The federal government has stated that it would not sign any more agreements that it cannot implement in light of the ongoing dispute with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the government’s claimed failure to fulfill agreements signed with the union. This was announced by Nigeria’s Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, yesterday at the National Universities Commission meeting in Abuja, where Pro-Chancellors and Vice Chancellors from Federal Universities were present at the National Universities Commission (NUC).
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According to Adamu, President Muhammadu Buhari cautioned the negotiating team representing the government with ASUU against making commitments the administration could not keep.
Since February 14 (almost seven months ago), ASUU has been on strike over the purportedly unfulfilled agreements. The teachers are asking for higher pay and improvements to the resources available to professors at Nigeria’s public universities.
Adamu, however, claimed that the federal government could only afford a “23.5 per cent salary raise for all categories of the workforce in federal universities, save for the professorial cadre which will receive a 35 per cent upward review.”
In addition, he stated that N150 billion would be allocated in the budget for the renovation of federal universities the next year, and that N50 billion would be allocated for the payment of outstanding academic staff allowances.
As the minister put it, “some misconceptions and misinformation in the public arena, surrounding the ongoing strike action by ASUU,” made it necessary and urgent for NUC to call a conference of university presidents.
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To the Pro-Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors, Adamu said on September 6th, “Not only is our interaction today (September 6) necessary, but it is 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.” Negotiating with your employees about their benefits and working conditions is a legal requirement.
The “current industrial action in our public institutions started on 14th February 2022,” he said, “when ASUU commenced a two-week warning strike over the non-implementation of agreements reached between government and the union.”
Our efforts have been directed by President Buhari’s order that “although the unions should be encouraged to return to work, government should not repeat the past mistakes of accepting to sign an agreement it will be impossible to follow.”
Government shouldn’t plant the seeds of future disruptions under the pretense of addressing immediate problems.
The minister went on to say, “To make matters worse, the three other university non-teaching staff unions — SSANU, NASU, and NAAT — also announced trade disputes against the federal government and launched nationwide industrial activities a few weeks later.” On March 17, 2022, NAAT began its strike, and on March 27, 2022, SSANU and NASU formed the Joint Action Committee. After union pressure, the federal government on March 7, 2022, reestablished the FGN/University-based Unions 2009 Agreement Renegotiation Committee with Professor Nimi Briggs as chairman. For the betterment of the Nigerian University System (NUS), the committee was given the mandate to “conclude the ongoing federal government renegotiation efforts with the university-based unions and produce acceptable solutions, practical and enduring agreements.”
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The minister continued, “While the Briggs committee was busy interacting with the unions on all the issues, a federal government inter-ministerial team, led by the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, was concurrently engaging the unions and addressing some of their minor demands, such as salary shortages and payment of arrears of the minimum wage consequential adjustments and payment of promotion arrears.”
Before the end of July 2022, the Ministry of Finance, Budget, and National Planning had solved most of these problems.
About three months into the strike, on May 12, 2022, at the behest of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, a high-powered Tripartite Plus Conciliation Meeting was held at State House Banquet Hall with the goal of resolving the issues that were common to both the teaching staff (ASUU) and the non-teaching staff Unions (SSANU, NASU and NAAT).
Adamu stated that 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, were two of the issues specified during the meeting.
He claims that the President’s Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, presided over the special conciliatory conference, which also included the Head of Service, the Ministers of Labor, Education, and Finance, and other senior government officials.
Attendees included the Sultan of Sokoto, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and representatives from all four student unions at the participating universities (ASUU, NASU, SSANU and NAAT).
“Two main things came out of the conference. The first was the agreement to pilot two competing wage payment systems created by the unions, the Union of Teaching Assistants of the University of Nigeria (UTAS) and the Union of Academic Staff of the University of Nigeria (U3PS), respectively.
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Adamu stated that the Briggs team had completed the renegotiation with ASUU and submitted a draft agreement shortly after a Conciliatory Tripartite Meeting in May, which was then sent to the federal government for evaluation and approval via the Minister of Education.
In a same vein, he said, “Similarly, the re-negotiation with the non-teaching staff unions had since begun, and an appreciable progress had been made towards obtaining the requisite agreements for consideration and approval by their individual principals.”
Throughout the drill, the FGN Team attempted multiple times to “walk into the industrial crisis between the FGN and the university-based Unions with a view to finding a durable and amicable solution to the issues.”
The proposed salary increase was deemed unrealistic and out of tune with the current realities of the national economy after His Excellency, Mr. President met with the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning; the Minister of Labour and Productivity; the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy; the Director General of the Budget; the Chairman of the Salaries and Wages Commission; and the Minister of Education.
