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Nigeria Won’t Sign Agreement It Can’t Implement with Striking University Lecturers, Says Education Minister

ASUU has been on strike for nearly seven months over the alleged unfulfilled deals. Among the lecturers’ demands are better funding of universities and increase in remuneration.

Against the background of the ongoing faceoff with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over alleged government failure to fulfil agreements reached with the union, Nigeria’s federal government has said it will not sign any other agreement it cannot implement. Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, disclosed this on Tuesday in Abuja during a meeting of Pro-Chancellors and Vice Chancellors of Federal Universities, held at the National Universities Commission (NUC).

Adamu said President Muhammadu Buhari warned the government team involved in the negotiation with ASUU against signing an agreement that government would not be able to fulfil.

ASUU has been on strike for nearly seven months, since February 14, over the alleged unfulfilled deals. Among the lecturers’ demands are better funding and equipment of Nigerian public universities and increase in remunerations.

But Adamu said the federal government could only afford a “23.5 per cent salary increase for all categories of the workforce in federal universities, except for the professorial cadre which will enjoy a 35 per cent upward review.”

He also said N150 billion would be provided for in next year’s budget for the refurbishment of federal universities, with another N50 billion for the payment of outstanding academic staff allowances.

The minister said the meeting of the heads of universities, convened at the instance of NUC, became “necessary and urgent due to certain misconceptions and misinformation in the public domain, regarding the ongoing strike action by ASUU.”

Adamu told the Pro-Chancellors and Vice Chancellors, “Not only is our interaction today (September 6) necessary, it is also urgent to clarify the misrepresentations and draw your attention to the facts, which you, as managers of our universities, ought to know by virtue of your assigned duties.

“It is, indeed, one of your statutory duties to negotiate with your workers on matters of their welfare and conditions of service.”

He recalled that the “current industrial action in our public universities started on 14th February 2022, when ASUU commenced a two-week warning strike over the non-implementation of agreements reached between government and the union.

“In all we have been doing, our guide has been the directive of Mr. President Muhammadu Buhari, namely, that while the unions should be persuaded to return to work, government should not repeat the past mistakes of accepting to sign an agreement it will be unable to implement.

“Government should not, in the guise of resolving current challenges, sow seeds for future disruptions.”

The minister stated, “To compound matters further, the three other university non-teaching staff unions – SSANU, NASU and NAAT – also declared trade disputes against the federal government and commenced nationwide industrial actions a few weeks later. NAAT started its strike on March 17, 2022 while the Joint Action Committee of SSANU and NASU followed suit on March 27, 2022.

“In response to the unions’ demands, the federal government reconstituted the FGN/University-based Unions 2009 Agreement Renegotiation Committee, with Professor Nimi Briggs as Chairman, on 7th March, 2022.

“The committee was charged with the responsibility of concluding the ongoing federal government renegotiation efforts with the university-based unions and producing appropriate solutions, workable and enduring agreements for the improvement of the Nigerian University System (NUS).”

The minister added, “While the Briggs committee was busy interacting with the unions on all the issues, a federal government inter-ministerial team, under the leadership of the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, was simultaneously engaging the unions and resolving some of their minor demands, such as salary shortages and payment of arrears of the minimum wage consequential adjustments as well as payment of promotion arrears.

“The Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning was able to resolve most of these issues by the end of July 2022.

“On May 12, 2022, about three months into the strike, a high powered Tripartite Plus Conciliation Meeting was held at State House Banquet Hall, at the instance of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, with a view to finding solutions to those issues that were considered thorny and generic to both the teaching staff (ASUU) and non-teaching staff Unions (SSANU, NASU and NAAT).”

Adamu said two of the issues specified during the meeting were categorised under the University Transparency and Accountability Solutions (UTAS) by ASUU and the University Peculiar Personnel and Payroll System (U3PS) as well as the delay in Renegotiation of 2009 agreements -conditions of service, wages and allowances.

According to him, “It is important to note that this special conciliation meeting was chaired by the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, and had in attendance the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the Ministers of Labour, Education, and Finance, the Head of Service and top government officials.

“The meeting was also attended by the Sultan of Sokoto, the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and all the other critical stakeholders, including the leadership of the four University-based Unions (ASUU, NASU, SSANU and NAAT).

“There were two major outcomes of the meeting. The first was the decision to test the two proposed salary payment solutions, developed by the unions namely, the UTAS proposed by ASUU and the U3PS, jointly proposed by SSANU and NASU.”

Adamu said soon after a Conciliatory Tripartite Meeting in May, the Briggs team concluded the re-negotiation with ASUU and produced a draft agreement, which was forwarded to the federal government, through the Minister of Education, for consideration and approval.

He stated, “Similarly, the re-negotiation with the non-teaching staff unions had since commenced, and an appreciable progress had been made towards producing the desired agreements for consideration and approval by their respective principals.

“In the course of the exercise, the FGN Team made several attempts to wade into the industrial crises between the FGN and the university-based Unions, with a view to finding a lasting and amicable solution to the challenges.

“After a series of meetings with His Excellency, Mr. President, and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Minister of Labour and Productivity; Minister of Communications and Digital Economy as well as the DG of Budget and the Chairman, Salaries and Wages Commission and the Minister of Education, the Draft Agreement was critically reviewed and the proposed salary increment considered unrealistic and out of tune with the current realities of the national economy.”

