The five-month-old face-off between the Federal Government and Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, over non-implementation of the 2009 agreement assumed a dramatic dimension yesterday, as the government vowed to sack any lecturer who fails to return to class within seven days.
The government has, therefore, directed all vice-chancellors of federal universities that are currently on strike to immediately re-open for academic and allied activities.
The striking lecturers on their part, declared the directive by the Federal Government a joke, saying they will never be intimidated into calling off the strike.
Supervising Minister of Education, Mr Nyesom Wike who briefed journalists in Abuja yesterday on the strike said it was rather unfortunate that after a 13-hour meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja on November 4, 2013, the union came up with new conditions before they could call off the strike.
He said it was obvious that the new conditions put forward by ASUU were not in the interest of the nation. One of the conditions was that President Jonathan should facilitate endorsement of resolutions reached with him, which must be signed by a high ranking government official, preferably the Attorney-General of the Federation but not a permanent secretary. ASUU said their representative as well as the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Abdulwahid Omar, would stand as witnesses.
The striking lecturers also wanted the N200 billion agreed upon as 2013 revitalisation fund for public universities to be lodged with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and disbursed to the benefitting universities. They also want the government to pay their salary arrears before resuming academic activities.
Resume or get sacked— Wike
Speaking with newsmen, yesterday, Wike said: “All Vice-chancellors of Federal Universities that are on strike should immediately reopen for academic and allied activities as directed by their Pro-Chancellors. Vice-Chancellors should ensure that staff who resume for work are provided with the enabling environment for academic and allied activities.
“Any academic staff who fails to resume on or before December 4, 2013, automatically ceases to be staff of the institution and vice-chancellors are also directed to advertise vacancies (internal and external) in their institutions”. He also accused ASUU of sabotaging the effort of government in addressing the issues especially after having a 13-hour meeting with President Jonathan where all issues were resolved and firm commitments were made.
He said ASUU first met with Vice- President Namadi Sambo but there was no positive response; so they met with President Jonathan on November 4.
He said: “On November 4, 2013, in a 13 hour meeting, President Goodluck Jonathan met with the ASUU executive, the labour union leaders from Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, where all issues were resolved and firm commitments made to address the lingering issues.
“It is noteworthy that Mr. President’s gesture was more than sufficient to guarantee the commitment of Government to address all issues as resolved at the meeting with Mr. President.
“At the end of the meeting with Mr. President, the ASUU executive promised to meet with its National Executive Committee to present the resolutions reached and report back by Friday November 8, 2013.
“As a responsible government we cannot allow continuous closure of our public universities for this length of time (five months), as this poses danger to the education system, the future of our youths and national development”.
The minister therefore directed NUC to ensure all the Federal Government universities comply with the directives saying, “the National Universities Commission, NUC, is hereby directed to monitor the compliance of these directives by various institutions”.
When asked whether the directive by the Federal Government to vice chancellors to reopen was not against labour laws, he said if there were any grievances they should seek redress in the law court.
Threats will only worsen it—ASUU
However, ASUU, in its reaction said the threat by the Federal Government to sack university lecturers would only worsen the situation and “another long path to make the strike linger more than necessary.”
With the threat, ASUU said it was evident now that the Federal Government was not ready to implement any resolutions it reached with the union.
While the government is threatening to sack the lecturers, the union disclosed that Nigerian public universities needed 60,000 lecturers owing to failure of government to employ.
The treasurer of the union, Dr. Ademola Aremu, who spoke on behalf of the union said the Federal Government would only succeed in wasting the time of Nigerians and youths in the country if it failed to perfect the resolutions.
ASUU said it was trying to do all necessary things as regards the resolutions reached with the government because it had reneged on the promises it made with ASUP, resident doctors, and health workers.
Describing the threat as an insult to the sense and sensibilities of Nigerians who were waiting on the Federal Government for positive reaction, the union said, “with the latest action, the Federal Government has shown that they are not committed to all they have been saying.
We are saying that since we agreed at the meeting that the sum of N200 billion is for 2012 and 2013 revitalisation, the Federal Government should deposit same in the Central Bank of Nigeria. We are already in November and December is around the corner.
If they don’t do that now, when do they want to do it?. We are saying the non-victimisation clause should be included as agreed while the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement should be included as agreed with the President.
“It is a pity if the Federal Government is not willing to perfect the resolutions reached with union. This is why we find it difficult to hold our leaders by their words. How can someone be threatening to sack lecturers when universities are already short-staffed by almost 60,000.
We are not in military era. The military tried it and failed. This one will fail again. They can re-open the schools. ASUU did not shut down the universities. It was the school management that ordered the students to go back home.”
FG ultimatum a joke— lecturers
Some university lecturers said that the Federal Government directive on the reopening of federal universities, which also directed other members of staff to resume by Dec. 4 or be sacked, was a joke. They spoke in separate telephone interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.
In his reaction to the directive, Dr Oghenekaro Ogbinaka, Chairman, University of Lagos branch of ASUU, said that the development was strange and laughable.