The minister elaborated on the government’s offer, saying, “It was at this meeting that Mr. President approved that the Minister of Education should take over the negotiation and resolution of the situation.” The federal government’s offer was communicated to the Nimi Briggs Renegotiation Committee and the four unions shortly after the meeting. The four government jobs were the focus of the deal. The federal government can only afford a 23.5 percent raise for all categories of the workforce in federal universities, except for the professorial cadre, who will enjoy a 35% 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;
However, the government’s offer was turned down by four different university unions in separate letters sent to the head of the Government Re-negotiating team. They felt the offer was insufficient to meet their needs and the needs of the university system as a whole in order to address the problems they saw.
However, yesterday the federal government formed a new committee to investigate the suggestions made by the Briggs’ committee, which was tasked with renegotiating the 2009 agreement between the government and the university-based staff unions.
It was a 14-person body made up of pro-chancellors, vice-chancellors, and other interested parties.
According to Ben Goong, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, who briefed press following yesterday’s meeting, Adamu would be leading the committee.
Adamu appointed the 14-person panel to investigate suggestions for ending the ASUU strike.
The committee consisted of Professor Olu Obafemi, Briggs, Udo Udoma, Bashir Dalhatu, Professor Kayode Adebowale of the University of Ibadan, Professor Kabir Bala of Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Professor Lilian Salami of the University of Benin, Professor Charles Igwe of the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board;
Adamu would serve as the committee’s chairman.
Professors should be paid N800,000 per year, according to a recommendation by a committee of vice chancellors.
While the Briggs committee negotiated a salary rise for university lecturers of N1.2 million, the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU) has requested that the federal government boost this salary to N800,000. If accepted, this would be a 50% raise compared to the 23% hike suggested by the federal government.
The committee also assembled a group of respected elders to work toward a lasting peace agreement between the federal government and ASUU. According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Professor Michael Faborode, Secretary-General of CVCNU and Coordinator of the team, affirmed this in a working paper titled “The Sustainable Peace Team” presented yesterday in Abuja.
The current impasse in the ASUU strike has taken a huge toll on all parties involved and on the country as a whole, according to Faborode, who stated that the team’s mission was to prevent this from happening any longer. He explained that the final list was compiled by excluding any active vice chancellors or pro-chancellors and instead basing membership on the length of service as documented by the CVCNU.
Professor Jibril Aminu, formerly of the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID); Emeritus Professor Olufemi Bamiro, formerly of the University of Ibadan (UI); Professor Ekanem Braide, President of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences; and Dr. Nkechi Nwagogu, formerly of the University of Calabar, were among the members of the team, he said (UNICAL).
Professor Joe Ahaneku, formerly of Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK); Professor Fatima Mukhtar, formerly of Federal University, Dutse; and Professor Akpan Ekpo, formerly of University of Uyo, round up the group (UNIUYO).
Members of the team include not just Faborode, but also Professor Yakubu Ochefu, the Secretary General of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU).
Adamu urged the elders, “Do not stand by and let our ‘home’ collapse on us.” We should therefore either communicate or take action immediately. There is nothing here outside the university system that might be considered an economic driver. It would be worthwhile to do whatever is necessary to bring all the actors to reason and broker peace utilizing the recommendations of the Professor Nimi Briggs committee. A lot had been done, and it would be a shame to discard or disdain all that had been accomplished in the name of patriotism.
Both the federal government and ASUU are being lobbied to accept the intervention of the independent “Peace Team of Elders,” which Faborode indicated would function under the auspices of the CVCNU/CPC.
He continued, “The team will liaise with the Professor Nimi Briggs committee to understand the basis of the aspects of their proposals, and check with both the federal government and ASUU to identify the areas of concern and disagreement.”
Then, they’ll discuss potential solutions to the sticky spots and work with all the involved parties to resolve the conflict peacefully for the good of everyone involved and the country.
Zoom will be used for most of the sessions and consultations, and once we’ve made enough headway to save money, we may meet in person. This, however, is subject to change as we move forward.
In regards to the impasse caused by the federal government’s firm stance on the no-work, no-pay policy and ASUU’s rejection of it, Faborode said that the team has highlighted some preliminary considerations that could shape parties’ understanding and way forward.
‘How do we interact with the Nimi Briggs committee?’ he asked. I’ve had discussions with the chairman, and he doesn’t think the remaining problems are insurmountable.
“These include the federal government increasing its offer of salary increase from 23% to, maybe, 50% 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 percent nor 100 percent as ASUU wants. How can we get this warning out to both sides even more?