Latest on ASUU – University teachers told the government yesterday that ASUU strike will continue, despite tomorrow’s deadline for them to resume or get sacked.
The stage appears set for a long-running battle, with President Goodluck Jonathan reportedly directing pro-chancellors to ensure compliance with the deadline.
Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) President Nasir Isa Fagge told reporters in Abuja that the teachers, who started their strike on July 1, will not back down, “until the government implements the agreement”.
He described the government deadline as “just a threat”.
Jonathan has told pro-chancellors to ensure that willing lecturers and students return to the campuses without fear.
A highly-placed source in government, who confirmed this directive to our correspondent, said the pro-chancellors were told to ignore ASUU, adding that all Dr. Jonathan, a former teacher, wanted was positive result from the campuses.
The source said Jonathan warned the pro- chancellors not to compromise the government’s position to terminate the strike.
Most of the pro-chancellors, the source said, are on their way to their campuses to carry out the presidential order.
He said: “We were told by President Goodluck Jonathan to take charge of the universities, meet with vice-chancellors and ensure that all the affected institutions are opened for lectures on December 4 (tomorrow). That is the directive and I, like many other pro-chancellors, are on our way.
“I do not know if this is the best solution to the disturbing crisis in our tertiary institutions, but I think we need to do something to stop the drift. We have been given a directive and, as parents, it is our responsibility to see that students are back in schools after four months of staying at home.”
The ASUU President said: “The strike will end when government implements the agreement reached with President Jonathan. We were given the assurance before that the agreement will not be renegotiated just as Jonathan promised us when we interacted with him in that 13-hour duration. We thank Mr. President for his patience, but let us also do what is right.”
ASUU said it requested at its meeting with the President that he should facilitate the resolution of the issues as a way of concretising their understanding of the agreed position.
The agreed positions are that the:
•N200 billion agreed upon as 2013 revitalisation Fund for public universities shall be deposited with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and disbursed to the universities within two weeks;
•renegotiation of the 2009 agreement in 2014 be included in the final document as agreed at the discussion with Jonathan;
•non –victimisation clause which is normally captured in all interactions of this nature, be included in the final document; and that
•a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) 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.
Isa said: “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.
“On the renegotiation of the agreement in 2014, there was an agreement at the interaction with the President that the renegotiation of the ASUU/FG 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.”
Isa stressed: “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 (ILO).”
He accused Supervising Minister of Education Nyesome Wike of incompetence.
Past government leaders, Isa said, also declared war on ASUU and the union did not succumb.
He said a pro- chancellor had been lying to President Jonathan that “the University of Uyo shared the money sent by government to the university as earned allowance- to all staff and still had enough to return to the government. We found that this person lied.”
His words: “The threat to sack all lecturers for exercising their right to strike was made in 1993-1996 by 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 20 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 Nigerian’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, Chief Obasanjo, told ASUU that the solution to Nigeria’s university crisis is massive privatisation. From all indications, the Minister of Education, on behalf of the present Government, is set to carry out in the sphere of education what one of its predecessors did with the Universities. Transcorp 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 the late President Umaru Yar’adua to keep faith with the interests of Nigerian 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.
“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%. 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.”
Asked if ASUU is willing to return to the negotiation table, Isa said: “There was never a time we failed to come and discus. It is only where it becomes clear to us that the dialogue has become a dialogue between the deaf and the dump. Under that circumstance. no meeting.”