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Education Minister Meets VCs, Others As ASUU Strike Nears Seven Months

The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, is meeting with pro-chancellors, chairmen of councils, and vice chancellors of universities, among others.

While the details of the meeting ongoing in Abuja remain sketchy at the time of this report, it is part of the efforts of the Federal government to resolve the industrial action by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

Shortly before the discussions went into a closed-door session, Mr Adamu gave an address to declare the meeting open.

In his remarks, he said one major issue over which the government and ASUU, as well as other unions, could not reach an amicable agreement was the issue of the law on “no work, no pay”.

The minister, who said the government made it clear that it would not break the law, lamented that despite all efforts to get the university lecturers to call off the strike, the union refused to renege on its position and went on to declare an indefinite strike action in August.

He stated that the decision by the ASUU leadership that the union would no longer negotiate with the government, as reported, must be resisted.

According to Adamu, the government and ASUU have no option but to continue to talk until universities reopen their doors to Nigerian students whom he said were principal victims of the prolonged industrial action.

Stakeholders present at the meeting include the Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Professor Ishaq Oloyede; Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Rasheed; Emeritus Professors Peter Okebukola and Nimi Briggs, among others.

Read the full text of the minister’s remarks below:

I am delighted to welcome you to this interactive session between the Federal Ministry of Education and the Pro-Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors of all Federal universities in the country. This meeting has become necessary and urgent due to certain misconceptions and misinformation in the public domain, regarding the ongoing strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

Not only is our interaction today necessary, it is also urgent to clarify the misrepresentations and draw your attention to the facts that you, as managers of our universities, ought to know by virtue of your assigned duties. It is indeed one of your statutory duties to negotiate with your workers on matters of their welfare and conditions of service.

As you are all aware, the current industrial action in our public universities started on 14th February 2022 when ASUU commenced a two-week warning strike over the non-Implementation of agreements reached between Government and the Union, including the following:

i. Funding for the revitalisation of public universities;

ii. Payment of earned academic allowances;

iii. Reconstitution of the FGN/ASUU 2009 Renegotiation Committee;

iv. University Transparency Accountability Solutions, UTAS;

v. Release of White Paper on the reports of the Visitation Panels to Universities;

vi. Proliferation of State Universities, and

vii. Withheld salaries and non-remittance of check-off dues.

To confound matters further, the three other university non-teaching staff unions – SSANU, NASU and NAAT also declared trade disputes against the Federal Government and commenced nationwide industrial actions a few weeks later.

NAAT started its strike on March 17, 2022, while the Joint Action Committee of SSANU and NASU followed suit on March 27, 2022.

In response to the unions’ demands, the Federal Government reconstituted the FGN/University-based Unions 2009 Agreement Renegotiation Committee, with Emeritus Professor Nimi Briggs as Chairman on 7th March 2022.

The committee was charged with the responsibility of concluding the ongoing Federal Government renegotiation efforts with the university-based unions and producing appropriate solutions, workable and enduring agreements for the improvement of the Nigerian University System (NUS).

While the Briggs Committee was busy interacting with the unions on all the issues, a Federal Government inter-ministerial team under the leadership of the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, was simultaneously engaging the unions and resolving some of their minor demands, such as salary shortages and payment of arrears of the minimum wage consequential adjustments as well as payment of promotion arrears.

The Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning was able to resolve most of these issues by the end of July 2022.

On May 12, 2022, about three months into the strike, a high-powered Tripartite Plus Conciliation Meeting was held at State House Banquet Hall, at the instance of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, with a view to finding solutions to those issues that were considered thorny and generic to both the teaching staff (ASUU) and non-teaching staff Unions (SSANU, NASU and NAAT).

Two of the issues specified during the meeting were categorised under the following:

University Transparency and Accountability Solutions (UTAS) by ASUU and the University Peculiar Personnel and Payroll System (U3PS) b. Delay in Re-Negotiation of 2009 Agreements-conditions of service, wages and allowances

It is important to note that this special conciliation meeting was chaired by the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari and had in attendance the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the Ministers of Labour, Education and Finance, the Head of Service and top government officials. The meeting was also attended by the Sultan of Sokoto, the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and all the other critical stakeholders, including the leadership of the four University-based Unions (ASUU, NASU, SSANU and NAAT).

There were two major outcomes of the meeting. The first was the decision to test the two proposed salary payment solutions, developed by the unions namely the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) proposed by ASUU and the University Peculiar Personnel and Payroll system (U3PS), jointly proposed by SSANU and NASU.

The two solutions were to be tested alongside the existing Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System (IPPIS) by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

The report of the Presidential Committee that was charged with the responsibility of harmonising the three payment platforms for effective deployment in the system, would be made public as soon as the process is concluded.

The second outcome of the meeting was an agreement on the need to speedily conclude the renegotiation process in a manner that would be in tune with the realities of the national economy.

This would require the government to carefully and critically examine and review any draft agreement emanating from the renegotiation committee to ensure that the financial implications contained therein are sustainable by the current realities of the national economy.

Soon after the Conciliatory Tripartite Meeting in May, the Nimi Briggs Team concluded the re-negotiation with ASUU and produced a draft agreement, which was forwarded to the Federal Government, through the Honourable Minister of Education, for consideration and approval.

Similarly, the re-negotiation with the non-teaching staff unions had since commenced, and appreciable progress had been made towards producing the desired agreements for consideration and approval by their respective principals.

In the course of the exercise, the FGN Team made several attempts to wade into the industrial crises between the FGN and the University-based Unions, with a view to finding a lasting and amicable solution to the challenges.

