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No-work-no-pay’ Stalls FG/ASUU Negotiations – Minister

Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has revealed that insistence by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for payment of six months salaries of the strike period stalled the negotiations between the Federal Government and lecturers, The Sun reports.

Adamu said President Muhammadu Buhari rejected it outrightly when he presented the report to him.

He made the revelation at the weekly press briefing organised by the Presidential Communication Team, at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, yesterday.

The union had been on strike since February 14, over alleged refusal of the government to keep to agreement entered with it.

Its demands included implementation of the 2009 FG/ASUU renegotiation agreement and deployment of UTAS, payment of outstanding arrears of Earned Academic Allowances.

Others are payment of promotion arrears, and release withheld salaries of academics.

Speaking yesterday, the minister said: “All contentious issues between the government and ASUU had been settled except the quest for members’ salaries for the period of strike be paid, a demand that Buhari has flatly rejected.”

The minister said the president’s position has been communicated to the lecturers who are being awaited to call off the strike. He said the rejection was to curb the excesses of trade unions that want to be paid for work not done.

Adamu further disclosed that the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) payment system proposed by ASUU has outscored the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) already in use by government and which the lecturers were kicking against.

He also said IPPIS has been updated to now accommodate payment of those on sabbatical.

The lecturers had accused government of not considering the peculiarities of tertiary institutions in the IPPIS.

Adamu also debunked the report that UTAS has not been approved by government as payment platform for university lecturers.

He said government has proposed a new salary to the unions which, he said, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian University (SANU), the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) and Allied Institutions and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) have accepted in principle and were now consulting with their members with a view to calling off the strike in the next one month.

He, however, commended the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) for calling off its strike.

The minister also said it was the responsibility of ASUU to compensate students for the time wasted during the six-month strike not the Federal Government. He suggested that the affected students should take ASUU to court to claim for damages incurred over strike period.

According to him, the Federal Government bears no liability to compensate millions of students grounded for six months over lost time, saying if the students were determined to get compensated, they should take ASUU to court.

On the recurring strike that have crippled university system, the minister said it was important for the public to be aware that “the Federal Government is paying the salaries of every staff in its tertiary institutions, academic and non-academic staff, while these institutions are also in full control of their internally generated revenue. We are doing everything humanly possible to conclude on the negotiations. It is our hope the outcome of the renegotiations will bring lasting industrial peace to our campuses. In the main time, I am sure the current efforts would yield the desired results and return our children back to school.”

Adamu also called for crackdown on perpetrators of examination malpractice, which, he said, has been covered to be a cartel. He called on examiners to work closely with law enforcement agencies to crackdown on examination malpractice.

According to him, despite efforts to raise the integrity of the examination system in schools nationwide, the ministry still grapples with malpractice perpetrated both at the examination councils and school levels.

He lauded the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) for its efforts at stemming malpractice, saying more works need to be done.

The minister disclosed the Buhari’s administration has expended over N6 trillion in capital and recurrent expenditure in the education sector in the last seven years.

He said this was in addition to interventions from Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) and Universal Basic Education Commission amounting to N2.5 trillion and N553,134,967,498 respectively in capital investment.

“We must also note and appreciate the huge investments from states and the private sector at all levels of our educational system. We will continue to improve on the implementation of the Ministerial Strategic Plan all through to 2023 for the overall development of the education sector and the Nigerian nation.

“We will continue to create the necessary enabling environment to attract more and more private sector investment. We shall hand over a better education sector than we met it.”

Adamu said the number of out-of-school children has dropped from an estimated 13 million to 6.9 million, with an impressive enrolment from online states of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Gombe, Bauchi, Adamawa, Taraba, Rivers and Ebonyi. He linked the increased enrolment to activities of the Better Education Service Delivery for All.

Lecturers reject new salary structure

The hope of imminent resolution of the over six-month strike has been dashed as ASUU has rebuffed the Recommended Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure (CONUASS) presented by the Federal Government to the union.

It said the proposed salary structure drafted by the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) did not follow the principle of collective bargaining and asked the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Education, to return to the New Draft Agreement of the 2009 FG/ASUU Renegotiation Committee whose work spanned five and half years as a demonstration of good faith.

This was contained in a statement, yesterday, by the union President, Emmanuel Osodeke.

“At the resumed meeting of FG/ASUU 2009 Agreement Re-negotiation Committee on Tuesday, August 16, 2022, the government team presented an award of a CONUASS prepared by NSIWC to ASUU. ASUU firmly rejected and still rejects the award.

