ASUU Bauchi Zone kicks: Read the full Press conference text here.

TEXT OF A PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE ACADEMIC STAFF UNION OF UNIVERSITIES (ASUU) BAUCHI ZONE HELD AT THE UNIVERSITY OF JOS ON FRIDAY 23RD FEBRUARY 2024

PROTOCOL…

INTRODUCTION

Comrades and compatriots of the Press,

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) held its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting at the Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, between Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th February 2024. At the meeting, the Union did a comprehensive review of the state of its engagements with Federal and State Governments on how to reposition Nigeria’s public Universities for global reckoning by arresting the worsening living and working conditions in the Universities and the nation at large. The Union at the Bauchi zone comprising 6 Universities (UniJos, ATBU, FUK, GSU, PLASU and BASUG) is deeply disturbed by the reports it received, on the failure of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) to fulfil its promises to the Union. Recall that the failure of the FGN to honour several agreements forced the Union to painstakingly resume a nationwide strike action that lasted from February – October 2022. Suffice it to state that prior to the resumption of the national strike action, ASUU had engaged key stakeholders, written several letters and addressed press conferences to get the FGN to fulfil its part of the several agreements/Memoranda between ASUU and FGN but to no avail. We are greatly concerned with the continuing decay in the University system including the unabated brain drain.

This press briefing is intended to update Nigerians on developments since the suspension of our last national strike action on Friday, 14th October, 2022 and our subsequent engagements with the current administration since its inception on the lingering issues Viz:

I. Renegotiation of FGN/ASUU 2009 Agreement

For the avoidance of doubts, the FGN/ASUU agreement is made up of three important components: conditions of service; funding; and University Autonomy. ASUU’s demand for negotiated wages with the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) is anchored on the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention No. 98 which provides the principle of collective bargaining. Following the FGN/ASUU Agreement reached in 2009 in which it was provided that it would be reviewed every 3 years, the Union has been without a renegotiated agreement with the FGN for 15 years. Recalled that, owing to the Union’s persistent call for the review of the 2009 Agreement, the Federal Government set up the Wale Babalakin-led Joint Renegotiation Committee in 2017. For reasons known to Government, and the insistence of the Chairman on the introduction of tuition fees, the process was stalled for over two years. Consequently, another renegotiation committee was reconstituted with Prof Munzali Jibril as Chairman. Under the new Chairman, much progress was made, as a Draft Agreement was ready within three (3) months. However, government refused to sign the draft agreement for some inexplicable reasons advanced by some agencies of government despite their involvement in the process.

Government again reconstituted the renegotiation Committee with the Late Emeritus Prof. Nimi Briggs as Chairman. Negotiation didn’t start until the government team extracted the mandate of its principal, the FGN to conclude the process which had dragged for more than four years. Renegotiation with Nimi Brigs was completed within six months. However, the then Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, acting the script of his master truncated the process at the point of signing the reviewed draft agreement. From 2021 till date, the document has remained in its draft form. The most obvious implication of the truncation of the renegotiation of the Agreement is that University teachers in Nigeria have been on the same salary regime since 2009 when the value of naira to a dollar was N120. Today, it is above N1,700. It is no longer news that the salaries of the highest paid professor, on the average, has been reduced to a meagre $210/month. This is one of the least in the world. Unfortunately, even the unilateral award of 35% and 25% by the despotic Buhari led administration, which had been activated through the National Wages, Salaries and Income Commission (NWSIC) through a circular, remains a promissory note more than one year after. If the ruling class truly love Nigeria, they must demonstrate realisation of the fact that no nation can truly be greater than the quality and commitment of its scholars. Funding has declined to near zero allocation from both the FGN and States to Universities. University Autonomy has been eroded very fast.

ASUU calls on the President Tinubu led administration to immediately set in motion the process for the review and signing of the Nimi Briggs led renegotiated draft agreement as a mark of goodwill and assured hope for Nigeria’s public Universities. Our members are tired of platitudes laced with disdain for intellectuals; only concrete steps to restore their eroded dignity and degraded lives can guarantee lasting industrial peace on our campuses.

