Nigeria’s minister of education, Adamu Adamu, on Monday, gave a three-month deadline to the newly inaugurated committee saddled with the responsibility of renegotiating the 2009 agreement between the government and the university workers’ unions including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists.
But the leadership of ASUU has said the ongoing three-week-old nationwide strike will continue until “whatever the government wants to do with the agreement is completed and an acceptable implementation commences.”
Mr Adamu, who spoke during the inauguration of the renegotiation committee in Abuja, said he expected the exercise to be concluded within three months and produce a draft document.
The seven-man committee will be chaired by an emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, and pro-chancellor of Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi State, Nimi Briggs.
The minister said the committee is expected to review the draft 2009 agreements and negotiate with the university-based unions including SSANU, NAAT and NASU.
Listing the terms of reference for the committee, the minister said: “Liaise and consult with relevant stakeholders to finalise the position of the Federal Government to the issues in the draft proposed FGN/ASUU Renegotiated Agreement;
“Renegotiate in realistic and workable terms the 2009 Agreements with other University-Based Unions; Negotiate and recommend any other issue the Committee deems relevant to reposition the NUS for global competitiveness; and submit proposed draft agreements within three (3) months from the date of inauguration.”
Mr Adamu said the nomination of the members and chairman of the committee was “not unconnected with your track records of invaluable impacts to the development and progress of the Nigerian University System.”
“I have no reservations that you would conduct this all important assignment with the seriousness and the urgency it deserves. This is more so, considering the ongoing industrial action by one of the unions,” he said.
He added that the government has appointed other relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to serve as advisers or observers.
The minister said the re-negotiation of the 2009 Agreements between the Federal Government and the university-based staff unions commenced on Monday, February 13, 2017.
“However, due to a number of unforeseen circumstances, including but not limited to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exercise has, unfortunately, dragged on till now.” he said.
He urged the committee to double down on its efforts to complete the task and produce a “realistic and workable draft” that will holistically tackle the challenges confronting the NUS and reposition it to effectively play its very important role in national development.
‘No resumption until…’
Speaking on behalf of the union, the coordinator of the Lagos zone of ASUU, Adelaja Odukoya, said the position of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the union is that there will be no suspension of the ongoing strike until the renegotiated agreement is implemented.
“NEC is very clear on its position about the conditions of service. It said until that is resolved, and the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) in the university system is achieved, the strike shall continue. And since the condition of service is contained in the agreement that has been renegotiated and now to be renegotiated again, then until the game of the government ends and the result is placed in our hands, there will be no end to this strike,” Mr Odukoya said.
Asked if ASUU would be willing to honour the new committee if invited for a negotiation meeting, Mr Odukoya said only the union’s NEC can answer that “but I’m sure that ASUU does not foreclose opportunities for talks.”
The official lamented the poor pay of Nigerian lecturers, saying a full-fledged professor at the peak of the career and who can no longer be promoted only earns N416,000 per month, and that such has been their lot since 2009.
“How much was a bag of rice in 2009 and how much is it now? What was and what is the exchange rate? Have politicians been receiving the same pay since 2009? If no one is ashamed, we are. So there is no going back on this. Let them continue to delay, we’re not bothered,” he added.
Meanwhile, while ASUU is already in its fourth week into its industrial action that started on February 14, the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of SSANU and NASU said it is already mobilising members for a showdown with the government.
The 2009 agreement between the workers’ union and the Nigerian government has been a major source of a long industrial dispute that has grounded Nigerian universities many times
In the past three years, the renegotiation committee has had three different teams, all trying to come up with an acceptable draft.
First was the renegotiation committee led by a former pro-chancellor, University of Lagos, Wale Babalakin, which was appointed in 2017.
In November, 2020, Mr Babalakin, after about three years without a headway and following his disagreement with UNILAG management, resigned from the committee in protest
A month later in December, 2020, Munzali Jibril, an emeritus professor of English and immediate past governing council chairman of the Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State, took over the chair of the committee.
Minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige, said Mr Jibril and most of his committee members have retired as pro-chancellors, making them unfit for the negotiation.
But with the inauguration of a new team on Monday, it is unclear if the task will be achieved within the timeline given by the minister.