The Federal Government has directed all federal university vice-chancellors to reopen their institutions for academic and allied activities.
The government also declared that lecturers who fail to resume on or before December 4, would lose their jobs.
The Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, stated this at a news conference in Abuja on Thursday.
The development which elicited mixed reactions, has consequently put the President Goodluck Jonathan-ASUU leaders truce meeting in jeopardy.
The meeting had raised the hopes of students and parents on the resolution of the crisis but an accident on November 12, in which a former President of ASUU, Prof Festus Iyayi, lost his life, cast gloom on the calling off of the strike.
Iyayi and some members of the University of Benin chapter of the union were on their way to the Bayero University, Kano for a meeting where the outcome of the meeting with Jonathan was to be tabled before the NEC members’ for consideration.
Due to Iyayi’s death, ASUU called off the meeting but reconvened penultimate Thursday in Kano where it harmonised its members’ position on the offer by government.
The union, as part of its conditions for calling off the strike, demanded the payment of its members’ salary arrears and a commitment on the part of the government to review the agreement in 2014.
They also requested the release of the N200bn promised for this year as a condition for suspending the strike.
ASUU had in a letter issued after its NEC meeting on November 22, demanded the following:
- that the N200bn agreed upon as 2013 revitalisation fund for public universities should be deposited with the CBN and disbursed to the benefiting universities within two weeks;
- that the renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement in 2014 be included in the final document as agreed at the discussion with the President;
- that a non-victimisation clause, which is normally captured in all interactions of this nature, be included in the final document; and
- that a new memorandum of understanding shall be validly endorsed; signed by a representative of government, preferably the Attorney-General of the Federation, and a representative of ASUU, with the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress as a witness.
The letter dated November 25, 2013 which was addressed to President Jonathan through Wike was obtained by The PUNCH on Thursday. (See the letter at the end of this story).
But as students, parents and other stakeholders awaited the government’s decision on the demands, Wike warned ASUU members to resume on December 4 or be sacked.
To clearly indicate government’s seriousness, the supervising Minister of Education advised the vice-chancellors to advertise the positions of those who failed to resume.
He said, “Vice-chancellors should ensure that staff who resume for work are provided with the enabling environment for academic and allied activities.
“Any academic employee who fails to resume on or before December 4, 2013 automatically ceases to be an employee of the institution.
“Vice-chancellors are also directed to advertise vacancies (internal and external) in their institutions.
“The National Universities Commission is hereby directed to monitor the compliance of these directives by the various institutions.”
Wike said the government took the decision in the best interest of the country.
He recalled the meetings with the ASUU leadership, including one with Vice-President Namadi Sambo where the contentious issues of earned academic allowances and funding for the revitalisation of the universities were discussed .
Wike, who expressed surprise that ASUU returned to the government with “unacceptable new conditions”, said, “Government does not operate that way.”
He said Jonathan’s gesture was more than sufficient to guarantee the commitment of government to address all issues resolved at the meeting with the union.
The government was also not comfortable with the union’s request that the AGF should sign the MOU and that there should be a renegotiation of the agreement in 2014.
Wike said, “To start with, the agreement you (ASUU) said the Federal Government should comply with, was it the AGF that signed it? It was signed by the Federal Ministry of Education led by the Permanent Secretary. The AGF was not even part of the negotiation.
“We have made every effort to see that students go back to their schools. Each time government made frantic effort, you would hear one reason or the other(from ASUU). For us, we cannot continue to see this thing happens. We will continue to make sure that we stick to all we have agreed to do.
“If you cannot believe Mr. President, then who would you discuss with again? Mr. President cannot sit down for 13 hours having a discussion and at the end of the day the only thing you can do is to attach some new conditions.
“I don’t think that is acceptable to us. All we have promised them, we are going to do; we won’t go back. But bringing new conditions, we don’t think it is favourable. We don’t think it is for the good of this country.”
To pacify the lecturers, Wike said the government had increased their initial N30bn earned academic allowance by extra N10bn.
