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How FG-ASUU 2009 agreement is killing universities


ASUU National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi

University education in Nigeria over the years has remained shambolic and the academic calendar, erratic as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the federal government are at each other’s throats over an agreement that dates back to 2009. The November 5 strike embarked upon by ASUU is the latest in a series of industrial actions by the union. Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, reports that when two elephants fight the grass always suffers.

The strike is total. No teaching, no exam, no statutory functions. We are not doing anything except observation of the strike. So, from now, no examination or any other academic activities will take place because we have joined the strike. We, hereby, tell our students that we love them and we don’t want to lose any of them at the cause of anything that may happen during the industrial action,” a university lecturer said on November 5 this year when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) declared an indefinite strike over the federal government’s failure to meet its demands.

The University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) and Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife are said not to be agreeable to the strike. The UNILORIN chairman of ASUU, Uthman Abdulraheem claimed that the university did not join the strike because the school was not officially informed by the union. At OAU, there is an allegation of division in ASUU resulting in a faction springing up. While many of their colleagues in other universities had returned home due to the ongoing strike, students at OAU were left deciding whether to believe ASUU or its faction.

The ASUU chairman, OAU chapter, Adeola Egbedokun, a day after the strike begun insisted that the university should join the strike. In defiance, though, a faction of ASUU identified as the Congress of Nigerian Universities Academic (CONUA) said it would not be part of the industrial action.

“We can’t generally be part of what we are not privy to. We were not taken into consideration. We were not approached on the issue. So, we can’t be part of the strike. Our members still respect statutory duties,” Niyi Sunmonu, the chairman of CONUA, stated.

Last Wednesday, in what sounded like a strike-weary union, ASUU stated that it was ready to negotiate with the government concerning the ongoing industrial action. Biodun Ogunyemi, national president of ASUU, had told journalists.According to him, the decision to go on strike was taken due to the poor funding of universities in the country, failure on the side of the government to honour the memorandum of agreement (MoA) signed between the union and the federal government in 2017.

A meeting between ASUU and the federal government’s delegation to resolve the crisis scheduled for Thursday at the instance of Adamu Adamu, minister of education, has not ended the strike. Ogunyemi pointed out that the N200 billion released by the federal government in September is not an issue but that sum ought to have been released in October 2017 as part of the 2013 agreement.

“It would be recalled that the federal government had agreed to inject N1.3 trillion to fund universities at N220 billion yearly for five years,” Ogunyemi said. If government fails to fund public universities the situation on campuses may degenerate, worse than the already poor quality teaching and learning environment,” he argued.

The Dr. Wale Babalakin-led renegotiation team felt otherwise saying, “Should the federal government make available the sum of N1trillion every year to fund university education, which is equal to 70 percent of the total capital released for 2017, which was N1.3 billion? In our opinion, this is not realistic in a country that has other competing needs such as infrastructure, defence, security, health and other needs that require government’s urgent attention.”

Babalakin also pointed out that the government was only able to fund 22.5 percent of university needs and proposed what his team believe is a more sustainable method of funding as the renegotiation team wants an increase in the number of scholarships available to university students providing 30 percent of students with such opportunities. For the remaining 70 per cent, the team said an education bank can provide an annual loan of N1 million to cover their tuitions and other costs.

“Our position is that every student, who gains admission to a university and is not able to qualify on merit for the federal government’s scholarship should be entitled, as of right, to obtain a loan from the education bank. A loan of N1 million per annum would be made available to each of such students. N700, 000 out of this loan will be paid to the university as tuition fees while the balance will be available to the student as support towards his upkeep allowances,” Babalakin explained.

“The loan from the education bank is a right for all those, who are qualified and who apply for it. It will be provided at an interest rate of no more than five per cent per annum to enable the bank cover the cost of administering the loan. The loan will be structured in a manner that the student borrower will not expend more than 10 percent of his income in repaying the loan over a given period,” he said.

That there is no love lost between the union and the federal government is not in doubt and for obvious reasons. One of which is the 2009 agreement between the two parties. Yet, since the reconstitution of the government’s negotiation team, it appears many steps have been taken backward.

The longstanding distrust between the union and the federal government has once again been brought to the fore as the gown is asking the government to remove Babalakin, as the chairman of the government renegotiating team for the 2009 agreement with the federal government.

