- As critical stakeholders, we could no longer fold our hands for system to collapse’
A subtle intervention that will bring about lasting solutions to the perennial crises and an end to the on-going strike in the nation’s public universities has been initiated by the Committee of Vice- Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU). KAYODE OLANREWAJU reports
advocates integrated revitalisation agenda in education sector
Committee: Losses to prolonged strike unimaginable, colossal
We don’t have other industry than university system – Faborode
Again, a silent move that will bring about lasting solutions to the almost eightmonth on-going strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the perennial crises rocking university education in the country has unfolded.
The move, initiated by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU) is being orchestrated as part of the Committee’s deliberate response to the lingering logjam between the Federal Government and the union, which has paralysed academic activities in the universities since February, this year.
The Nigerian public university system, due to the strike, has been completely shut down for more than 180 days now since February 14, when ASUU declared a four-week roll-over strike, which had been subsequently extended three times for several weeks before it was on August 24 declared total, comprehensive and indefinite.
Regrettably, several negotiations and attempts by the government and the university lecturers’ union, despite various interventions midwifed by critical stakeholders to reach a compromise to resolve and end the prolonged strike have always been deadlocked.
ASUU, among its demands, are agitating for the implementation of the various Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) in the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement, and the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MoA).
Based on the agreements signed by the Federal Government with the union, ASUU is insisting on payment of revitalisation funds for universities; adoption of the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) to replace the IPPIS payment platform in the university system; improved welfare; payment of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA); payment of the withheld salary under the “no work, no pay” implemented by the Federal Government, among other sundry demands.
While ASUU leadership has vowed not to return to work until all its demands as contained in the 2020 MoA were met, the Federal Government is insisting on implementation of the IPPIS payment platform, and that it has met 80 per cent of the union’s demands, stating that the government could not implement all the union’s demands due to the challenge of paucity of resources confronting the nation.
ASUU had on August 24, 2022 declared the strike embarked upon on February 14, total, comprehensive and indefinitely, foreclosing reopening of the institutions shut down since February for what the union described as “unsatisfactory handling” of its demands by the government.
But, initsavoweddeterminationtowade in as precursor to finding lasting solutions to the protracted face-off, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU) has constituted a team, tagged: “The Sustainable Peace Team” made up of former Vice-Chancellors and Pro-Chancellors of public universities, excluding serving Vice-Chancellors or Pro-Chancellors.
The nine-member “Peace Team of Elders,” which expressed regrets over the unimaginable colossal losses the prolonged strike, as well as the lingering and festering crises have imputed in the nation’s university system, has reiterated interest to intervene in order to end the protracted logjam.
According to the Co-Coordinator, the desire of the team is not to allow the current deadlock in the ASUU strike negotiations to take hold, as the toll of the strike on all stakeholders and the nation has been colossal and unimagined.
As a critical stakeholder in the university system, the Committee could no longer fold its hands and watch the ‘house’ collapse on them as elders, saying that whatever could be done to bring all the actors to reason and broker peace, using the Professor Nimi Briggs Committee recommendations as the fulcrum, would be worth the effort, even as the team stressed that such patriotic efforts should not be wasted nor despised.
“So, we should speak or act now. We do not have any other industry other than the university system,” the Co-Coordinator said, stating that the “Peace Team of Elders,” which would operate under the auspices of the CVCNU/CPC, has been reaching out to both the Federal Government and ASUU to accept the intervention of the independent team of elders.
As part of the modalities, the Team, Faborode noted, has continued to brainstorm on how to mitigate the thorny areas and work with all the parties to bring the imbroglio to an amicable end in the interest of all concerned and the nation in general.
The team expressed worry that the deadlock in the crisis seems to be getting more disturbing with the Federal Government maintaining a strong stance of “no work, no pay” and ordering ASUU to go back to work, while ASUU on the other hand has firmly prolonged the strike to become indefinite, while both parties are unwilling to proceed with further negotiation or discussions.
The Committee, which insisted that the subsisting condition of Nigerian higher education institutions is unacceptable and inconsistent with the economic development roles envisaged for them, however, lamented that things have been allowed to deteriorate for too long.
“This must be halted by all and we embark on an integrated revitalisation agenda in the education sector, in the interest of our economic development,” it said, adding that the Federal Government should be worried why it enters into agreements that cannot be implemented, as this diminishes faith and trust in governance.
The Committee further added: “On the other hand, ASUU should also accept that something is fundamentally wrong when every of its negotiations after prolonged strikes produce agreements that cannot be fully implemented. Both sides should accept blame for the series of imperfect agreements over the years and prevent a repeat this time around.
An agreement that is non-implementable cannot stand by that name. “Since governance is supposed to be a continuum, how can any subsequent agreement be made binding and sustainable even when political actors change, as we have had in the past, and as imminent in May 2023, to ensure that we bring a final end to this spate of deleterious strikes?
This is a role for the National Assembly. “For any solution to be holistic, it must include consideration of the needs of the non-academic staff unions as well. “A sustainable solution must include ways of raising resources/ funds for effectively running the universities.
The government must encourage the symbiotic partnership between academia and industry/ civil society into a viable Triple Helix model (the tripartite partnership of Academia-Industry-Government.”
