The National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Nasir Issa-Fagee has said that the union embarked on the current strike because the Federal Government has only implemented two of the nine issues agreed on since 2009.
Mr Issa-Fagee, who was a guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, said the government did nothing about the agreement until the union went on strike in 2012.
“On 2nd February 2012, the union decided to suspend that strike on the understanding that the Memorandum of Understanding that we signed with the government will be fully implemented within the shortest possible time,” he said.
According to Mr Issa-Fagee, the only two items of the agreement that have been implemented are the review of the retirement age of Professors from 65 to 70 and the reinstatement of prematurely dissolved Governing Councils.
“The other issue that mostly has to do with adequate funding for the system for revitalizing of Nigerian Universities have not been met by government,” he said.
ASUU had on Monday declared indefinite strike action to compel the Federal Government to implement the agreement reached with the union in October 2009.
Below is the text of the press conference addressed on Monday by Mr Issa-Fagee to explain the rationale for strike:
Gentlemen of the Press,
At the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) held at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, between 29th and 30th June 2013, a number of issues were raised on developments affecting the country’s education system and the Nigerian nation as a whole. These include the lingering crisis at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), the continued violation of the rights of the re-engaged 49 academics at the University of Ilorin, and the non-release of the White Paper on Special Visitation to the University of Abuja. Others include the parlous state of the economy, and Government’s disregard for its Agreements with our Union.
The Nigerian Educational Logjam
Gentlemen of the Press, the crisis affecting the Nigerian education sector stems largely from the failure of the Nigerian governments, over the years, to boldly address the suffocating challenges, which have stymied the development of the sector. It seems that while the Government is fully aware of the enormity of the infrastructural, personnel and other forms of decay at all levels, it does not have the courage to tackle these challenges for the good of the nation. This attitude on the part of Government has given critics the impression that perhaps Government is more comfortable with the uneducated class than it is with the educated one.
To compound this problem, the impression is often given that we are not in control of our educational policies as external and other influences have tended to show a national inclination to a weakened intellectual class which in turn prognosticates a desire for an ideologically barren, colonially dependent and financially deprived structure that is not primed for the growth and development of the system. ASUU challenges the Federal and State Governments, and other stakeholders who have responsibility for the education of the Nigerian people, to show great courage in implementing decisions, policies and agreements produced over time so as to put Nigerian education back on the fast lane. This should lead to the liberation of the Nigerian education system from the cloud of despair and despondency.
Gentlemen of the Press, you will recall that ASUU recently issued a Press Release over the untimely death of some Students’ Union leaders who were on their way to the University of Uyo. We used the opportunity to call for the common struggle to enthrone democratic governance in our tertiary institutions, with full respect for the rights of students to unionize. While this must be invigorated, we wish to note the unfortunate situation on our campuses today wherein most Students’ Union leaders, especially at the level of NANS, are possible drop-outs, government agents, Youth Corp members, and other questionable characters being foisted on genuine undergraduates in our universities by politicians and other officials of the State.
As a Union with a stake in the future of our youth and our nation, ASUU shall use her networks to monitor and identify the true status of those who currently parade themselves as student leaders nation-wide. We are determined to indigenize student unionism on our campuses. This is the only way the Students’ Union Movement can genuinely engage issues of noncommercial education with access to all; allocation of at least 26% of yearly budgets to education; declaration of emergency on the whole education system, revitalization of University system, etc.
The Crisis at RSUST
Gentlemen of the Press, you will recall that the crisis at River State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, has become a recurring decimal at our interactions with the media since August 2012 because it is an issue that is very close to our hearts. We remain steadfast in our support and solidarity with our members at RSUST in their principled struggle against poor governance and maladministration being perpetrated by the Vice-Chancellor and the Governing Council of the University.
It has become more evident that the Visitor to RSUST, Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, is brazenly adamant in his refusal to respect the laws establishing the University. The assault and harassment of our members in that University has continued unabated since the because of his determination to stick with the re-appointment of Prof. B. B. Fakae as Vice-Chancellor, after serving an undeserved first term which did not follow due process. The most worrisome dimension is the scandalous involvement of security agents in this show of shame.
