From all indication, the members of the academic staff union are playing “hard ball” because for several hours Monday, the joint education committee of the National Assembly along with the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, met with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the ongoing strike by the union but they failed to prevail on the union to suspend the industrial action.
ASUU vowed not to end the strike until government meets its demands.
Before the meeting dissolved into a closed-door session, chairman of the committee, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, had urged the union to reduce its demands to only three: funding of the institutions, university autonomy and earned academic allowances.
He deplored the federal government’s unwilling stance to honour the 2009 agreement that it signed with the union, describing it as a betrayal of trust. Chukwumerije also emphasised the need to urgently end the strike in the overall interests of students and the nation.
He said: “It is a puzzle to Nigerians that it has on three occasions required the extreme action of withdrawal of services by ASUU to compel the attention of the government to the necessity of honouring the 2009 agreement.
“Why endorse an agreement in the first instance if you had no intention of honouring it? Wherein then lies the basis for mutual trust?”
The Senate Committee Chairman also chastised ASUU, accusing it of brandishing what it called “self righteous certitude.”
He added: “The public is again puzzled why a healthy insistence on academic autonomy and institutional self regulation should resist the searchlights of audit on any aspect of the institution’s financial operations, whether staff or any other aspect since the universities pride themselves as beacons of transparency.”
Chukwumerije urged both the federal government and ASUU to shift grounds and create room for amicable resolution of the crisis.
However, ASUU President, Dr. Nasir Fagge, said the union was not interested in commencing a fresh negotiation on the agreement it had with the federal government in 2009, alleging that the government had cultivated the tradition of reaching agreements with ASUU only to renege on it once the union had kept its part of the pact.
He decried allocations to education, recalling that during the military regime of General Sani Abacha, between 1993 and 1998, the highest allocation to the education sector was 12.87 per cent as he listed various allocations to education in the national budget since 2007.
According to him, in 2010, the allocation was 8.19 per cent; 6.41 per cent in 2011; 7.95 per cent in 2012; and 8.44 in 2013.
The ASUU president regretted further that the federal government had over the years lacked a sense of sincerity.
“Government is not sincere. Government is not interested in addressing the problems in the education sector. Our union is a union of intellectuals. We cannot take guns and start shooting people. The only option we have is to withdraw our services,” he said.
He insisted that ASUU would not be deceived to end the strike this time until the government begins the implementation of the contentious agreement.
But Rufa’i urged the union to end the strike to avoid greater damage to the troubled education sector.
The meeting eventually ended in a deadlock with ASUU demanding 100 per cent implementation of the 2009 agreement as a condition for suspending the strike.
At the end of the meeting, Chukwumerije said:
“Having explored all avenues to address the matter, the National Assembly is appealing to ASUU to give us two or three days or even a week to ruminate over all the positions reached and come back to us with a new position, particularly the non-academic allowance that the federal government conceded to pay five per cent in the interest of our children who are staying idle at home and in fact roaming the streets.”
Apart from the lawmakers, education minister and lecturers, others present at the meeting were Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim and the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Julius Okojie.