ASUU, unimplemented agreements and the well-known unwanted crescendo 

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By Andrew A. Erakhrumen

Some stakeholders in Nigeria’s public universities were, fleetingly, all agog on the 15th/16th of October, 2021, when the public space was tactically inundated with information from the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), through the Minister of Labour and Employment (MoL&E) – Dr.  Chris Ngige – that a marathon conciliation meeting held between FGN and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to evaluate the level of implementation of both the Memorandum of Understanding signed by both parties in December 2020 and resolutions of the follow-up meeting held on 2nd of August 2021. The excitement, referred to earlier, sprang from the assurance by the MoL&E that all the issues on their meeting’s agenda were satisfactorily addressed. He made other sweetly sweet implausible promises as characteristic and expected of a Nigerian politician! So much of bogus promises inapt for a government already in two and a half of four years second and final term! We are not privy to the content of the meeting’s agenda, but newspapers quoted Dr. Ngige on: revitalisation funds for public universities, earned [academic] allowances (EAA), University Transparency Accountability Solution, lecturers’ promotion arrears/other outstanding payments, shortfalls in salary payments and renegotiation of 2009 ASUU/FGN Agreement.

Newspaper reports also have it that the said meeting set a timeline – for the payments for revitalisation funds to public universities, EAA, promotion arrears plus other outstanding payments and shortfalls in salary – to begin on or before 30th of October 2021. This is interesting, superficially! Nevertheless, what is today’s date? The answer rekindles our earlier calls for urgent attention to the ‘brewing’ industrial crisis in Nigeria’s public universities. This is because the FGN has, again, failed to honour agreement(s) it reached with ASUU, which paved way for the suspension – effective from 12:01am of December 24th, 2020 – of ASUU members’ total, comprehensive and indefinite strike. Zonal Press Conferences, by ASUU, held from 8th to 15th of September 2021 to sensitise all stakeholders for awareness, interventions and positive actions, in implementing the aforementioned agreements. As at today, the FGN is, as usual, lackadaisical towards attending to the earlier-mentioned and other past collective agreements they freely entered into with ASUU! It is no more news that the public space is awash with claims by other trade unions that governments, at all levels, have always failed, and are still failing, in fulfilling agreements with them! This does not portray Nigerian governments as ones that are responsive and responsible!

Similarly, the scary increasingly increasing insecurity situation, in Nigeria, can be linked to this perceived and/or real non-responsiveness, irresponsibility, unpreparedness for leadership tasks and outright cluelessness by those currently in government and their predecessors! Consequently, we strongly believe that Nigerian politicians are, all-together, in one all-encompassing nebulous ‘camp’. The distinguishing factor, in the ‘camp’, is that a group is in power while others are not! To buttress this, let us candidly take some vivid testaments from recent history. The current Minister of Education in Nigeria, Malam Adamu Adamu, on the 8th of November 2013, had an article published in Daily Trust Newspaper, from which we excerpted the followings: Let’s get a few things straight. If ASUU decides today not to embark on any strike again ever, this will not solve any of the problems of the education sector; rather, it will compound them. Malam Adamu Adamu clearly/rightly states that [government always engage in] adamant refusal to ever honour any of its agreement with ASUU until it is forced into doing so by a determined strike action. He seeks to know “what is there in ASUU’s demand that will take the [then] Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Senate President, the Vice President and the President himself to fail to solve?”

However, we recently have it in one of our interventions that: Malam Adamu Adamu was quoted in newspapers to have purportedly stated that the “insolvable” problem that had resulted in incessant strikes by ASUU was that a government in this country went and sat down with ASUU and agreed on some conditions that it would pay universities N1.3 trillion. We have not read, anywhere, yet, that Malam Adamu Adamu, in any way, disputed this statement attributed to him! Hence, what exactly has changed between 2013 and 2020 (2021)? Is this a case of political doublespeak? It is unfortunate, if it is, especially for him who has been the Nigeria’s Minister of Education since 2015 to date! In order not to be singling Malam Adamu Adamu out, please, read the following excerpts from the current Minister of Information and Culture – Alhaji Layiwola “Lai” Mohammed – who also had this to say earlier, on the 21st of August, 2013, in Daily Post Newspaper: ……. no government worth its salt can afford to play with education, because it is the path to national developmentASUU was not making any fresh demand beyond the agreement it reached with the government in 2009. Agreements are meant to be honoured and breaching them comes with some consequences ……. The [EAA] ASUU is demanding cannot be renegotiated.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed went ahead to state that the then Federal Government’s lackadaisical approach towards the 2013 ASUU strike is an indication of the kind of priority that [the] Federal Government attaches to education that while it has refused to meet its own side of an agreement it reached with ASUU since 2009, it could pay out 3 trillion naira in non-existent fuel subsidies to fat cats, spend 10 billion naira annually to maintain the jets in the presidential fleet and do little or nothing to prevent the stealing of 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day, which translates to $120 million in a month, money that surely ends up in some people’s pockets! What we are saying is that if the Federal Government would reduce its profligacy and cut waste, there will be enough money to pay teachers in public universities, as well as fund research and upgrade infrastructure in such institutions. Hungry teachers can neither teach well nor carry out research. And poorly-taught students can neither excel nor propel their [country] to great heights. It is almost unbelievable that the two people quoted above have been in government since 2015!

When they were questing for power, Alhaji Mohammed had this to say: Education is the key to national development. This is why UNESCO has recommended an allocation of at least 26% of national budgets to that critical sector. Therefore, talking about national growth and development without adequately funding education is a pipe dream! Today, we doubt if Alhaji Mohammed still espouse this position! Are we then wrong to say that today’s Nigerian politicians are in the same ‘camp’? This discussion is apt, as it will be unfair to lay blames at the wrong door if and when the ‘brewing’ industrial crisis reaches its well-known unwanted crescendo. It is being placed on record, here, that if there is/are negative impact(s) on universities’ academic calendar as a result of the “brewing” industrial crisis, the blames should be rightly laid at the door of FGN! Instability in public universities’ academic calendar – owing to industrial crisis – is something members of ASUU very much love to hate. Education is the bedrock for the well sought-after development. So, well meaning Nigerians (and non-Nigerians) should impress upon governments to quickly learn – now – how to honour/implement their own part of all the mutually-reached agreements with ASUU. The people in government cannot, and should not, be toying with the future of others’ children/wards while theirs are safely acquiring education overseas and in private institutions locally!

Andrew A. Erakhrumen teaches at the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.