HomeSPORTSStrike: ASUU May Shut Down Varsities Over Delayed University Governing Councils

Strike: ASUU May Shut Down Varsities Over Delayed University Governing Councils

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by_Afor Kenneth

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has issued a nationwide strike threat due to the prolonged delay in constituting governing councils for universities, months after their dissolution.

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It would be recalled that in June 2023, the National Universities Commission (NUC) dissolved the governing councils of all federal universities following a directive from President Bola Tinubu.

But months after the move, ASUU insists that the dissolution is “illegal”, claiming that the move has “paved the way for all manner of illegalities in the Nigerian University System”.

“ASUU shall do all within its powers to ensure that the dignity of the academia is fully restored in line with practices obtainable in forward-looking climes,” ASUU’s president Emmanuel Osodeke said in a Tuesday press conference.

“So, Nigerians should hold the Federal and State Governments responsible if the matter of Governing Councils is allowed to snowball into an avoidable industrial crisis.”

READ THE FULL TEXT OF ASUU’S PRESS CONFERENCE

INTRODUCTION
Comrades and compatriots of the Press,
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) held its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, between Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th May, 2024. At the meeting, the union undertook a dispassionate and comprehensive review of the status of its engagements with Federal and State Governments on how to reposition Nigeria’s public universities for global reckoning and competitiveness. The meeting also took a critical look at the worsening living and working conditions in our universities and the nation at large. The meeting received alarming reports on the failed promises of the Federal and State governments towards addressing the lingering issues that forced the union to embark on the nationwide strike action of February–October 2022. NEC sadly noted that there are no serious efforts to redress the ugly situation. Reports available to NEC indicate that an increasing number of Nigerian academics died while thousands of others are nursing life-threatening ailments occasioned by work-related stress, absolute pauperization, and multidimensional insecurity. ASUU calls this press conference to intimate members of the fourth estate of the realm and indeed all Nigerians of the grim situation our universities have been grappling with since Dr. Chris Ngige and his collaborators truncated over five years of government’s engagements with ASUU at the point of signing a negotiated agreement in 2021.

III. Renegotiation of FGN/ASUU 2009 Agreement
As our union has consistently stated, salary awards are no substitutes for a negotiated Agreement. Each negotiated Agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria (FG) and ASUU is a comprehensive package that captures not the just salary component but also a gamut of requirements for benchmarking a competitive university system designed for addressing the developmental challenges of Nigeria. ASUU’s demand for negotiated salary and other conditions of service is anchored on the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention No. 98 which underscores the principle of collective bargaining. The last FGN/ASUU Agreement was in 2009. Consequent upon the union’s advocacy spanning almost one decade, our union went into the renegotiation with the FGN as in 2017. We started with the Wale Babalakin-led Joint Renegotiation Committee. Emeritus Prof Munzali Jibril took over when negotiation broke down owing to Dr. Babalakin’s highhandedness and fixation to impose his unworkable anti-worker orientations as terms of agreement. Also, at some point, the Federal Government dropped Prof. Munzali Jibril and directed Emeritus Prof. Nimi Biggs to take over the negotiation. A draft Agreement was reached with the Professor Briggs-led Committee in 2021. Unfortunately, agents of the Buhari government refused to approve the draft Agreement for reasons best known to them!

Compatriots of the Press would recall the infamous role played by the then Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, in truncating the successful conclusion of the FGN-ASUU renegotiation process that lasted for more than four years. The reviewed agreement with the Briggs-led government team has remained in its draft form from 2021 till date. One consequence of this anti-labour stance is the aggravated loss of tested Nigerian scholars to universities elsewhere in Africa and all over the world where their expertise is better appreciated. Even with the paltry salary award, the current take-home pay of a professor at bar is about $500/month! In the face of a heightened tax regime, what a professor at bar earns is about $400 per month which is a scandalous under-valuation of the scholarship.

