Early in the week, the university teachers union – the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, embarked on an indefinite strike over the implementation of the 2009 agreement it signed with the federal government. Like a sticky sore that won’t just heal, the union alleged that the federal government was not only in breach of the agreement, but that its efforts to get it back to the negotiating table on the outstanding issues, continues to be met with a brick wall.
Among the thorny issues are, payment of fractions or in some cases, non-payment of salaries and earned allowances of its members; non-release of the operational licenses of National Universities Pensions Management Commission (NUPEMCO); non-implementation of provisions of 2014 Pensions Reform Act with respect to retired professors and their salaries, removal of universities staff schools from funding by federal government and the non-implementation of the universities needs assessment report.
It is unfortunate that the implementation of the agreement signed in 2009 continues to be problematic to the extent that it has now constituted a source of instability to the university system. If we expected the resolution of matters through the follow up Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2013 under which a number of the contending issues were thoroughly addressed, the latest development has shown how tragically mistaken we are. A key part of the agreement is the annual release of N200 billion for the revitalization of the universities to be kept with the CBN and managed by a central monitoring committee. Another is the payment of outstanding balance of academic earned allowance. All of these, ASUU alleges, continues to be observed in the breach.
ASUU is right to insist that the agreement, duly negotiated and signed be respected. This is even more so when the central issues involved are, by general agreement, considered as not only vital to halting the rot, but ensuring the restoration of the university system. That the federal government will refuse to accede to the entreaties of ASUU leadership to dialogue on the issues, thus culminating in the current strike, is inexplicable.
As it is, we are confronted with a problem with multiple parts. It starts with the bad faith with which the government would enter into an agreement without meaning to implement them; it extends to the general decadence of the bureaucracy which ensures that the noblest intentions of government are easily subverted, not excluding the monster of corruption which ensures that nothing works. The biggest problem however is the poor shape of the economy which continues to shrink in the absence of any meaningful capacity for self-renewal.
Much as we understand that the cash implications of the agreement could come across as daunting, this is hardly sufficient for the government not to engage the union. Aside availing the government the opportunity to lay all the cards on the table, there is a fair chance that the parties could work out amicable and pragmatic solution without disrupting the system.
Finally, we must admit that some elements in the agreements may need to be modified or altered in the light of current exigencies. For instance, those aspects of the agreements that ASUU insists must be binding on the state governments would seem at this time, quite frankly unrealistic. This is even more so when the states were neither invited to the table nor were part of the final agreements signed with the federal government.
Be that as it may, the 2009 agreement deserves to be taken seriously. Warts and all, it remains an important plank towards the restoration of our universities. While we urge both parties to have an open mind, care should equally be taken to ensure that the strike does not become unduly protracted.
In the mean time, we commend the OAU and Unilorin chapters of ASUU for their exhibition of care and thoughtfulness by refusing to disrupt the examinations schedule as a result of the strike. They have set a very edifying standard for the future.