TEXT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE ACADEMIC STAFF UNION OF UNIVERSITIES HELD IN RESPECT OF THE NATIONWIDE STRIKE ACTION AT NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS HEADQUARTERS, PASCAL BAFYAU HOUSE, ABUJA ON MONDAY, 18TH SEPTEMBER, 2017
Compatriots of the Press,
As part of the avowed commitment of our Union, ASUU, to building a virile Nigerian state, we address Nigerians through you once again on matters that are critical to the stability, security and development of our nation, particularly on the place of education and the constant affront against it by successive governments in Nigeria. Life has almost lost meaning to the average Nigerian today. Stories of suicide, insurrection and brigandage are commonplace with the degradation of educational and other institutional frameworks for apprehending the perversion of our cherished values. Sadly, our leaders live in affluence while the people wallow in absolute poverty, which suggests callousness and indifference to the plight of the rest of Nigerians, and generates insecurity and violent conflict.
The place of education in the life and development of any country is generally acknowledged. Any nation that neglects education does so to its peril. Unfortunately, our country has chosen to follow this perilous path, over the years. The Academic Staff Union of Universities, our Union, has consistently called the attention of our country to, and challenged government after government on, the need to give education a pride of place in driving national development. While these struggles have yielded some substantive fruits, it is sad to note that the apathy and subterfuge of successive governments have resulted in incremental regrettable loss of progress and growth in the education sector, manifesting particularly in the deterioration and decay of the university system, with their negative consequences for the Nigerian society.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
The 2001 FGN/ASUU Agreement came to be, after a tortuous journey spanning years of protests, national strikes and resilient struggles by the Union, supported by the Nigerian people. The 2001 Agreement was due for review in 2004. It, however, took Government two years and an ASUU strike to begin the review in 2006, and an additional two years of unwarranted provocation of academics due to needless foot-dragging and insincerity on the part of Government.
In the course of renegotiation of the 2001 FGN/ASUU Agreement, the FGN/ASUU Committee derived its direction from the terms of reference listed by the then Minister of Education and agreed that the essence of the re-negotiation was:
(i) To reverse the decay in the university system, in order to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development;
(ii) To reverse 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 structure;
(iii) To restore Nigerian universities, through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and
(iv) To ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom.
The Negotiating Teams searched for, and arrived at minimal conditions for reversing the decay in the University System. Although the re-negotiation was completed in 2008, it took the government over a year to sign the Agreement – in 2009.
The failure of the Governments to implement substantial parts of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement led to series of warning strikes and, ultimately, a total, comprehensive and indefinite strike action in 2011/2012. These actions forced the government to conduct a nationwide assessment of the needs for addressing the rot and decay in our public universities. The Needs Assessment Report, released in July 2012, called for immediate and comprehensive intervention and revitalization of the universities. Unfortunately, although the government approved this report, it did not make any effort to address the issues raised. The failure of series of consultations, dialogues and interventions by well-meaning Nigerians to get government to do the right thing, once again, compelled our Union to embark on another strike action in 2013. The resolution of that strike action culminated in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal Government on 11th December, 2013. The goal of the MoU is to reinforce the compelling need to implement the provisions of the extant Agreements/MoU on the increased funding of public universities.
Major items of the 2013 MoU include:
1) Fund for revitalization of the university system, amounting to N1.3 trillion in 6 years, based on yearly release of N220 billion, starting with N200 billion in 2013.
2) A dedicated revitalization account to be opened by FGN with CBN to warehouse the fund.
3) A central Monitoring Committee to monitor the implementation of the revitalization of the universities.
4) Payment of outstanding balance of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) after verification of the level of payment made from the initial of N30 billion.
5) Engagement of the services of public universities in special consultancy as a way of boosting IGR of the universities.
It is true that Government raised the hope of Nigerians on the promise of addressing the rot and decay in Nigerian public universities with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding and release of the initial sum of N200 billion. However, and unfortunate for Nigeria, the hope has since been dashed. Indeed, the current government has revealed that the said N200bn was taken from the TETFund intervention account. This, no doubt, is a case of robbing Peter to pay Peter. The Needs Assessment Intervention Funds were to be raised from other sources to complement the efforts of TETFund, not to undermine an agency which is a product of ASUU struggles. TETFund was not, and is not, meant to be a “cash cow” for the political class and our Union will continue to challenge any attempt to derail it from its original mandate.
There is always a question – Why must ASUU adopt the strike option considering its impact on the quality of education which the Union wants to raise? The answer to this is simple. ASUU’s resolve to forge a hitch-free academic calendar has been proven by the utmost restraint which it usually showed before embarking on strike action. ASUU as a national body did not embark on any strike between December 2013 and November 2016. ASUU’s strikes are forced on it by the tendency of the Federal and State Governments to renege on the agreements freely entered into by them. Successive Governments have demonstrated a strong antagonism to the patriotic goals underlying ASUU’s agitations.