It is therefore not surprising that the Nigerian University System is continuing to sink deeper and deeper into crisis of underdevelopment. The symptoms of this festering crisis are there for all to see: low academic staff morale, widespread discontent among staff and students, fast diminishing sense of patriotism manifesting in the Japa syndrome, and many more! For the umpteenth time, ASUU calls on the President Tinubu-led administration to immediately set in motion the process that will leading to the review and signing of the Nimi Briggs-led renegotiated draft agreement as a mark of goodwill and assured hope for Nigeria’s public universities. Nigerian academics are tired of platitudes laced with disdain for intellectuals; only concrete steps to restore their eroded dignity and degraded lives can guarantee lasting peace on our campuses.

IV. Governing Councils in Public Universities
NEC observed with dismay the continued erosion of autonomy of public universities, contrary to the provisions of the Universities Miscellaneous Act (1993, 2012). The illegal dissolution of Governing Councils by the Tinubu Government and many State Governments has paved way for all manner of illegalities in the Nigerian University System. University administrations now place advertisements for the appointment of Vice-Chancellor without authorization from the appropriate quarters – the Governing Councils. Outgoing Vice-Chancellors, working in cahoots with the Federal and State Ministries of Education, are illegally running the universities on daily basis. They routinely usurp the powers of Governing Councils to recruit and discipline staff as well as manage university finances in manners bereft of transparency and accountability.

It is therefore stating the obvious to say that these and sundry activities that run contrary to the extant laws are compounding cases of corruption in our universities. ASUU condemns these anomalies in strong terms and calls on the Federal Government and the equally affected State Governments to respect the Laws establishing their universities. Universities are supposed to be the bastion of democratic ethos and practices. We cannot entrench sustainable democratic culture in Nigeria if universities are run by the whims and caprices of individuals no matter how knowledgeable. We therefore restate our demand for reinstating Governing Councils whose tenures are yet to lapse and reconstitute those whose tenures had lapsed so that our universities can run in accordance with their Laws. ASUU shall do all within its powers to ensure that the dignity of the academia is fully restored in line with practices obtainable in forward-looking climes. So, Nigerians should hold the Federal and State Governments responsible if the matter of Governing Councils is allowed to snowball into an avoidable industrial crisis.

V. Unending Grip of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System
Compatriots of the Press, it is now public knowledge that IPPIS is a fraudulent platform that inflicted unprecedented hardship on Nigerian academics and corruptly distorted university operations with respect to payroll management. More importantly, ASUU has consistently rejected IPPIS because it grossly violates the autonomy of our universities. Unfortunately, we are worried that the grip of IPPIS on the universities is far from being eased more than four months after the government mooted the idea of exiting universities and other tertiary institutions from the discredited payment platform. As at today, the salaries of our members are still whimsically withheld just as third-party deductions such as cooperative contributions, pension deductions and union check-off dues are not released. The platform, with all its encumbrances, is used to pay our members under the disguise of the “New IPPIS” contrary to the understanding reached at the 11th January, 2024 stakeholders’ meeting held at the National Universities Commission (NUC).

ASUU’s position remains unchanged: Government should revert to quarterly releases of university funds to enable the institutions design and implement their salary payment plans under the supervision of their Governing Councils. This is the touchstone of a truly autonomous university system as experienced in Nigerian universities of the 1960s and 1970s. In the interest of industrial harmony, government should direct the immediate release of all outstanding deductions, unpaid promotion arrears and salaries of university academics which were unjustly withheld by the corruption-ridden IPPIS regime.

VI. Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standard
NEC received reports that, despite its earlier rejection of the NUC-imposed Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standard (CCMAS), the Commission is unrelenting on enforcing its implementation with effect from current academic session. Almost all universities are being burdened with funding resource verification for migrating from the erstwhile Basic Minimum Academic Standard (BMAS) to the new academic benchmark. ASUU considers these developments as infractions that are unhealthy for the Nigerian University System. University Senates are the authorities recognized by university laws to initiate academic programmes and award degrees, diplomas and certificates. The regulatory function of the NUC is mainly to ensure that universities operate according to their laws, rules and regulations, not to breath down the necks of universities. Once again, ASUU calls on the NUC to join forces with ASUU’s efforts to address challenges associated with underfunding, understaffing, academic staff turnover, and other more pressing problems affecting quality teaching, learning, research and community service in our universities.