II. Withheld Salaries

The ILO Conventions guarantee the right of trade Unions to use strike action as a means of pressing for their demands where it becomes absolutely necessary. The last administration, engineered by Senator Ngige, activated the obnoxious “No-Work No-Pay” policy by withholding lecturers‟ seven and half months‟ salaries in federal Universities and varying months in state Universities regardless of the fact that the strike was necessitated by the failure of the FGN to honour agreements/memoranda. Despite deploying the instrumentality of hunger and starvation against Nigerian academics, the Ngige-headed Ministry launched a full-scale war against ASUU including obtaining an injunction at the National Industrial Court. The strike was later suspended as a result of patriotic interventions of some well-meaning Nigerians, including the then Speaker of the House of Representative, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. It is imperative to state that at several formal and informal meetings while the court proceedings were ongoing, promises were made towards meeting the demands of ASUU, including the release of the withheld salaries. Unfortunately, the promises are yet to be fulfilled, even with Rt. Hon Gbajabiamila as the Chief of Staff to the President and Commander-in-Chief. There is no justification for withholding lecturers’ salaries if not for the grand design by the ruling class to emasculate and ridicule them. Members of ASUU have since made up for lost ground, covering two academic sessions in many Universities within the period, in addition to the fact that the other components (research & Community service) of academic staff responsibilities never suffered during the strike period. The total sum of withheld salaries is hardly worth more than one-third of its value given the massive devaluation of the Naira in the last one year. We therefore, call on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, release all the withheld salaries and third-party deductions of our members to restore their fading hope in the Nigerian University system and Nigeria as a country. This is the only way industrial disharmony can be avoided.

III. Arrears of Earned Academic Allowances

Compatriots of the press, the Federal Government has lately been evasive on the payment of the backlog of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), part of which was captured in the 2023 National Budget for Federal Universities. The December 2020 Memorandum of Action (MoA) between FGN and ASUU recommended the mainstreaming of EAA into lecturers’ salaries while the next tranche of the allowances was to be paid in 2021. The EAA has not been paid to date despite the fact that it was captured in the 2023 budget while the mainstreaming which was supposed to commence in 2022 has remained a mirage. ASUU wonders why it must take another round of strike action to get Government to release lecturers‟ entitlements that are already captured in the budget. It should be noted at this point that these allowances have been earned by our members who have done excess work but are being owed by the FGN. Note  that we have never declared “No-Pay No-Work”.

IV. Illegal Dissolution of Governing Councils

We observed with dismay the continued attack and erosion of autonomy of public Universities, as enshrined in the Universities‟ Miscellaneous Act, through illegal dissolution of Governing Councils. Today, University vice-chancellors in connivance with the Federal and State Ministries of Education are illegally running the Universities. They have taken over the functions of the Councils through illegal contract awards, approval of promotions, and recruitments without following due process. ASUU condemns these anomalies in strong terms. It calls on State and Federal Governments to reverse themselves where Governing Councils were dissolved without serving their terms and reconstitute Councils whose tenures have expired without further delay.

V. Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS)

Gentlemen of the press, the Tinubu administration has announced the exit of tertiary institutions from the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) – a corrupt salary payment system imposed on Federal Universities by the immediate past Buhari-led government. ASUU has consistently rejected the payment platforms because it grossly erodes the autonomy of our Universities. However, the Union is worried that some elements inside and outside government may be planning to undermine the government directive in view of the ambiguity that currently surrounds our removal from IPPIS with particular reference to the so-called “new IPPIS” with which January salaries were paid a few days ago. As canvassed at the stakeholders‟ meeting held at the National Universities Commission (NUC) on 11th January, 2024, ASUU‟s position is very clear: Government should revert to quarterly releases of University funds to enable them design and implement their programmes in tandem with international best practices. This is the hallmark of a truly autonomous University system as obtained in the 1960s and 1970s. We demand an immediate compliance with the directive of the President of Nigeria removing tertiary Institutions from IPPIS.

VI. Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standard (CCMAS)

We note with serious concern that, despite its earlier rejection of the NUC-imposed CCMAS, the Commission is still hell bent on enforcing its implementation with effect from 2022/2023 academic year. Consequently, our Union calls on all University Senates to resist the surreptitious moves by NUC to erode their powers over academic programmes in their respective Universities. The Union advises NUC to, at this critical time, focus its attention on more pressing issues affecting our Universities, including proliferation of Universities and the poor conditions of service of staff.