“The 1981 FGN-ASUU agreement, under Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s administration, established the principle of collective bargaining, based on the Wages Boards and Industrial Council’s Decree No 1 of 1973, the Trade Dispute Act (1976), ILO Conventions 49 (1948), 91(1950), 154 (1988) and recommendation 153 (1981), Udoji Commission Report of 1974, and Cookey Commission Report of 1981. It also provided a platform for resolving such important issues as special salaries and conditions of service of university staff, university funding, roles of pro-chancellors, vice-chancellors, and National Universities Commission (NUC). A key outcome was a special salary scale for university staff known as University Salary Structure (USS).

“At the commencement of the renegotiation of the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement on March 16, 2017, both the Federal Government and ASUU teams agreed to be guided by the following principles as their terms of reference: reversal of the decay in the university system, in order to reposition it for its responsibilities in national development; reversal of the brain drain, not only by enhancing the remuneration of academic staff, but also by disengaging them from the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure and restoration of universities, through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; as well as ensuring genuine autonomy and academic freedom.”

Osodeke said government’s surreptitious move to set aside the principle of collective bargaining is injurious to Nigeria’s aspiration to become an active player in the global knowledge industry as it processes the potential of damaging lecturers’ psyche and destroying commitment to the university system.

“Rejecting a salary package arrived at through collective bargaining is a repudiation of government’s pronouncements on reversing brain drain. It is common knowledge that, more now than in the 1980s and 1990s, Nigerian scholars, especially in scarce areas like science and medicine, are migrating in droves to Europe, America and many parts of Africa such as South Africa, Rwanda, and Ghana with supportive environment to ply their trades as well as competitive reward systems for intellectual efforts. Does the Nigerian government care about what becomes of public universities in another five or 10 years if this trend continues?” he queried.

He further asserted that government imposed the ongoing action on the union and has encouraged it to linger because of its provocative indifference

“The Munzali Jibril-led renegotiation committee submitted the first draft agreement in May 2021 but government’s official response did not come until about one year later.

“The award presented by the Nimi Briggs-led team came across in a manner of take-it-or-leave-it on a sheet of paper. No serious country in the world treats their scholars this way.

“Over the years, particularly, since 1992, the union has always argued for and negotiated a separate salary structure for academics for obvious reasons. ASUU does not accept any awarded salary as was the case in the administration of former military head of state, Abdulsalam Abubakar.

“The separate salary structures in all FG/ASUU agreements were usually the outcome of collective bargaining processes.

“The major reason given by the Federal Government for the miserly offer, paucity of revenue, is not tenable. This is because of several reasons chief of which is poor management of the economy. This has given rise to leakages in the revenue of governments, at all levels. There is wasteful spending, misappropriation of fund and outright stealing of our collective patrimony. “ASUU believes if the leakages in the management of the country’s resources are stopped, there will be more than enough to meet the nation’s revenue and expenditure targets without borrowing and plunging the country into a debt crisis as is the case now.

“The new draft agreement gives other recommendations for the funding of major components of the renegotiated 2009 FG/ASUU agreement. One of such recommendations is the tax on cellphone and communication lines. Ironically, Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning recently announced its readiness to implement ASUU’s recommendation, as a revenue source, but not for education, without acknowledging the union,” the union president said.

Commonwealth to mediate

The Royal Commonwealth Society, Nigeria branch, has pledged to mediate between ASUU and FG using the instrument of ‘Academic Diplomacy’ to resolve the situation.

Country Director of the society, Blackson Bayewumi, in a statement, appealed to ASUU to embrace meaningful dialogue, consultations and compromise at resolving the prolonged academic strike, given the fact that the Federal Government was confronted with several other challenges with limited resources.

He urged the union to also consider the lean income of the government to call-off the strike in the interest of the students, their parents and the nation in general.

“It is now essential for the Royal Commonwealth Society, Nigeria branch to intervene in the ongoing industrial action by members of ASUU, in Nigeria after over six months of shutting down academic activities in all public universities.

“There is the Article XI of the Charter of the Commonwealth adopted on December 14, 2012 by Commonwealth Heads of Government, and signed on March 11, 2013 by Queen Elizabeth II, of England, and Head of the Commonwealth.

“This article shows that access to education, among others, is accorded high priority by the Charter of the Commonwealth.

“Nigerian universities are members of the Association of Commonwealth Universities which is one of the associations accredited to the Commonwealth,” he said.

Bayewumi said the association championed higher education as the cornerstone of stronger societies, with a mission to build better world through higher education.

He, therefore, said the importance of higher education to the social, political, economic, industrial, medical, scientific and technological development of a nation could not be over emphasised.

“Besides, keeping young men and women idle for long at this age should be totally avoided, as the popular saying: ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop’.

“Our esteemed young men and women should be properly educated, mentored and productively engaged for posterity of the country,” he said.

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