VII. Proliferation of Universities
Our dear compatriots, as you are possibly aware, the matter of proliferation of universities was one of the issues that led to the series of strike actions of 2020 and 2022. The union demanded and still demands that the 2020 ASUU-FGN Memorandum of Action (MoA) which stressed the need to review the NUC Act to make it more potent in arresting the reckless and excessive establishment of universities be fully implemented. During the lifetime of the last legislative session, a joint committee of ASUU and NUC submitted a draft bill to the National Assembly on this matter. However, that bill did not see the light of the day. The fallout from that is the reckless manner by which both the Federal and State governments have continued to pronounce universities without preparations for their funding. This recently came to an worrisome height when a sitting Governor beastly declared that he would establish ten universities in his State before the end of his tenure!

Nigeria boasts of over 170 universities comprising 79 that are owned by individuals and private organizations while 43 and 48 belong to the Federal and State governments respectively. However, about 95% of the students are still found in public universities which underscores the imperative of prioritizing the federal and state universities in Nigeria. However, rather than supporting our advocacy for adequate funding of public universities, each Senator is surreptitiously pushing for the establishment of a university as part of their constituency projects while Visitors to State Universities who could not fund existing universities are creating two or more purely for electoral gains. This trend has put much stress on intervention funds of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) which are diverted to establish new universities contrary to the Fund’s Act. ASUU shall explore all legal means to resist the pervasive moves by politicians to keep proliferating crisis centres for the children of the poor in the name of universities. We urge the President Tinubu-led administration to refrain from further proliferation of universities and refocus the system. What we need are universities that are adequately empowered to address the challenges confronting Nigeria and stand should-to-shoulder with their peers elsewhere in the world and mushroom glorified high schools.

VIII. Funding of Universities
Over the years, ASUU’s engagements with successive governments on funding of public universities have been predicated on scientifically established benchmark of annual budgetary requirements for education. Lately, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities’ (UNFPA) specification of 15%-20% educational budget for underdeveloped countries like Nigeria has been advocated by our union. However, there was no year in the last 10 years when allocation to education in the national budget was more above 10%. The average has hovered between 5% and 6%. ASUU decries the deliberate and continued underfunding of State and Federal Universities because it degrades the capacity of the institutions and further under-develops Nigeria.

The Federal Government recently decided to further reduce the resources available for TETFund intervention by channelling the fund accruable to the agency to the Students’ Education Loan Scheme. This is antithetical to the original intendment of the Law establishing the Education Tax Fund which now operates as TETFund. Grants from TETFund as an intervention agency should not replace adequate and regular budgetary allocations by federal and state governments for capital and recurrent expenditures in the public universities. So, NEC enjoins the Federal Government not to divert TETFund resources to funding loans so as not to water down the impact of its intervention. In addition, both Federal and State Governments should rise to their responsibility of adequate funding to arrest the emergent rot and decay that are becoming more noticeable on the campuses of Nigeria’s public universities in spite the intervention efforts of TETFund.

IX. Creeping Fascism in Some Nigerian Universities
Compatriots of the Press, we wish to, once again, call attention to the unending crises at the Kogi State University (KSU), Anyingba; Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Abakaliki; Lagos State Universities (LASU), Ojoo; Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma; Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU), Igbariam; and other universities where our members have been illegally sacked and their salaries are withheld for unjustifiable reasons. Justice delayed, is justice denied. ASUU is particularly disturbed at the seeming travesty of justice in the judgment delivered against our members at the Kogi State University, Anyigba after seven years of waiting. Without doubt, the undue elongation of the court proceedings has created untold hardship on our members who were unjustly sacked. We are equally dissatisfied at the developments at EBSU where, rather than implement the court judgement, the university is again prolonging legal action by appealing the judgement. NEC, while appreciating the intervention of NLC and the Visitor to EBSU, calls on Visitors to State Universities where our members are being persecuted to, as a matter of urgency, take steps to resolve all lingering matters and give their universities a new breath of life. As for ASUU, we stand solidly with our members anywhere and everywhere they are unjustly treated.

