By Grace Edema and Deborah Tolu-Kolawole
The industrial dispute between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities may worsen following the insistence of the Federal Ministry of Education that its proposed agreement with the union will not be binding on state universities.
The spokesman for the Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Goong , in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja on Wednesday, explained that the Federal Government could not dictate to states on education as it is on the concurrent legislative list.
A committee led by the Pro-Chancellor of the Federal University of Lokoja, Prof. Nimi Briggs, had reportedly recommended a 180 per cent pay rise for lecturers, but the government was said to have favoured a 100 per cent increase.
It was gathered that the ministries of finance, education, labour and employment, Budget Office of the Federation, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation and the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission were still working out the final details of the proposal.
The ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, insisted that any agreement reached with the Federal Government would be binding on the states, thus opening another battle front between the union and the government.
The PUNCH reports that members of ASUU, including federal and state universities, had embarked on a strike on February 14, 2022.
Following the inability of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige to resolve the strike, the President, major General Muhammdu Buhari (retd.), two weeks ago directed the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to take over the negotiation with the ASUU leadership.
To compel a quick resolution of the crisis, the Nigeria Labour Congress held nationwide protests on July 26 and 27 in solidarity with the union.
However, ASUU on Monday extended the industrial action by 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 concurrent list, the Federal Government cannot tell states what to do when it comes to the management of their institutions.
“Any agreement made with ASUU is only binding on the institutions owned by the Federal Government. The state government will handle their own institutions.”
But reacting to the government’s position in an interview with The PUNCH on Wednesday, the ASUU president stated that the university system is a single entity, arguing further that there was no disparity between state and federal universities.
Osodeke said, “I don’t know who you spoke to but that person doesn’t know what he is saying. I can tell you that the renegotiation team is made up of pro-chancellors of state and federal universities. So, how can anyone say the agreement won’t be binding on state universities? The person doesn’t know what he is saying.”
The ASUU leader contended that the few institutions that did not join in the strike were not their members.
He also warned that Nigeria had just one university system and as such the issue of salary is personal to the union.
Osodeke stated, ‘‘Whenever ASUU is on strike, it is not about state ASUU or federal ASUU. We have one ASUU representing all universities in the country; those schools that are not participating in the strike are not our members.
‘‘The issue of salary should be left to the union to decide because when there was minimum wage adjustment, both federal and state schools were a part of it; even TETFund, it funds both state and federal institutions. Do we have a federal NUC or state NUC?
‘’The issue of salary negotiation is exclusive to the union. If a state can increase it, good; but we have one university system in Nigeria, and the state cannot even pay lesser than what the Federal Government is paying.’’
Commenting on the controversy, Ekiti State Commissioner for Information, Akin Omole, said on Wednesday that the state was not part of the ongoing negotiation between the FG and ASUU, hence, any agreement reached could not be binding on it as far as ASUU members in Ekiti State University were concerned.
Omole said, “If Ekiti State must have any dialogue at all, it can only be with the ASUU in EKSU. The ASUU negotiation with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Federal Ministry of Education is not done with the concurrence of Ekiti State Government. It is a national issue and it is the FG that is involved.
“With the principle of federalism, it is the employer and the employee that determine the pay. The salaries of workers in all states of the federation are not the same, then the issue is that what happens in another state cannot be binding on them.”
Likewise, the Benue State Commissioner of Information, Culture and Tourism, Michael Inalegwu said the state government was not involved in the ongoing negotiation between the FG and the university lecturers.
While acknowledging the lean resources of the state, the commissioner said that any agreement reached between the FG and ASUU may have serious consequences on the resources of the state but expressed optimism that both the state government and the state chapter of ASUU would reach a compromise.
He said, “The Benue State Government is not involved in the negotiation; whatever agreement they reached may not be binding on us because they are different structures. But you should know that our state government places its lecturers in the state university at par with their counterparts at the federal level.”
But the Anambra State Commissioner for Education, Prof. Ngozi Chuma-Udeh, said the state was involved in the negotiations and would implement the outcomes.
She said, “We have a governor who takes education seriously and he is also a unionist. We are involved in the negotiations of the Federal Government with ASUU and anything they arrive at will be duly effected in Anambra.
“Whatever negotiations other states are into, Anambra is also in it; we are not backbenchers in matters that have to do with education and especially when it has to do with progressivism.”
Speaking with one of our correspondents, the Special Adviser to the Osun state Governor on Education, Jamiu Olawumi, said if the lecturers’ salary was reviewed, states would expect the FG to assist them in meeting the demand.
On his part, the Gombe State Commissioner for Higher Education, Meshack Lauco, said out of the eight demands highlighted by ASUU, the state government had defaulted only in the earned allowances, adding that they had reached an agreement.
The Ogun State Government explained that it would wait for ASUU to present the agreement reached with the FG before it would commit itself to any arrangement.
The state Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Prof. Abayomi Arigbabu said the government would need to know the nature of the arrangement first.
He said “The question is loaded, I cannot answer yes or no. I should know what I want to agree to. Education is on the concurrent legislative list. If it 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 we do something so that our institution will not be inferior to others. So, let’s see what they agreed on and see how to work it out.”
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 gone on strike for almost 18 months cumulatively and the entire educational structure of our tertiary education system is in total shambles under his watch.’’
Additional reports by Daud Olatunji, Ikenna Obianeri, Abiodun Nejo, John Charles, Bola Bamigbola and Chima Azubuike.