He said the government also offered N200bn for the next six years as funding to the universities with a request for them to draw their priority list based on the need assessment report on universities.
“We all agreed. ASUU said we should put the resolution down. That was done and signed by the permanent secretary,” he said.
The supervising minister said the government had reviewed the entire situation and came to the conclusion that the continuation of the strike was an attempt by ASUU to sabotage all efforts to address the issues.
“As a responsible government, we cannot allow the continuous closure of our public universities for this length of time as this poses danger to the education system, the future of our youths and national development”, he added.
Asked if the decision to compel the lecturers to resume work had no legal implication, Wike replied, “Leave legal implication for us. We have weighed all options and I think government has done all it is supposed to do.
“The Federal Government has met all its commitments and obligations with respect to the 2009 Agreement. We appeal to all stakeholders to appreciate the position of the government which is in the best interest of our dear country.”
- FG’s threat’ll fail –ASUU
But ASUU’s National Treasurer, Dr. Ademola, Aremu, said the ultimatum to the university teachers had shown that the government was not committed to implementing any of the resolutions it reached with the union.
Aremu expressed shock that the government could have such a plan when there was a shortfall of 60,000 lecturers in the nation’s universities .
He added that the threat would not hinder the union’s determination to ensure that the universities were well funded.
The ASUU chief added, “It is a pity if the Federal Government is not willing to perfect the resolutions reached with the union. This is why we find it difficult to trust our leaders by their words.
“How can someone be threatening to sack lecturers when universities are already short-staffed by almost 60,000. We are not in a military era. The military tried it and failed. This one will fail again. They can re-open the schools. ASUU did not shut the universities. It was their management that ordered the students to go back home.
“With the latest action, the government has shown that it is not committed to all it has been saying. We are saying that since we agreed at the meeting that N200bn is for 2012 and 2013 revitalisation, the government should deposit same in the Central Bank of Nigeria .
“ We are already in November and December is around the corner. If they don’t do that now, when do they want to do it?
“We are saying that a non-victimisation clause should be included as agreed while the renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement should be included as agreed with the President.”
He flayed Wike for alleging that ASUU was making outrageous demands from the government.
“Government should address the issue we sent to them in the letter and we are not demanding extra kobo. Under the military, the threat to sack lecturers did not work. What the current government has done is another long path to make the strike linger than necessary,” Aremu added.
- SSANU warns of strike
But as Wike and the ASUU national treasurer were talking tough in Abuja and Ibadan, the Senior Staff Association of Universities was also threatening to embark on strike over the possible implementation of the NEEDS Assessment Report.
SSANU expressed the fear that the government could be forced to reduce workforce in the universities if the report was implemented.
The Chairman of the Western Zone of the association, Alfred Jimoh, warned at a news conference in Ibadan, Oyo State, that any attempt by the government to do so could lead to another strike in the education sector.
He said the report was targeting members of the association by the claim that the system was top-heavy.
Jimoh said non-teaching members of staff of the universities had not enjoyed what their colleagues in the academics had profited from.
He added, “It has been a common knowledge that the non-teaching staff of public universities constitute endangered species of the very hostile environment, in which they found themselves. With my position in the association and the privileged information at my disposal, I will like to say that the adjective “endangered species” is even mild to describe the precarious situation of the non-teaching staff of the universities.
“As it were, the elite members of the university community, the teaching members of staff have finally gone for the broke, by goading the government to empanel a one-sided committee, comprising their members only, to conduct a NEEDS Assessment of the Nigerian public universities and produce a pre-determined report with a damming and damaging recommendation on the non-teaching staff of the university system.”
Jimoh said the report among other things, claimed that the numerical strength of the non-teaching members of staff constituted the major conduit that drained the scarce financial resources of the universities.
“We frown on this as the report fails to match up the numerical strength of the various categories of members of staff with the quantum of fund being expended on them in terms of salaries, wages and training finances.”