Nigerian university teachers threaten to resume strike

Another govt meeting with university lecturers commences
FILE: A govt meeting with university lecturers

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has accused the government of being reluctant to implement the agreement between the two parties and said it should not be held responsible if there is any disruption in the university system.

The union recalled that it issued a caveat before suspending its three months old strike in February that “the suspension was conditional.”

Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES in a phone interview Thursday evening, the national president of the union, Biodun Ogunyemi, said the government had not shown commitment to carrying out the 2019 Memorandum of Action.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the minister of education, Adamu Adamu, on Tuesday said the federal government had approved an additional N25 billion allowance for members of ASUU.

But Mr Ogunyemi said the money should have been released in February as agreed by the parties. He said it was meant to be a part-payment of the earned academic allowances of the teachers.

”As at now, the universities have not received the said N25 billion. The fund was expected to be used for part-payment of the arrears of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) as agreed with the Federal Government in February this year,” he said.

According to him, ASUU was told that approval had been given as far back as February.

”However, the fund has not been released to the universities for paying part of the outstanding EAA of those qualified to take it. Our members are seriously worried about this and other aspects of the Memorandum of Action ASUU signed with the FGN on 7th February 2019,” he said.

Mr Ogunyemi said the union will be having a meeting soon to take decisions on the situation.

“Reaching an agreement with the Federal Government has often been a frustrating journey for our union. It is often marked with protests, strikes and requires a conscious and focused engagement. The 2001 agreement, which gave birth to the 2009 agreement, was not an exemption. The exception here is the personality leading the government negotiation team.

“Our members enjoy their work and hate to see any disruption in the smooth running of our universities. However, the level of frustration occasioned by the lackadaisical attitude of the government towards meeting the terms of the 2019 Memorandum of Action that was freely signed with our union is increasingly becoming unbearable,” he said.

Background

In the 20 years since Nigeria returned to civil rule under the Fourth Republic, university teachers in the country have embarked on strike 14 times and stayed away from work for about 40 months.

The last strike by the teachers under ASUU began last year November. After several rounds of meetings between leaders of the union and the federal government, the union suspended the strike in February.

ASUU has been locked in a protracted dispute with the Nigerian government over issues connected to poor funding of public universities. Every time the dispute boiled over to strike by the teachers, negotiations between the two parties always produced agreements.

However, the government’s failure to meet the teachers’ expectations within the context of the agreements had been a primary reason ASUU has been on strike almost every year since 1999.

A confidential agreement

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the government and the union resumed talks on the 2009 agreement in March.

The 2009 agreement was reached after two years of negotiation between the lecturers and a government team appointed by the then Education Minister, Obiageli Ezekwesili.

The government team was led by the then Pro-chancellor, University of Ibadan, Gamaliel Onosode, while ASUU’s team was led by its then president, Abdullahi Sule-Kano.

Details of that agreement were made confidential by both ASUU and the government, thus leaving the public to feed on sparse information thrown out at negotiation meetings.

PREMIUM TIMES obtained a copy of the agreement and made it public in 2013.

In the last round of negotiation, ASUU said it was not comfortable with Mr Babalakin being the chairman, alleging that Mr Babalakin did not relate with the union as a negotiator but as a judge.

“He was always trying to overrule,” Biodun Ogunyemi, ASUU national president alleged.

According to Mr Ogunyemi, Mr Babalakin dismissed ASUU’s report.

“That kind of person cannot be a negotiator because he believes that his opinion should be superior. That’s not a good trait of a good negotiator, and that’s unbecoming of him. Dr Wale Babalakin has an ideological position in terms of how to fund Nigerian education.”

But the federal government through the minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige, said the union “cannot decide for the government”.

“Dr Babalakin will still lead the negotiation committee,” he said.

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