The labor dispute between the Federal Government and the Union of Academic Staff at Universities could escalate following the Federal Ministry of Education’s insistence that its draft agreement with the union will not be binding on state universities.
Federal Ministry of Education spokesman Ben Goong, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja on Wednesday, explained that the federal government cannot dictate to the states on education as it is on the concurrent legislative list.
A committee headed by Federal University of Lokoja pro-Chancellor Professor Nimi Briggs reportedly recommended an 180% salary increase for lecturers, but the government reportedly favored a 100% increase.
It was found that the Ministries of Finance, Education, Labor and Employment, the Federation Budget Office, the Federation Service Chief’s Office and the National Commission for Wages, Incomes and of Salaries was still working on the final details of the proposal.
ASUU president Professor Emmanuel Osodeke insisted that any agreement reached with the federal government would be binding on the states, opening up another battlefront between the union and the government.
The PUNCH reports that ASUU members, including federal and state universities, went on strike on February 14, 2022.
Following the inability of Minister of Labor and Employment, Chris Ngige to resolve the strike, the President, Major General Muhammdu Buhari (Retired), two weeks ago ordered Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to resume negotiations with the ASUU leadership.
To force a speedy resolution to the crisis, the Nigeria Labor Congress organized protests across the country on July 26 and 27 in solidarity with the union.
However, the ASUU on Monday extended the industrial action for another four weeks.
Responding to a question from The PUNCH on whether the proposed agreement would be binding on all universities in the country, Goong said: “The agreement between the federal government is not binding on state universities. Education is on the competing list, the federal government cannot tell the states what to do when it comes to running their institutions.
“Any agreement entered into with ASUU binds only institutions owned by the federal government. The state government will operate its own institutions.
But reacting to the government’s stance in an interview with The PUNCH on Wednesday, the ASUU president said the university system is a single entity, further arguing that there is no disparity between universities in State and federal.
Osodeke said, “I don’t know who you talked to, but that person doesn’t know what they’re saying. I can tell you that the renegotiation team is made up of pro-chancellors from state and federal universities. So how can we say that the agreement will not be binding on state universities? The person does not know what he is saying.
The ASUU leader argued that the few institutions that did not join the strike were not their members.
He also warned that Nigeria has only one university system and as such the issue of salary is personal to the union.
President of the ASUU
Osodeke said, “Whenever ASUU is on strike, it’s not about state ASUU or federal ASUU. We have an ASUU representing all the universities in the country; schools that do not participate in the strike are not our members.
“The wage issue should be left to the union to decide because when there was a minimum wage adjustment, federal and public schools were part of it; even TETFund, it funds both state and federal institutions. Do we have a Federal NUC or a State NUC?
”The issue of wage bargaining is exclusive to the union. If a state can increase it, so much the better; but we have a university system in Nigeria, and the state cannot even pay less than what the federal government pays.”
Commenting on the controversy, Ekiti State Information Commissioner Akin Omole said on Wednesday that the state was not part of the ongoing negotiation between the FG and ASUU, therefore any agreement concluded could not bind him as far as ASUU members at Ekiti State University were concerned.
Omole said, “If Ekiti State is to have dialogue, it can only be with ASUU at EKSU. ASUU’s negotiation with the Federal Ministry of Labor and the Federal Ministry of Education is not done with the consent of the Ekiti State Government. It is a national question and it is the FG which is concerned.
“With the principle of federalism, it is the employer and the employee who determine remuneration. The salaries of workers in all states of the federation are not the same, so the problem is that what happens in another state cannot bind them.
Similarly, Benue State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Michael Inalegwu, said the state government was not involved in the ongoing negotiations between the FG and the university professors.
While acknowledging the state’s meager resources, the commissioner said any agreement reached between the FG and the ASUU could have serious implications for state resources, but expressed optimism that the government of the State and the State Chapter of the ASUU would reach a compromise.
He said, “The Benue State government is not involved in the negotiation; whatever agreement they have reached, they may not commit to us because they are different structures. But you should know that our state government places its professors in the state university on the same level as their counterparts at the federal level.
But Anambra State Education Commissioner Prof. Ngozi Chuma-Udeh said the state was involved in the negotiations and would implement the results.
She said: “We have a governor who takes education seriously and he is also a trade unionist. We are involved in the Federal Government’s negotiations with ASUU and whatever they come up with will be duly done at Anambra.
“Whatever negotiations other states are in, Anambra is also involved; we are not backbenchers when it comes to education and especially when it comes to progressivism.
Speaking to one of our correspondents, the Osun State Governor’s special adviser for education, Jamiu Olawumi, said that if teachers’ salaries were reviewed, states would expect that the FG helps them meet the demand.
For his part, the Gombe State Commissioner for Higher Education, Meshack Lauco, said that out of the eight demands highlighted by ASUU, the state government had only failed in the allowances won, adding that they had reached an agreement.
The Ogun State government explained that it would wait for the ASUU to present the agreement reached with the FG before committing to any arrangement.
State Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Professor Abayomi Arigbabu, said the government would first need to know the nature of the arrangement.
He said “The question is loaded, I can’t answer yes or no. I should know what I want to agree on. Education is on the concurrent legislative list. If this is acceptable, we can now see what to do.
“When they come back and see what we can do; immediately, we will always try to make sure that we do something so that our institution is not inferior to others. So let’s see what they agreed on and how to go about it.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Nigerian Students on Wednesday called for the resignation of the Minister of Education.
NANS in a statement in Abuja said: “Since he became Minister, ASUU has been on strike for nearly 18 months cumulatively and the entire educational structure of our higher education system is in total ruin under his leadership. .”
- Additional reporting by Daud Olatunji, Ikenna Obianeri, Abiodun Nejo, John Charles, Bola Bamigbola and Chima Azubuike