When will the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other university-based unions end? This is the question on the lips of many Nigerians. FRANK IKPEFAN, in this analysis, examines the stalemate in ASUU- Federal Government negotiation and proffers solutions.

For over five months, parents and students in public universities have waited for the news of when Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other university-based unions will call off their strike. On Monday, parents got a shocker with the extension of the strike by one month by the university lecturers.  The lecturers based their decision on the need to give the Federal Government more time to fully address their demands.

Since the strike commenced on February 14, the lecturers have accused the government of insincerity in negotiations.

 

ASUU’s demands

Some of the demands of the lecturers are implementation of the Memorandum of Action (MoA) it signed with the Federal Government and deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution.

Others include Payment of Earned Academic Allowances, release of white paper of the visitation panels to universities, end to the proliferation of universities, especially by state governments, and for the government to sign the re-negotiated 2009 Federal Government-ASUU agreement.

 

Adamu steps in

After months of going AWOL, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, decided to step in following the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari that the minister should find an end to the strike.

Adamu offered to take over negotiations with the university unions from the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who has been at the forefront of the negotiations, on July 19. The education minister subsequently gave himself two weeks to reach agreement with the university lecturers. The two weeks sought by the minister ended on Tuesday, with him failing to tell Nigerians his plans for ending the strike.

ASUU President Prof Emmanuel Osodeke told The Nation that the union was yet to receive communication from the government.

Osodeke said: “There has been nothing from the Federal Government since the minister took over. He has not met with us.”

 

How negotiation with Fed Govt was stalled

On March 7, the Federal Government inaugurated a seven-member committee to re-negotiate 2009 agreements with the four university-based unions.

The new government team was chaired by Pro-Chancellor, Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, Prof. Emeritus Nimi Brigg.

Other members of the team were Pro-Chancellor, Federal University, Wukari, Lawrence Patrick Ngbale, representing the Northeast;  Pro-Chancellor, Federal University, Birnin Kebbi, Prof. Funmi Togunu-Bickersteth, representing the Southwest; Pro-Chancellor, Federal University, Lokoja, Sen. Chris Adighije, representing the Southeast; Pro-Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Prof. Olu Obafemi, representing the Northcentral; Pro-Chancellor, Kano State University of Science & Technology, Prof. Zubairu Iliyasu, representing the Northwest and Pro-Chancellor, Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Matthew B. Seiyefa, representing the Southsouth.

Adamu, inaugurating the committee, lamented that the negotiation of the 2009 agreements between the Federal Government and the unions — ASUU, Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) — which began in 2017, was stalled because of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.

The committee, which was to review the draft of the proposed FGN/ASUU agreement, had the following terms of reference:

  • Liaise and consult with relevant stakeholders to finalise the position of the Federal Government to the issues in the draft proposed FGN/ASUU Renegotiated Agreement;
  • Renegotiate in realistic and workable terms the 2009 Agreements with other University-Based Unions; and
  • Negotiate and recommend any other issue the Committee deems relevant to reposition the NUS for global competitiveness; and d. Submit proposed draft agreements within three months from the date of inauguration.

The committee concluded its work in June, this year, after arriving at a draft agreement with ASUU.

According to Osodeke, the leadership of ASUU met with the committee members four times on the condition of service for the university lecturers. Since the committee submitted its report to Adamu, there had been no feedback on the draft agreement.

Instead, it was gathered that the government rejected the 180 per cent increase in salary as recommended for professors.

The government based its decision on scare resources. This further exacerbated the strike. While the government has offered to increase the pay of lecturers by 100 per cent, ASUU president said the report had only been on the social media.

Osodeke said: “That (the 100 per cent pay rise proposal) is still a social media report; we are not aware. We have a negotiated agreement. If they have issues they should come back to us not go to the public.

“There is no offer, nothing from the government. When we see what they bring, we will look at it. That is collective bargaining. It has not been offered to me. When they bring their offer, we will look at it on the collective bargaining table. What we have as a draft agreement is their offer. It is not our own.

“It is not just a committee thing. Before they came to us, they would have discussed with their principal , which is the Federal Government. That is collective bargaining.  It is not when we have finished negotiations that the government will say it won’t accept the report.”

 

Origin of the present strike

The latest industrial action is an offshoot of the alleged failure of the Federal Government to fully implement the 2020 Memorandum of Action after the union called off its nine months’ strike in December of the same year.

The union had protested the decision of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to migrate all public service workers to IPPIS. After few years on the platform, ASUU begun to resist IPPIS.  It cited irregularities in the payment platform for the resistance.

The union proposed UTAS as an alternative platform for the payment of salaries for its members following discrepancies it highlighted in  IPPIS.

 

Why we adopted voluntary conciliation, by Ngige

Ngige on Tuesday explained why the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment adopted voluntary conciliation for the resolution of the strike instead of arbitration.

The minister said this was done in order not to delay the resolution process.

Ngige said he could have transmitted the matter to the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) or the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) but used his discretion to weigh the situation to know if it would cause more delay in the resolution of the dispute.

He said ASUU embarked on strike on February 14, and he started voluntary conciliation on February 22, and subsequently, on March 1.

According to him, by the second meeting, most of the issues arising from the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA), signed between ASUU and the Ministry of Education with other government agencies involved, were conciliated, leaving only two.

Ngige said: “The two outstanding issues were the conditions of service, which, according to the 2009 agreement, would be reviewed every four years.

“The last review was in 2013 and we started the review in 2018 under Wale Babalakin SAN as the chairman of the renegotiation committee. We could not conclude because Babalakin left.

“A new committee headed by Prof Jubril Munzali came. Munzali finished his work and submitted his report at the Federal Ministry of Education. All these committees, including the previous Onosode committee, were internal panels of the Ministry of Education. They discussed with the unions and gave them offers and counter offers vis-a-vis what they have said. Once the committees finished, their products were sent up.

“The major issue here is salary and wage review. That was where they were before ASUU embarked on strike.”

What next after the two weeks ultimatum?

Nigerians are waiting to see whether Adamu’s intervention would end the over five months strike.

Will Adamu’s intervention end the strike? Or do Nigerians have to wait longer before public schools reopen? The earlier the government meets the unions’ demands, the sooner students would return to the classrooms.

For Adamu, the clock is ticking.