Today, at RSUST, there is widespread abuse of university statutes and mind-boggling illegalities; unqualified lecturers teach postgraduate courses while examinations conducted without respect for requisite requirements. It is disheartening to observe that the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) has been playing an active role as an accomplice in the desecration of our University system by giving its approval to these despicable acts at RSUST. NUC’s continued disregard for its statutory responsibility as a regulatory agency, with the responsibility of maintaining the highest level of ethical and academic standard in Nigerian universities, as evident in RSUST, creates a grave cause for concern among the membership of our Union. We call on the National Assembly, through its oversight functions, to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the role of NUC in the shameless acts of executive obduracy at play in RSUST.
Re-engaged University of Ilorin Lecturers
You would recall that 49 lecturers of the University of Ilorin were unjustly sacked for participation in a nation-wide strike action of our Union in 2001. Despite the Supreme Court judgment, which re-validated their right to unionize and removed the toga of criminality woven around union activities by Unilorin authorities, their entitlements are still denied them. Three years after the landmark judgment, the University still withholds the salary and allowances of some of the affected staff while their entitlements for sabbatical leave and promotions have not been addressed.
We, once again, call on authorities at Unilorin to desist from gagging our members and pitching academics against themselves. A university scholar cannot creatively engage knowledge in an atmosphere of rancor and sponsored bitterness. Neither can they auspiciously fulfill their obligations as agents of change and transformation in their micro community and the wider context of humanity. We shall, therefore, continue to use all legitimate means available to us to protect and defend the interests of academics at the University of Ilorin.
The Seemingly Intractable University of Abuja Crisis
Gentlemen of the Press, it is becoming crystal clear that the Government is insincere in resolving the crisis at the University of Abuja. As you are possibly aware, the Special Visitation Panel, which looked into the monumental crisis that engulfed the University last year, submitted its report in September 2012. However, the Visitor to the University, President Goodluck Jonathan, has continued to vacillate on what to do with the report of the Panel. Meanwhile, the Uniabuja Vice Chancellor, Prof. Samuel Adelabu, continues to operate like a lord and master whose words are laws!
ASUU-NEC calls on the Visitor to Uniabuja to release the White Paper on Special Visitation to Uniabuja without further delay. It is only by doing so and implementing the recommendations of the Visitation Panel that the University can be given a new lease of life that befits a 25-year old university.
IMF/World Bank and Nigeria’s Economic Development
Gentlemen of the Press, as you are well aware, the Nigerian economy is fraught with contradictions and inconsistencies. Unfortunately, it is glaringly under the jugular clutches of Western economists, experts and interests who promote exogenous (external) instead of endogenous (internal) model of development. This model took a firm root when, in “the early 2005 a group of economists, mainly from the Breton Woods Institutions introduced the concept of Inclusive Growth (IG) to replace the erstwhile notion of Growth and Development (GD).” What is most significant about the IG model is its “attempt to run away from the need to accelerate economic development through deliberate policy interventions so as to move millions of humanity out of poverty”.
Having imposed the IG on the country by agents of the World Bank and IMR, it is little surprising that today “economic growth” does not equate to “Nigeria’s development” and prosperity of Nigerians. Key sectors that ought to provide the planks for development and prosperity such as education, power/energy, agriculture and health are in dire state. Government at all levels rather hoists frivolities over the essentials. As recently observed by Prof. Akpan Ekpo, “The implementation of the Transformation Agenda does not preclude the fact that the economy today is characterized by high and rising rate of unemployment particularly among the youths, decayed public school system at all levels, lack of quality public health system, massive corruption, security challenges, among others”.
ASUU-NEC rejects externally imposed models of economic growth that discounts human elements in the equation. The Bretton Woods experts can only further under-develop Nigeria and pauperize her citizens. This is because IG “stresses productive employment rather than income redistribution”; implying that the tiny rich Nigerians will continue to get richer while the mass poor will become poorer.
A non-insulated economy will only be a subservient economy. The solutions to our problems as a nation must be wholly Nigerian-based, Nigerian-driven and Nigerian-centered. The current reliance on the veiled but obvious drivers of our “envelop economy” being presided over and supervised by agents of the IMF/World Bank will only leave us in a worse state than the IBB era. The current jig-saw dilemma of economic blueprints of NEPAD, Vision 20 2020, Transformational Agenda, etc. are bound to fail in so far as they are not based on any indigenous economic paradigm.