On government’s offer, the minister said, “It was at this meeting that Mr. President approved that the Minister of Education should take over the negotiation and resolution of the crisis. Soon after the meeting, the Minister of Education conveyed the federal government’s offer to the Nimi Briggs Renegotiation Committee and to each of the four unions.

“The package offered centred around the four positions agreed upon by the government. It is as follows: that the federal government can only afford a 23.5 per cent salary increase for all categories of the workforce in federal universities, except for the professorial cadre which will enjoy a 35 per cent upward review;

“That henceforth allowances that pertain to ad-hoc duties of the academic and non-academic staff shall be paid as at when due by the Governing Councils of Universities to which such services are rendered and to the staff who perform them;

“That a sum of N150 billion shall be provided for in the 2023 budget as funds for the revitalisation of federal universities, to be disbursed to the institutions in the first quarter of the year.

“That a sum of N50 billion shall be provided for in the 2023 budget for the payment of outstanding arrears of earned academic allowances, to be paid in the first quarter of the year.”

However, the four university-based unions, in separate letters addressed to the chairman of the Government Re-negotiating team, rejected the government’s offer. They described the offer as too inadequate to meet their respective demands needed to tackle the challenges confronting the university system.

Meanwhile the federal government yesterday constituted another committee to look into the recommendations of the Briggs’ committee in charge of the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement between the government and the university-based staff unions.

The 14-man committee comprised some pro-chancellors, vice-chancellors, and other stakeholders.

The spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Ben Goong, who briefed journalists after the meeting yesterday, noted that Adamu would chair the committee.

Adamu inaugurated the 14-man committee to look into the recommendations on the resolution of the lingering ASUU strike.

Members of the committee included Professor Olu Obafemi; Briggs; Udo Udoma; Bashir Dalhatu; Professor Kayode Adebowale (University of Ibadan); Professor Kabir Bala (Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria); Professor Lilian Salami (University of Benin); Professor Charles Igwe (University of Nigeria Nsukka); Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, Professor Ishaq Oloyede; representatives of the Academy of Letters, Science, Medicine and Social Sciences.

The committee would also be chaired by Adamu.

Committee of VCs Recommend N800,000 Salary for Professors

In the meantime, the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU) has urged the federal government to increase the salaries of university professors to N800, 000, as against the N1.2 million negotiated by the Briggs committee. This would represent a 50 per cent salary increase offer, as against the 23 per cent increase being proposed by the federal government.

The committee also set up a sustainable peace team of elders to resolve the lingering impasse between the federal government and ASUU. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that this was confirmed by the Secretary-General of CVCNU and Coordinator of the team, Professor Michael Faborode, on Tuesday in Abuja, through, “The Sustainable Peace Team Working Paper.”

Faborode said the goal of the team was not to allow the current impasse in the ASUU strike to prolong, as its toll on all stakeholders and the nation had been colossal. He said to arrive at the final list, no serving vice chancellor or pro-chancellor was included and membership was based on the record of service as recorded by the CVCNU.

He said that the team comprised Professor Jibril Aminu, former Vice Chancellor, University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID); Emeritus Professor Olufemi Bamiro, former Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan (UI); Professor Ekanem Braide, President, Academy of Science; and Dr Nkechi Nwagogu, former Pro-Chancellor, University of Calabar (UNICAL).

Other members of the team are Professor Joe Ahaneku, former Vice Chancellor, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK); Professor Fatima Mukhtar, former Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Dutse; and Professor Akpan Ekpo, former Vice Chancellor of University of Uyo (UNIUYO).

Also in the team are Professor Yakubu Ochefu, Secretary General, Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU), and Faborode.

Adamu said, “We should not fold our hands and watch our ‘house’ collapse on us as elders. So, we should speak or act now. We do not have any other industry other than the university system.

“Whatever can be done to bring all the actors to reason and broker peace using the Professor Nimi Briggs committee recommendations as the fulcrum, will be worth the effort. A lot had been done already and such patriotic efforts should not be wasted nor despised.”

Faborode said the “Peace Team of Elders” would operate under the auspices of the CVCNU/CPC, noting that both the federal government and ASUU are being reached to accept the intervention of the independent team of elders.

He added, “The team will liaise with the Professor Nimi Briggs committee to understand the basis of the elements of their proposals, and check with both the federal government and ASUU to identify the areas of concern and objection.

“Afterwards the team will brainstorm on how to mitigate the thorny areas and work with all the parties to bring the imbroglio to an amicable end in the interest of all concerned and the nation.

“The meetings and consultations will be mainly online by Zoom and, perhaps, finally face-to-face to safe costs once we make progress. This is, however, subject to review as we proceed.”

Faborode said the team had listed some preliminary considerations that could shape parties’ understanding and way forward with respect to the deadlock on federal government’s strong stance of no-work, no-pay policy and ASUU’s rejection, thereby prolonging the strike to an indefinite one.

He said, “How do we engage with the Nimi Briggs committee? I am personally in touch with the chairman, and he feels the outstanding issues are not insurmountable.

“These include federal government raising its offer of salary increase from 23 per cent to, maybe, 50 per cent that will ensure a professor receives up to N800,000 monthly, as opposed to the negotiated N1.2 million.

“Also, the review of the decision on salaries during strike to a mid-position, not zero per cent nor 100 per cent as ASUU wants. How can we further this admonition to both sides?”

Kuni Tyessi

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