For almost 10 years ASUU and the government have held each other by the jugular until a moment of truce came when Babalakin was appointed in 2017 to renegotiate and agreement reached between the two parties. However, as of August 2018, the academic union has begun singing a new song: ASUU wanted Babalakin out of the renegotiation room.

“You will recall that in January, 2017, the NEC meeting of ASUU held at Bayero University, Kano, welcomed the reconstitution of government renegotiation team to enter into renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU/FGN Agreement, which was long overdue. The renegotiation commenced in March 2017.

At the inauguration of the committee, the Minister of Education declared that he expected the renegotiation exercise to be completed within six weeks. Since then, for over 14 months, our union has had series of negotiation meetings but it has been a fruitless exercise,” Ogunyemi explained.

He argued further: “The Chairman of the Government Renegotiating Team, in the person of Dr. Babalakin (SAN), has constituted a stumbling block in the process of the renegotiation. He has arrogantly exhibited ‘I-know-it-all’ attitude and also conducted himself as a judge instead of a negotiator. With unwarranted arrogance, he has disregarded the cardinal principles of collective bargaining, deliberately slowed the process and made mockery of the core tenets of industrial democracy. He has arrogated to himself the power to decide matters that should be collectively debated, analysed, and agreed upon by the two parties.

“He has also consistently attempted to substitute core constitutional provisions of Nigeria on education, including university education, by market principles of trading in and purchasing higher education, putting Nigerian children in debt peonage in order to acquire higher education. This situation is not acceptable to the union.”

Such were the weighty allegations levelled against Babalakin. According to the union, many entreaties to make Babalakin “see reason and return to the path of collective bargaining and respect for the constitutional provisions on education” were unsuccessful.

The ASUU president noted further: “The chairman of the government’s team has amply demonstrated that his major interest is to force ASUU to accept the dependence of the education of our youth on debts whereas the constitution promises free education. Since March 2017, a period of over 14 months, discussion has hovered only on funding and Babalakin’s insistence that a tuition regime must be introduced into the public universities in Nigeria. It is significant to point out that education is a right, according to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

However, Ogunyemi stated that the team notes that based on the cost determined by the National Universities Commission, of above $3,000 per student, per course, per annum, which has been accepted by ASUU, it will require about N1.8tn to fund university education alone, taking due cognisance of the level of enrolment of students.

It added: “This amount of money exceeds the total capital release made under the 2017 budget of the Federal Government. The team does not believe that the government is in a position to provide this amount of money in a sustainable manner for the length of time required to turn around the educational system in Nigeria.”

To the Babalakin-led team, university education requires a robust funding from diverse sources and not from the government’s treasury alone. The team also observed that the position has been supported by the National Council on Education, which confirmed the need to fund education from sources other than the government treasury, including an education bank and student loan scheme.

It is little wonder that the team is, therefore, “of the opinion that if the choice is between free education and good quality education, the team prefers the latter”.

It will be recalled that after the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement, there was a provision for the renegotiation of the agreement every three years. It was in March 2017 that the first renegotiation was held. Yet, that meeting, according to ASUU broke down since May 2018 because of “deliberate tactics adopted by the leader of government team to scuttle the renegotiation.”

The issues for renegotiation are non-implementation of components of the 2017 memorandum of action, non-release of over N1 trillion arrears or revitalisation fund owed public universities from 2014 to 2018. Others include non-release of the forensic audit report on earned academic allowances and non-payment of arrears for 2009 to 2017, failure to mainstream the payment of earned academic allowances into the annual budget.

ASUU also wants the government to resolve the issue regarding the unpaid arrears of shortfall in salaries in universities that have been verified under the presidential initiative, on continuous auditing.

On July 1, 2013, ASUU embarked on a nationwide industrial strike over federal government’s refusal to implement some components of the 2009 agreement with the union, which include the academic earned allowance, funding and development of infrastructure.

Public analysts are of the opinion that the government is using delay tactics to renege on its promises on the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement and September, 2017 MoA. The 2019 general election is around the corner. It is not clear how an ASUU strike can adversely affect the chance of President Muhammadu Buhari chance in next year’s presidential election.

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ASUUBiodun Ogunyemi
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