X. Arrears of Earned Academic Allowances and Non-Release of Owed Salaries:
Compatriots of the Press, we feel saddened that the Federal Government has still not paid the backlog of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) which was part of the allowances captured in the 2023 National Budget for Federal Universities. The December 2020 MoA between FGN and ASUU reaffirmed our understanding on mainstreaming of EAA into lecturers’ salaries while the next tranche of the allowances was to be paid in 2021. However, the scheduled payment was not only aborted, the mainstreaming EAA as from 2022 has remained a mirage in federal and most state universities. In addition, the outstanding three and half months’ salaries withheld during the preventable 2022 nationwide strike action remains unpaid to our members in the federal universities. Similarly, our colleagues in many state universities are being owed arrears of EAA, withheld salaries, third-party deductions and other entitlements due to them. ASUU condemns this seemingly disinterested of concerned authorities about these issues of life and livelihood of our members across the campuses. It will be unfortunate if the union is forced to take some unpleasant decisions to address all these lingering issues.

XI. The State of the Nation
Compatriots of the Press, the socio-economic crises in which our nation, Nigeria, is currently engulfed are multifarious and multidimensional, no thanks to the massive injection of neo-liberal policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In particular, the now famous “subsidy-is-gone” pronouncement of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu at his inauguration and the floating of the US Dollar’s exchange rate with Nigeria’s Naira have translated into hyper-inflation most noticeable in higher commodity pricing, galloping transportation costs, unaffordable housing, rising costs of public utilities including the banding, de-banding and re-banding of electricity tariffs, and many more. The quality of lives of the ordinary Nigerians has precipitously declined, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots is daily expanding; the rich getting stupendously richer while the poor are absolutely getting poorer. The so-called middle class has since been wiped off by the increasing weight of dependants in a society that prioritizes “palliatives” over and above the empowerment of the poor. So, while the masses suffocate from the adverse consequences of the neoliberal socio-economic policies of the government, members of the ruling class revel in questionable wealth that makes nonsense of the anti-corruption crusade.

ASUU-NEC reviewed the invasive decline in the socio-economic lives of Nigerians and the imploding consequences if the trend is not arrested. Nigerians can no longer eat well or sleep well. And the pervasive poverty has entrenched a multidimensional insecurity with the associated consequences. This is why the Government’s continued foot-dragging over living wage for Nigerian workers and sustainable empowerment of poor Nigerians is an ill-wind that will blow no one any good. It is the considered view of ASUU-NEC that the Federal Government of Nigeria should immediately deploy the instrumentality of collective bargaining to conclude the social dialogue on the new minimum wage for the country as a first step. Governments at the Federal, State and Local Government council levels should also take a critical look at all unworkable policies and programmes sponsored by the international money lenders such as the World Bank and IMF with a view to reclaiming the country’s sovereignty and restoring the confidence of Nigerians in their country.

Conclusion
Gentlemen and Compatriots of the Press, a number of issues on which ASUU has been engaging owners of public universities (Federal and State Governments) in the last one decade or so are yet to be meaningfully addressed. These include the sanctity of legally constituted Governing Councils; review of the 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement; revitalization fund for public universities; earned academic allowances; and withheld salaries, promotion arrears, and third-party deductions of our members. The others issues are illegal recruitments; proliferation of public universities/abuse of universities’ rules/processes; and treasury single account (TSA) and new IPPIS vis-à-vis the autonomy of universities.

In view of the critical review of the current state of affairs in our universities as well as in our nation at the last ASUU-NEC meeting,
NEC condemns in strong terms the seeming refusal of federal and state governments to decisively address all outstanding issues with the union;
NEC rejects all the ongoing illegalities and flagrant violation of university autonomy in public universities as a result of non-reinstatement/reconstitution of Governing Councils; and
NEC shall reconvene after two weeks from the date of the NEC meeting to review the situation and take a decisive action to address the issues.

The struggle continues!

Thank you.

Emmanuel Osodeke
President

13th May, 2024

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