2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement
You will recall that ASUU declared a total, indefinite and comprehensive strike on 4th December 2011 in order to prevail on government to sincerely and judiciously implement the 2009 Agreement it freely entered into with our Union. Specifically, ASUU identified the following key areas that were yet to be implemented:
i. Funding requirements for Revitalization of the Nigerian Universities
ii. Federal Government Assistance to State Universities
iii. Establishment of NUPEMCO
iv. Progressive increase in Annual Budgetary Allocation to Education to 26% between 2009 and 2020
v. Earned Allowances
vi. Amendment of the Pension/Retirement Age of Academics on the Professorial cadre from 65 to 70 years
vii. Reinstatement of prematurely dissolved Governing Councils
viii. Transfer of Federal Government Landed Property to Universities
ix. Setting up of Research Development Council and Provision of Research Equipment to laboratories and classrooms in our universities.
However, the strike was suspended on 2nd February 2012. As our Union noted then, “NEC decision had been taken in the interest of the revitalization of the Nigerian Universities. To achieve these goals, ASUU expects the government to fulfill its obligation in respect of funding and all other matters contained in its offers.” When the strike was suspended, ASUU drew attention to the fact that the unimplemented agreement was due for renegotiation in June 2012.
Following the suspension of the strike, government responded by setting up a Committee via TETFund to assess the needs of Nigerian Universities in terms of infrastructure and required quantum of fund. Government also mandated the Implementation Monitoring Committee (IMC) to document and compute the financial implication of implementing the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement. At ASUU’s insistence, many of these conditions have now been met. Yet, the Government has continued to dilly-dally on the implementation.
Out of nine items earlier highlighted, only two of the commitment – reinstatement of Governing Councils and the Amendment of Retirement Age Act – were met. For the past 16 months, several steps, including formal and informal consultations, meetings, personal contacts, have been employed to avert resumption of the suspended action. We seem to have now exhausted all available options. Our members cannot understand why a Government finds it difficult to fulfill an Agreement voluntarily entered into with the Union in 2009 as well as the MoU that was introduced following ASUU’s protest against government’s demonstration of bad faith in 2012.
Gentlemen of the Press, one key aspect of the Agreement where Government has demonstrated insincerity is on the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA). Components of these allowances include responsibility allowances to Heads of Department, Deans of Faculties and other functionaries of the university system.
After the MoU of 26th January 2012, Government accepted in principle to pay EAA. As if to demonstrate its commitment, the IMC under the chairmanship of Dr. Wale Babalakin was assigned the responsibility of working out practical and sustainable ways to do this. When the IMC submitted its recommendations on this aspect of the Agreement, which has run into almost four years, however, the Government suddenly began to give excuses. And, finally, it set aside the recommendations of the IMC on the account of financial difficulties; these were recommendations that came out of serious engagements with officials from relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Our Union sees this sudden reversal of gears as a betrayal of trust.
From all indications, it appears Government is yet unprepared to address the challenges facing the Nigerian University System with the urgency that is required. This trend is dangerous, as it constitutes a threat to the relative peace in Nigerian Universities. There can be no justification for Government’s position given what all Nigerians know about the management of the nation’s resources. It is evident that Government is highly deceptive and is not interested in sustaining relative stability in our universities. If Government can betray our Union on the 2009 Agreement, where is the basis of trust for the impending review that was due for 2012?
It is in the light of the above, especially having exhausted all other options, that ASUU-NEC at its meeting in Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, between 29th and 30th June 2013 resolved to call out all its members on a nation-wide strike action beginning from Wednesday, 3rd July, 2013. The strike action is comprehensive and total. Our members shall withdraw their services until Government fully implements all the outstanding aspects of the 2009 Agreement, and commences the process of review of the same Agreement.
Gentlemen of the Press, the time has come to rise in defense of the true liberation of our country. We believe this liberation must begin with education, which is a veritable weapon for socio-economic transformation. The IMF/World Bank and their local collaborators would make Nigerians believe that “basic” or little education is good enough for the children of the poor. It is a ruse.
Our Union counts on the renewed support of the media in challenging agents of underdevelopment who deny less-privileged Nigerians quality higher education, health, employment and other life-transforming elements of development. We equally invite labor activists, students, traders, professional groups, civil society organizations and other progressive segments of the public to join our determined efforts to save Nigeria from her captors.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Nasir F. ISA
1st July 2013