VII. Proliferation of Universities

Gentlemen of the Press, you are aware that proliferation of Universities was one of the issues that led to the strike actions of 2020 and 2022, and part of the MoA signed by ASUU and FGN stressed the need to review the NUC Act to make it more potent in arresting the reckless and excessive establishment of Universities. A joint committee of ASUU and government was set up which submitted a draft bill to the National Assembly on this matter. However, that bill has not seen the light of day. The fallout of that is the massive and reckless manner by which federal and state governments are establishing Universities without making adequate preparations for their funding while failing to adequately fund the existing ones. We call on the National Assembly to expedite action on the bill.

VIII. TETFund Intervention

Reports reaching our Union indicate that members of the National Assembly have lately been breathing down the necks of heads of tertiary institutions on the pretext of oversighting resources allocated to their Universities by TETFund. In particular, our Union frowns at the invitation of Vice Chancellors and other Heads of tertiary institutions to come before them to defend the intervention funds allocated to them contrary to the provisions of the TETFund Act and the University Miscellaneous Act. ASUU is worried that some of our Vice-Chancellors could become susceptible to corruption and other sharp practices associated with such “oversight”. Our Union will stop at nothing to resist the increasing unethical moves to fritter away the TETFund intervention funds.

IX. Underfunding of Universities

Funding for revitalization has been central in the struggle of our Union and it remains a cardinal demand in all our agreements and memoranda with governments. The commitment of governments to funding education has been very disappointing. For example from 2010 to date budgetary allocation to education has not reach 10 percent in any one year. In 2024 it is 6.39 percent. Is this figure capable of renewing hope in education? Consequently, efforts to address issues of shortage of lecture rooms and theatres; inadequate hostel and office accommodation; poor laboratories, studios, workshops and libraries; and supply and maintenance of utilities in our Universities have been frustrated. This has compelled a number of University administration to raise fees, levies and sundry charges paid by the students beyond the reach of impoverished Nigerians. Our Union condemns in its entirety the wave of fee hike without inputs of the victims across out campuses. Daily scandalous reports of stupendous funds diverted from government treasuries at State and Federal levels reinforce our belief that resources available to the country could support government-funded University education without excessive pressures on parents as currently done. For the avoidance of doubt, ASUU reiterated its rejection of the Students’ Loan scheme which is being promoted by the international money lending agencies such as IMF and World Bank. Nigerians should be aware that the scheme is a way of starving public Universities of funding and a ploy to divert public funds into private Universities owned by politically exposed individuals and their friends. If the scheme could fail in some better managed economies, there is no guarantee that it will succeed in Nigeria where unbridled corruption, nepotism and other unsavoury tendencies have liquidated most government agencies.

X. Deepening Socio-Economic Crisis

The free fall in the value of Naira vis-à-vis international currencies, the distortion in the petroleum sector, corruptly called “subsidy removal”, has ushered in a regime of high cost of transportation, unaffordable prices of commodities, job losses and ballooning joblessness, insecurity and general atmosphere of despair and despondency in the country. The failure of government to provide effective measures that would cushion the effect of its anti-poor policies has further pushed the Nigerian masses down the abyss of abject poverty and hardships. While calling on government to accelerate the process of arriving at a minimum living wage as demanded by the NLC, ASUU calls on the Nigerian Government to urgently review all IMF/World Bank-sponsored economic policies which are increasingly degrading the quality of life of Nigerians.

Conclusion

Gentlemen of the press, we have drawn your attention to the consistent failure of the FGN to honour agreements and fulfil promises bothering on the welfare of our members among other things. We hereby declare that ASUU remains undaunted in this patriotic mission towards the welfare of its members and repositioning the University system for global competitiveness. We therefore, call on all patriots in the media, labour movement, student groups and civil society organisations and all other stakeholders to join our resolve to reposition the Nigerian University system for a transformed Nigeria. We reiterate the fact that the suspension of our strike in 2022 was a patriotic act based on trust for those who intervened. We sincerely hope and wish that our Union will not be pushed towards needless and avoidable industrial disharmony.

The struggle continues!

Thank you.

Prof. Nanmwa Voncir

Acting Zonal Coordinator, ASUU Bauchi Zone

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ASUU Bauchi Zone kicks: Read the full Press conference text here.

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