In its approach, the Co-Coordinator stated that the Team will liaise with the Professor Nimi Briggs Committee, raised by the Federal Government to negotiate with ASUU, to understand the basis of the elements of their proposals, and check with both the FG and ASUU to identify the areas of concern and objection. Afterwards the Team will brainstorm on how to mitigate the thorny areas and work with all the parties to bring the imbroglio to an amicable end in the interest of all concerned and the nation.
The meetings and consultations will be mainly online by zoom and perhaps finally face-to-face to safe costs once we make progress.
The Committee, which, however, welcomes the continued interventions by eminent independent persons and groups in the face-off, stressed that these random brainstorming thoughts would shape their understanding with a view to marshalling the way forward.
“We need to have knowledge of the “confidential” recommendations of the “FGN Negotiating Committee” headed by Prof Nimi Briggs, and again how do we engage with the Committee because the Chairman feels the outstanding issues are not insurmountable,” he said.
It its recommendations for the way forward, the CVCNU, which sought the immediate signing of the June 2022
Draft Agreement, said on the adoption and deployment of UTAS as salary payment platform for university staff in place of IPPS, which the government’s position is to look at the strengths of the two platforms suggested by ASUU and SANNU and upgrade IPPIS accordingly, the Committee recommended the ASUU should not insist on deployment of UTAS since the ecosystem consists of other persons who are not their members, and hence the current Federal Government position should suffice.
Also on the immediate release of N170 billion to complete one branch of NeedsAssessmentRevitalisation Fund in line with 2020 MoA to put close to the 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement, as demanded by ASUU and which the Federal Government has agreed to and that it would be captured in 2023 budget, the Committee suggested that ASUU should accept this position, but that the National Assembly should be involved in ensuring succeeding government’s compliance with this undertaking.
On the immediate release of N50 billion to complete the payment of arrears of Earned Academic Allowances in line with the 2020 MoA, which the government has also agreed to and said it would be included in 2023 budget, the CVCNU said the union should accept this position, while the National Assembly should be involved in ensuring succeeding government’s compliance with this undertaking.
Meanwhile, on ASUU’s demand for the release of the Government’s White Paper on the 2021 Visitation Panels Report to federal universities, which the government said will be released when it decides to do so; it was recommended that ASUU should accept this position and not make it a core demand.
The Committee, however, urged the government to also expedite action at releasing the White Paper bearing in mind the rather long delay since the submission of the reports last year.
Also on intervention on the Draft Bill for empowering NUC to curb proliferation of universities, especially by state governments, CVCNU agreed with the Federal Government that since education is on the Concurrent Legislative List and the regulatory body cannot deny any legitimate request from the state as it is not a matter for Federal Government to interfere, called for a review of the 14-point process of establishing a new university and to be made more strident as this is to curb overstretching of limited teaching resources and preserve quality.
On the issue of salary adjustment for academic staff being proposed by the government in deference to what was agreed with the negotiating team, which to ASUU is unacceptable in addressing the serious problems causing brain drain and low staff morale, and which the government said it was concerned on the system-wide impact of the recommended increase, the Committee recommended that the government’s view on the recommended increase ought to factor in the pivotal role of universities in driving development, and hence pleaded for an upward review midway, to end the strike.
Lastly, on the payment of withheld salaries of university academics since March 2022, as demanded by ASUU, which the government is insisting that the “No Work, No Pay” principle must be applied; the CVCNU suggested that although a provision of the law, an exception could be made since the delay in negotiation was caused by the government. “Going forward, a clause in the agreement can be framed that all future agreements be negotiated and concluded within a four-week period,” the Committee added.
Issues for consideration
Part of the issues for consideration by the Team, Faborode noted, include Federal Government raising its offer of salary increase from 23 per cent to maybe 50 per cent that will ensure a Professor receives up to N800,000 monthly as opposed to the negotiated N1.2 million; review of the decision on salaries during strike to a mid-position, not zero nor 100 per cent as ASUU wants.
Fundamentally, the Committee expressed worry that the subsisting condition of Nigerian Higher Education Institutions is unacceptable and inconsistent with the economic development roles envisaged for them.
“Please, let us think deeply as eminent peace seekers and makers, and explore novel ways to imprint our various rich experiences in the system on the education space to help bring this festering cankerworm to a lasting and elegant close for all sides,” the Co- Coordinator added.
In its presentation, titled: “Nigerian Academics Peace Building Team: Saving Our University System,” Faborode, who went memory lane, therefore, described the current industrial action between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government as the second longest ever in the history of such disputes in the nearly 50 years when the first major dispute occurred.
This was as he noted that the Intervention being offered by the Peace Team of Elders, as senior academics, former administrators at the level of Vice-Chancellors and more important as critical stakeholders in the Nigerian University System is basically to provide a middle ground to soften the seemingly hard-line position that has been adopted by the negotiating parties.
The Committee, however, isolated two key areas that are fundamental to the dispute, which it listed to include funding and governance, saying of the sevenpoint demands of ASUU and prerequisites to the resolution of the dispute, five revolve around governance and funding. In its submission to the key issues, the Committee hinted that from the position of the Federal Government and ASUU, there is a major divide in the ideological and operational understanding of governance and funding.
“By law, the universities are autonomous,” it stated, but added that the composition of the main governance body, the Governing Council, is the exclusive purview of the Federal Government, while the funding is almost 90 per cent dependent on the Federal Government with internal charges that the universities make are also regulated.”