look at the Government’s paper of 6 November, 2013, it states that the Federal Government shall provide N200billion in 2013. ASUU’s letter to the President does not change that agreement. The National Executive Committee (NEC) of ASUU’s position, conveyed to His Excellency Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan through the Minister of Education only said the following: “Our members are suggesting that “the N200 billion agreed upon as 2013 Revitalisation fund for public universities should be deposited in the CBN and disbursed to the benefitting universities within two weeks.”
Upon any sincere stretch of interpretation, it would be unreasonable to suggest that this is a new demand. ASUU NEC’s position that the funds for revitalisation due to universities in 2013 should be released within the first two weeks of December 2013 is not a new demand. It is a sensible suggestion to guard against implementation failure.
2. The Renegotiation of the Agreement in 2014
There was an agreement at the interaction with the President of Nigeria that the Renegotiation of the ASUU/FGN Agreement of 2009 shall be undertaken in 2014. ASUU’s position that this shall be included in the “Resolutions” is a correct report of what actually transpired and was agreed upon, and should be reconsidered. This is important, especially in view of the fact that this agreement took place at the meeting with the President and was pointed out to staff of the Ministry of Education who were recording the agreements. ASUU’s asking the restoration of that agreement in government’s letter to the Union is not a new demand but only a demand to put the records right.
3. The Non-Victimisation Clause
The resolution to end a strike since 1980s, has always included the provision that no one would be victimised for participating in the strike in question. This is the position of the International Labour Organisation: No one should be penalised for carrying out or attempting to carry out a legitimate strike” (1996 Digest of the Decision and Principles of the freedom of Association Committee of the Governing Body of the ILO fifth (revised) edition, 2006 paragrph 590; 302 and report case NO 1849, para 211, 307th Report, case NO 1890, para 372; 310th Report Case NO 1932, para 515; 311th Report, Case NO 1937, para 211 318th Report, Case NO 1978, para. 218; 321st Report, Case NO 205th Para 137, 624th Report, Case NO 2072; para 587; 326th Report; Case NO 2091, Para 154; 331st Report Case NO 1937/2027, para 105, and 333rd Report, Case NO 2164, para 608.”
The Minister of Education needs to consult the ILO which has ruled that:
“Respect for the principles of freedom of association requires that workers should not be dismissed or refused employment on account of their having participated in a strike or other Industrial action.” (ILO, Freedom of Association Digest, 2006; 603)
“Imposing sanctions on unions for leading a legitimate strike is a gross violation of the principles of Freedom of association” (658)
“The closure of trade union offices, as a consequences of a legitimate strike, is a violation of the principles of freedom of association” (652).
These positions of the ILO are domesticated in the Labour Act section 9 vi which states “No contract shall –
(a) make it a condition of employment that a worker shall not join a trade union or shall not relinquish membership of a trade union; or
(b) Cause the dismissal of, or otherwise prejudice a worker –
(i) By reason of trade union membership; or
(ii) Because of trade activities outside working hours or, with the consent of the employer, within working hours.
ASUU’s invoking of the non-victimisation clause, rather than being an introduction of a new demand, is a commonplace ILO position which Government ought to know, as Nigeria is a signatory to the relevant ILO Convention NO 87 and 98 of the ILO. It is also the position of the Nigerian Labour Act. The Minister of Education ought to know that this is so. It is not a new demand.
4. Why ASUU insists on a validly endorsed Memorandum of Understanding
As we have shown, the proper way to go is not to take the position of, or understanding by one party to the dispute, either ASUU’s or government’s to be the resolution of the issues. The legitimate procedure is that both sides should sign a resolution showing what was agreed and what was not. Resolution of a dispute is not a favour done by one side to the other. But this is how the Minister of Education expects ASUU to take it. He would want ASUU to accept that Government was doing ASUU a favour. This is wrong.
Second, the on-going crisis was exacerbated when one side to the dispute – Government, represented by the Secretary to the Federal Government announced to the public and ASUU that the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding (a document authorised by himself) was not binding on Government since it was signed by a Permanent Secretary and was, therefore, a mere promise and a non-binding piece of paper. The valid endorsement of agreed Resolutions by both sides is a sine qua non for a just and a lasting resolution of the present dispute. It is a universal position, not a new demand.
5. Deliberate lies and misinterpretation
i. The Lying Pro-Chancellor
We have observed that there are individual role players who serve governments and who have clearly less than honest intention, and consequently violate the principle of truth-telling, when presenting ASUU’s positions to government. One such person is a Pro-Chancellor who told the President of Nigeria that the University of Uyo shared the money sent by government to the University as earned allowances – to all staff and still had enough to return to the Government. We found that this person lied.
We have also received the information that this same person as Pro-Chancellor informed Government that 60% of ASUU branches voted for and 40% voted against suspending the strike unconditionally.
But here is the truth: of the Fifty-two (52) branches of ASUU, forty-eighty (48), roughly 92% advised conditional suspension of the strike i.e, suspending the strike only if certain conditions are met, and four (4) advised suspension of the strike before pursuing the implementation of certain conditions.
The truth is that if a liar of the kind we have discovered occupies an important position among Pro-Chancellors, should anyone expect honest leadership in times of crisis in the University system? This is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed and we invite the public and government to address it.
ii. The Minister of Education’s misrepresentation
From all the evidence, it is clear that ASUU has not made any new demands. First, asking the government to implement its agreement to provide N200 billion in 2013 in two weeks is not a new demand. Pointing out that the President and ASUU agreed that the 2009 Agreement will be renegotiated in 2014, and re-asserting it because the letter from the Ministry of Education omitted it, is not a new demand. The inclusion of the non-victimisation clause is a universal practice. And ASUU’s insistence that the resolutions accepted by both sides be signed by both sides is not a new demand but a requirement of all agreements.
