(By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje)
“The failure of the two parties to come to terms with the collective bargaining principle has far reaching implications on our national psyche, labour relations, business- to- business, the judiciary, the organised private sector and students produced from our universities. The quality of teaching and research on the part of the teachers is also suspect. The leadership of Ebele Goodluck Jonathan, incidentally also a teacher by vocation, and his Administration that pride itself on the rule of law, should not tolerate impunity on the part of government representatives involved in the negotiation. The politics of hide and seek should on the ASUU demands should be stopped. Nobody is above the law in contractual agreements that have been negotiated.“
IT is no longer news that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on an indefinite strike to press for payment of salary arrears and allowances. It is also no news that the meeting between ASUU leaders and the paymaster (the Federal Government) ended inconclusively. ASUU had gone on strike many times in the past but had to suspend it after promises by the government to resolve their grievances. The recurrence of the strike almost every year shows that the issue of fair wage and the teacher’s grievance has not been addressed. The time has come to look at the underlying factors and to take a broader look at the politics and the danger of an endless wage tussle between the country’s intelligentsia and the political jobbers in government—a government that does not have respect for a signed memorandum of understanding in a democratic dispensation.
ASUU members withdrew their services in public universities to back their demand for immediate payment of salary arrears based on a 2009 agreement they had with the government. The position of ASUU is that the strike will continue for as long as it takes the Federal Government to implement the 2009 agreement and its renegotiation as contained in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of January 2012. On the other hand, the paymaster is using the instrumentality of the state not to respect the agreement. This posture by both parties does not respect the principle of collective bargaining which is the hallmark of labour relations, where two parties (employers and employees) bring their grievances to the table for negotiation and a consensus is reached. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognises the right to collective bargaining and to organise trade unions as a fundamental human right.
The failure of the two parties to come to terms with the collective bargaining principle has far reaching implications on our national psyche, labour relations, business- to- business, the judiciary, the organised private sector and students produced from our universities. The quality of teaching and research on the part of the teachers is also suspect. The leadership of Ebele Goodluck Jonathan, incidentally also a teacher by vocation, and his Administration that pride itself on the rule of law, should not tolerate impunity on the part of government representatives involved in the negotiation. The politics of hide and seek should on the ASUU demands should be stopped. Nobody is above the law in contractual agreements that have been negotiated. It should also be noted that the university teachers are the conscience of the nation and it is unhelpful to use industrial actions to get the government to a negotiation table all the time. The Senate Committee on Education and the Secretary to the Federal Government and other stakeholders who brokered a conciliatory meeting on behalf the government will not like to slash their jumbo pay in the quest for national interest and in their unfounded sentiment for students!.
It has become necessary, therefore, for the Federal Government to put in place a policy to make the Federal Executive Council members and also serving cabinet ministers including the principal officers in various universities and the other agencies of government, especially permanent secretaries and directors, to send their children and wards to schools in Nigeria so that they can appreciate what the teachers are going through. Those in leadership should also know that the university teachers have contributed a lot to their education and social well being before their emergence to positions of authority in their respective national assignments.
If good governance is about harnessing a country’s resources to achieve results, any citizen living in the 21st century has a right to expect more from his leaders. Political leaders and machinery of government at the state and the federal levels have collectively failed to address the lingering root causes of ASUU strike with little or no focus on education and its relationship with human development thereby endangering the prospects for better future.
The government should, as matter of urgency, initiate higher education pay reforms intended to bring its university system more in line with international good practices instead of the hide and seek game that is witnessed with endless strikes.
The reforms should also promote increased institutional autonomy, greater system differentiation, strengthened governance and the recruitment Vice- Chancellors devoid of political patronage, and mechanisms for quality assurance for accreditations. Furthermore, the universities and the town should create more flexible courses which are in line with emerging industry relevance. In addition, a creative and responsive system of university teaching and research that will, in the long run, contribute to national innovation capacities and productivity gains in the public and private sector. The broader issue of real autonomy and access to finance beyond the bureaucratic channels of the paymaster should be pursued so that the university will be self-sustaining from the revenue derived from research, teaching and endowments.
Sadly, a larger number of Nigerians are studying outside the country particularly in Ghana, The Gambia and South Africa. If you add the United Kingdom the amount of money they pay as tuition amounts to capital flight from the country, yearly. The inefficiency in our educational system is creating a boom for universities in the United Kingdom who visit Nigerians yearly looking for placements. I think that this is an indictment on the nation and, by extension, on those in charge of policy reforms at the Ministry of Education.
As ASUU and the paymaster continue their negotiation for fair wages and salaries it is hoped the principle of equity, fair play, human dignity, liberty, the autonomy of ASUU as a trade union to achieve work place democracy, will not be compromised on the sentiment of parochial national interest that is not respected by the political elite. On the other hand, ASUU must also look at its engagement strategies beyond strikes to earn respect as the conscience of the nation.
• Orovwuje is a humanitarian affairs specialist and founder, Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”