After a series of meetings with His Excellency Mr President and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Minister of Labour and Productivity; Minister of Communications and Digital Economy as well as the DG of Budget and the Chairman, Salaries and Wages Commission and the Minister of Education, the draft agreement was critically reviewed, and the proposed salary increment considered unrealistic and out of tune with the current realities of the national economy.

Government Offer
It was at this meeting that Mr President approved that the Minister of Education should take over the negotiation and resolution of the crisis.

Soon after the meeting, the Minister of Education conveyed the Federal Government’s offer to the Nimi Briggs Renegotiation Committee and to each of the four Unions.

The package offered made centred around the four positions agreed upon by the Government. It is as follows:

1. That the Federal Government can only afford a 23.5% salary increase for all category of the workforce in Federal Universities, except for the professorial cadre which will enjoy a 35% upward review;

2. That henceforth allowances that pertain to ad-hoc duties of the academic and non-academic staff shall be paid as at when due by the Governing Councils of Universities to which such services are rendered and to the staff who perform them;

3. That a sum of 150 billion Naira shall be provided for in the 2023 Budget as funds for the revitalisation of Federal Universities, to be disbursed to the Institutions in the First Quarter of the year, and

4. That a sum of 50 billion Naira shall be provided for in the 2023 Budget for the payment of outstanding areas of earned academic allowances, to be paid in the First Quarter of the year.

The four university-based unions, in separate letters addressed to the Chairman of the Government Re-negotiating Team, rejected government’s offer which they described as inadequate to meet their respective demands needed to tackle the challenges confronting the university system.

Following the above development, I held several meetings with the individual striking university-based unions, during which I explained the prevailing economic situation limiting the ability of government to accede to all their demands.

On those occasions, I also appealed to the unions to consider and accept the government’s offer and call off the ongoing industrial actions in the interest of the nation’s educational system.

Consequently, the Joint Action Committee of NASU/SSANU and NAAT suspended their industrial action. Unexpectedly, and quite fortunately, on Monday, 29th August 2022, ASUU decided to extend its strike indefinitely. I want to say, categorically, however, that all is not lost: We have secured successes elsewhere.

Let me, at this point, share with you the successes so far made, in handling the strikes being faced by the entire educational system. You may wish to recall that at the time we commenced the current round of negotiations with the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Colleges of Education Academic Staff Unions (COEASU), which has just suspended its strike.

Still, there were threats, though, by some of the Unions to resume strike along with the University-based Unions, ASUU, NAAT, NASU, SSANU. After direct and frank engagement, I am pleased to report that ASUP, COEASU, NAAT, NASU and SSANU have suspended their strike and returned to duty. Sadly, however, we are yet to get ASUU back to work.

In all we have been doing, our guide has been the directive of Mr President Muhammadu Buhari, namely that while the unions should be persuaded to return to work, government should not repeat the past mistakes of accepting to sign an agreement it will be unable to implement. Government should not, in the guise of resolving current challenges, sow seeds for future disruptions.

We have done the best that we can in the circumstance. After Inter-ministerial consultations and rounds of hard negotiations with all government agencies, we interacted with the unions. I personally, gave it all it required to resolve the current challenges.

I met the unions anywhere and everywhere possible with facts, with figures, and with absolute sincerity. For example, I directly met with ASUU leadership in my house, in my office and at the ASUU Secretariat on several different occasions, in addition to other formal engagements going on.

To be frank with all the unions, especially with ASUU, one major issue over which Government and the Unions could not reach an amicable agreement was the issue of the law on “No work, No pay”.

In the spirit of sincerity, government made it clear that it would not break the law. And on this, I must, openly and once again, thank all the unions which made the sacrifice of understanding the position of government on the matter.

Way Forward
For me, the past two weeks have been a very dark period of personal anguish and internal turmoil. I used to deceive myself that in a climate of frankness, and with mutual goodwill, it will fall to my lot to bring an end to the incessant strikes in the education sector. This has not proved possible – or, at least, not as easy, quick and straightforward, as I used to think.

Distinguished Chairmen, Vice-Chancellors, I called you today not to share with you my anguish but to share with you the details of what we have done and what remains to be done. And certainly, a lot remains to be done. But for very different reasons, the current positions of Government and ASUU on the future of negotiations seem to have coincided.

For me, this is a position I would have wanted us to reach after an amicable resolution of all the issues contained in the 2009 Agreements. It appears that we are running ahead of the negotiations but not for the right reasons.

The President of ASUU has been reported to have said the Union would no longer negotiate with the current Federal Government. This position must be resisted. Government and ASUU have no option but to continue talking, until our universities have reopened their doors to students who, clearly, are the principal victims of the seemingly unending strikes. In the circumstances, therefore, all Councils and Senates of our Universities are enjoined to rise up to their responsibilities.

We must, together, continue to work to restore our public universities to where they were in the 60s and 70s. As the most important officers in our university system, Pro Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors, must demonstrate more commitment to ending the ongoing strike.

As Chairmen of Councils and Senates – the highest policy and academic bodies in the system – you must consider it your paramount duty to promote policies and actions that will discourage industrial disputes on our campuses.

Government will continue to support the physical and academic development of its universities. Government will continue to reasonably enhance the working conditions of all university staff, academic and non-teaching.

The main challenge, as you are fully aware, is dwindling resources available to address all the concerns of the citizenry. We thank you for your support, understanding and sacrifices.

Thank you for your attention.

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