6. The Sack Threat and the Return of Fascism
The threat to sack all lecturers for exercising their right to strike was made in 1993-1996 by the Generals Babangida and Abacha regimes. Professor Ben Nwabueze, who was the Minister of Education in General Babangida’s regime and who was instrumental to the military assault on the right of Nigerians to strike, is still alive. It is unfortunate that close to twenty years of national life have not taught politicians and their government the simple lesson that the job of lecturers is bound by the University statutes, which stipulate conditions for employment, promotions and dismissal of lecturers at all levels. There are, at present, in Nigeria over thirty thousand (30,000) academic staff, each of whom has certain rights that cannot be pronounced away by any government or Minister. That a Minister of Education would pronounce a threat of mass sack of academic staff is a tragedy of huge proportion for Nigeria and Africa. While ASUU has been struggling for conditions in which Nigerian students would benefit from a very much enhanced academic environment in teaching and research facilities, the Minister of Education is thinking of a thoughtless mass sack as a solution to the problems arising from Government’s non-implementation of an Agreement reached with ASUU as if Nigerian rulers have made no intellectual progress since Abacha!
To be clear: Nigerian lecturers – from Graduate Assistants to Professors, are not begging anybody for jobs. It is now well known that since 2003, successive governments have told the Nigerian people, repeatedly, that the solution to Nigeria’s social and economic crises is to kill public economic and educational institutions and institute the reign of private control of the economy and education, whereas the Constitution of Nigeria states clearly that the Commanding Heights of Nigeria’s economy shall be publicly owned. The President of Nigeria in 2003, General Obasanjo told ASUU that the solution to Nigeria’s University crisis is massive privatisation. From all indication the Minister of Education, on behalf of the present Government, assisted without shame by NUC, and on behalf of Government, is set to carry out in the sphere of education what one of its predecessors did with Universities, Transcorps, and the Airways. The way is being paved for privatisation of education. Academic staff have a duty to defend the right of Nigerians to sound public education. To succumb to the present threat by the Minister of Education on behalf of Government is to give up on Nigeria. We in the academic profession have no such intention.
We resisted Abacha’s dictatorship. We refused to succumb to Obasanjo/IMF attempts to weaken public in favour of private universities. We convinced Yar’Adua to keep faith with the interests of Nigeria’s youth and desist from privatising education. We remember Obasanjo’s position that the solution to ASUU’s resistance is to flood Nigeria with private Universities.
In spite of all these, stretching from ASUU’s principled resistance since the military, we have noticed with disgust how easy it is for ministers and governments to take refuge in political blackmail. We shall never succumb to this. Our country is our Union’s constituency.
Nigerians should ask the Minister of Education – why did the Government not respond to ASUU’s letter expressing the Union’s understanding of the “Resolutions” of 4th November 2013? Why did the Minister of Education choose to go public to accuse ASUU of introducing new demands without first replying ASUU NEC’s response to the letter from the Ministry of Education? Did he reply ASUU’s letter to express objections to ASUU’s understanding of government’s position before going to public with gross misinterpretation and ignorance of well-known trade union laws and practices? The answer is No!, No!!, No!!!. The malice is clear. We now invite you to look at the facts.
According to the Needs Assessment Reports, here are the needs of Nigerian public universities for academic staff:
• There is a total of 37,504 teaching staff across all Nigerian Universities
• The majority of the universities are grossly understaffed
• Generally speaking, teaching staff distribution in the country, both by qualification and by rank indicates that Nigeria’s university system is in crisis of manpower. Instead of having not less than 80% of the academics with Ph.Ds only about 43% are Ph.D holders. And instead of having about 75% of academics to be between Senior Lecturers and Professors only about 44% are within the bracket while the remaining 56% are not.
• Gross inadequate number of teaching staff compared to student population resulting in the production of ‘educated illiterates’ that lack the requisite skills and training to bring about the much needed development in the country as well as to take over the mantle of leadership of the country in future.
• Given the inadequacy of teaching staff in the university system, it is recommended that government shall have a deliberate policy of improving the national teacher-student ratio to 1:20 within the next two years. Using the present figures of students’ enrolment; this translates to increasing the number of full-time academic staff in Nigerian universities to 50,000. This means the recruitment of additional 23,000 lecturers on the basis of 50:50 ratio between the Federal and State universities.
Does or does not the Minister of Education know all these? If he does not, that is disastrous. If he does, how serious should Nigerians take a Minister who possesses all this information yet believes he can subdue academics by threat of sack? Where does he want to get them from? How many foreign lecturers does he hope to recruit with the Conditions of Service in Nigeria, with the knowledge that they can be sacked arbitrarily? ASUU will welcome Nigerians abroad to come back and join the academic development of Nigerian universities. This will be in fit with ASUU’s struggles to reverse the brain drain. Let the Minister of Education find thousands of them to replace those he wants to sack.
We shall bow only to what we as academics are convinced will serve the interest of Nigeria and its people, no matter their ethnic, religious or class origins. This is where we stand. We shall never be cowed.
We call on all Nigerians who care about our country, all men and women of good will, to prevail on government to do what is just and noble as its present approach will only compound the deepening yet avoidable crises.
Nasir F. Isa, Ph.D
President, for and on behalf of ASUU
Source: Premium Times