ISSUES IN THE CURRENT DISPUTE
Comrades and compatriots, the current strike has been necessitated by the non-implementation of the 2009 Agreement, 2013 MoU and the 2016 resolutions reached in the course of ASUU’s talks with representatives of the Federal Government under the chairmanship of the Senate President. Specifically, the issues in dispute are:
1. Funding for the Revitalization of Public Universities
2. Earned Academic Allowances (EAA)
3. Registration of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) and Pension Matters.
4. Universities Staff Schools
5. Fractionalization and Non-Payment of Salaries
6. Exemption of the University System from TSA
7. Poor funding and the proliferation of State Universities
With the commencement of the ongoing action on 12th August, 2017, we have held series of meetings and deliberations with the representatives of the Federal Government and arrived at a number of resolutions. These are captured in a Memorandum of Action (MoA) signed today, 18th September, 2017. For the avoidance of doubt, the new MoA is action-oriented because each item on the list has a time-line attached.
We want to state, unequivocally, that the continuous breach of trust by successive governments is the root cause of the continuing actions undertaken by our Union. The correct dictum is “Pacta sum servanda” (All agreements must be respected). The current resolutions, like every resolution, in a civil engagement, are based on mutual trust. It is our ardent hope that our trust will not be yet again misplaced. Consistent with the said prompt response, we expect that this government will abide strictly by all the timelines set out in the current resolutions. Our union deems it necessary to give a precautionary advice: should government unilaterally vary the agreement(s) it has signed with our union, we should not be held responsible for the consequences.
STATE OF THE NATION
Having addressed the matter of the strike action, it is crucial that we address even a more fundamental issue; the state of the Nigerian nation. The industrial action, as well as the entire university system, which it seeks to protect have meaning within the context of the state of the nation. Whatever happens to the nation ultimately impacts the university system. The current sorry situation of the country, therefore, is a matter of grave concern for ASUU. From education to the economy, from the society to national security, and to the livelihood opportunities, the situation is worrisome. The government has announced with glee the movement away from recession, but to the ordinary Nigerian citizen the reality is different. Neither poverty nor hunger nor general suffering has reduced in level or intensity in our country. The general unrest among the labour Unions is a reflection of the deplorable condition under which the Nigerian worker operates, just as the growing incidence of suicide is an indication of the level of frustration and hopelessness of the average Nigerian citizen. There are no advances in policies that can substantially provide the welfare needs – employment, health, education, etc – of Nigerians outside the ruling class.
All in all, the mounting feeling of insecurity in the country is now palpable. A clear indication of the level of insecurity is the massive security personnel, with which our leaders and the elites surround themselves, leaving the masses unprotected, at the mercy of the violent hoodlums who have overrun the country. The plague of armed robbery, kidnapping, and other forms of criminality are enough threat to the peace of any polity. However, these violent acts are treated as minor problems in Nigeria, even when they are compounded by the rising tide of ethnic and religious conflicts. The crux of the problem, in all these, however, is the inconsistent responses of the government, and its use of double standards in addressing the various issues, persons and groups that tug at the fabric of the country. Ultimately, the persistence of the problems is a result of the same paradigm that the people have suffered from – global liberalism.
ASUU is firmly convinced that the solution to the underdevelopment of our people is re-orienting Nigeria’s economy from neo-liberalism to a peoples-oriented model. The starting point is to exit the envelop-style budgeting and accord education its pride of place in the scheme of things.
CONDITIONAL SUSPENSION OF THE STRIKE ACTION
After an elaborate and extensive consultation process, the National Executive Council (NEC) of ASUU has agreed to conditionally suspend the ongoing action, taking into cognizance that major proposals from government to address the contending issues in the strike action has a deadline of the end of October, 2017.
All members of ASUU are to resume work after their branch congresses tomorrow, 19th September, 2017. However, ASUU will not hesitate to review its position should government reneges on the signed Memorandum of Action.
As a Union of intellectuals, ASUU shall not relent in confronting all human and artificial barriers to a transformed university education for the betterment of Nigerians and our dear Nation. For us, this may be a life-time project. We owe it to prosperity, for the sake of our children and their children’s children.
We thank all Nigerians for their understanding of the irrepressible concern and concerted efforts of ASUU for an educational system and Nigeria of our dream. In particular, our appreciation goes to members of the Press and our dear students who at various stages engaged ASUU leadership for clarifications on the basis of our struggle. Together we can make Nigerian universities enviable. Until and unless this happens, ASUU will not rest.
The struggle continues!