Monday, August 24, 2009


In response to what the Federal Government calls the rigidity of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in the on-going nationwide strike, it has called off further negotiations with the striking lecturers. On its part, ASUU has sworn to continue its action until the government concedes more grounds and formalises their agreements. But since the destiny of Nigerian youths and integrity of university education in the country are at stake, both parties and indeed other stakeholders should urgently work towards resolving the logjam.
In taking its stand, government clung to a curious technicality, which was explained by the Chairman of the FG/ASUU Re-negotiation Committee, Mr. Gamaliel Onosode, the other day. He said: “The government team endeavoured to facilitate the conclusion of these negotiations at the strictly employer/employee level. Unfortunately, that effort has been stalled by the current strike action. We therefore cannot get to the point where the Councils can receive the documents and speedily conclude the negotiations for implementation. Consequently, the government team is not in the position to continue further negotiation with the Union until it suspends its strike action to provide an enabling environment for them”.
From the government view point, that argument is strengthened by the concessions it has reportedly made to the dons, at least, in principle: The autonomy granted to universities to appoint their own vice-chancellors, the 70 years retirement age as against the current 65 years, special monetary allocation for staff training and research, allocation of N33billion for the upgrading of six universities and also the 40 and 20 per cent salary increase for ASUU and non-academic staff respectively.
However, the lecturers claim to have enough reason for being skeptical about government’s sincerity. They cite their previous experiences on the same matters, bordering on their welfare and the restoration of the glory and quality to the education sector, particularly at the tertiary level. In 2001, government failed to execute the pact it had with ASUU. Three years later when it was due for review, it had not even been officially assented to, let alone implemented. And then, in the last days of the immediate past administration, it was re-negotiated, but it has remained unsigned.
The most unsettling episode in this government-worker melodrama took place in June 2007, one month into the present government. President Umaru Yar’Adua (also a former lecturer) called the teachers who were then on strike and persuaded them to call it off to give him a chance to tackle their grievances. They did. But in a twist, Yar’Adua declared that the face-off would only be settled by the Supreme Court. In this light, ASUU’s refusal to go back to work before concretizing its deals with government is understandable. Government’s decision to invoke the “no work, no pay” policy is, therefore, hasty. Sadly, it is not likely to work.
The right way to go now is back to the negotiation table. But in so doing, ASUU should accept the unlikelihood of achieving blanket conditions for both the federal and state universities. Reason: the two tiers of government are not only structurally unequal; their financial status is also uneven. Even individual states differ from one another in terms of revenue. So, while a mutually acceptable benchmark could be sought and agreed upon, compelling government to approve uniform remunerations would be unfair.
On a final note, government need not be reminded that in the current rating of universities worldwide, no Nigerian university is among the top 5,000. As the most important deciding factor in this critical aspect of national life, it should seize every opportunity to put education on the path of full recovery and dignity. Nigerians have suffered enough illiteracy, shame and underachievement occasioned in part by a mediocre educational system.