He said that this was so considering the fact that the union was yet to get back to the government, after their deliberations with President Goodluck Jonathan. “Our reaction is simple. Let us just wait for the seven days to come around.
What government has just done shows that they were not committed in the offer they made with the union that had the Trade Union Congress President and the Minister of Labour in attendance. We are not going to fall to that blackmail. Now, which one is better, government acceding to our demands or issuing out threats?
“Honestly, this whole thing ought to have been easily resolved, given the approach taken by President (Goodluck) Jonathan, but it is like we want to be taken for granted after all and it is unfair,” he said.
Professor Oyelowo Oyewo, immediate past Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, simply described the development as “a glorified joke and laughable”.
Oyewo noted that it was funny that one of the parties which had before now been holding dialogue, would try to intimidate the other .
“I see this whole thing as a joke and I dare say it is not even worth my comments. We just keep our fingers crossed and watch. I still emphasise that such ultimatum is a display of insensitivity and a huge joke.”
Also commenting on the government directive, Professor Sat Obiyan, Head of Department of Political Science, ObafemiAwolowoUniversity, Ile-Ife, said that the ultimatum was not the best approach to resolving the issue.
He, however, said that the threat might achieve some success because some lecturers would resume for fear of losing their jobs, but it would not end the crisis in the education sector.
Obiyan said however, that it was unfortunate that the strike was allowed to linger for so long.
“Nigerians are worried over the situation; the prolonged strike is not good for the education system in the country, but the Federal Government’s approach now is not the best.
ASUU used to threats
“What is required is little understanding by both parties to agree on something and end the strike without aggravating it. It is not a new thing for the Federal Government to threaten ASUU members with sack; it was done in 1996 by the late Sani Abacha.
“For the university system to work perfectly, you need all the personnel and not few lecturers on ground to teach,“ he said.
Obiyan urged the Federal Government to have a rethink and implement the agreement reached with the union.
He also urged ASUU to give the Presidency the benefit of doubt that the agreement would be implemented, given the President’s intervention which saw him leading the government delegation at the last negotiation.
Also, Dr Yinka Ajala, Head, Department of Geography, ObafemiAwolowoUniversity, Ile-Ife, said that the threat would ignite more problems in the education system.
Ajala said that threatening lecturers with sack should not be a weapon for the Federal Government.
He said that the ASUU executive was being careful with the agreement reached with the Federal Government before suspending the strike.
“What ASUU is asking for is not too much, they want government to show some commitment with the agreement. Government can only force few lecturers to resume but not all, even if the vice-chancellors open registers in the institutions.
“The sack threat is a tactic that will not work; it has been used by the military in the past, so it is not new to us. I do not think this is the way government should handle the strike, it will not solve the problem,“ he said.
The Coordinator of Education Right Campaign (ERC), Mr Hassan Soweto, said that the ultimatum would only worsen the problem, noting that it was against the principle of public bargaining. What ASUU wants is some level of commitment from the Federal Government before it will suspend the strike. It is not right for the government to use force in a democracy,“ he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Agbomeji Ibrahim, a student of LagosStateUniversity, Ojo, urged the Federal Government not to be authoritative by giving lecturers one week to return to classes or face sack.
Ibrahim, who is a student unionist, said that there was a better approach to resolving the issue, rather than using a sack threat.
“Both the Government and ASUU need to accommodate each other on the negotiation table because both parties cannot get all their demands and must be ready to shift grounds”, Ibrahim said.
ASUU’s Secretary, University of Abuja chapter, Abubakar Suleiman in his reaction said the conditions given by the union before the strike would be suspended were still real and insisted that the union would not compromise its stand on account of intimidation by government.
According to Suleiman, “the strike is still on and we are not going to call it off on account of intimidation. We are not raising any fresh demands, we only gave government conditions to ensure that our members who participated in the strike are not victimised.
Ekiti students embark on prayer sessions
Meanwhile, students from EkitiState, in tertiary institutions nationwide, embarked on marathon prayers and sought divine intervention to put an end to the strike action.
The students had converged on Lady Jibowu Hall, Ekiti Government House where they held the prayer session, yesterday. The session had in attendance, the state’s Deputy Governor, Prof essorModupe Adelabu and some clerics. Mrs Adelabu in her remarks cautioned the students against taking to the streets and engaging in illegal acts that could lead to violence and disruption of peace in the state.
The Deputy Governor noted that the students did the right thing by taking their petition before God. She said it was unfortunate that both parties to the dispute – ASUU and the Federal Government – remained adamant despite interventions from well-meaning Nigerians.
She then urged the students not to relent in their regular prayer for divine intervention, saying that the death of Prof Festus Iyayi, a frontline ASUU member in an auto-crash along the Abuja-Lokoja Road introduced another twist to the lingering dispute.
Mrs Adelabu, who expressed the hope that the prayers of the students would yield the desired result in a matter of days, counselled the undergraduates against engaging in activities that could jeopardize their future.
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