Lately, ASUU leadership at confederate level upped its attacks on the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige . Tony Afejuku’s opinion in the Guardian of November 27 entitled “Southern Ministers Doing Dirty Jobs” is one of such. Afejuku unfortunately bracketed the hardworking Minister in his catalogue of lies, and metaphor of hate and mischief. Three other Ministers, Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba, Rotimi Amaechi, and Timi Sylva were also put up for bashing, he elaborated in the body of the essay as “southern born ministers doing hatchet job” for the Buhari administration. I do not hold brief for other Ministers even though his vituperations on them do not hold waters . I however reason authoritatively as a keen labour observer, hence the need to nudge him back on tract .
The piece lacked a breath of content and had to fill up space with an analytic litotes to diminish Ngige’s renaissance 34 months as Governor of Anambra State. It made no disguise of the author’s predisposition as an interested party while it delivered an equivalent of the Athenian misjudgment on Socrates. Afejuku is an ASUU official, a Professor at the Federal University of Oye Ekiti. Understanding the venom, stings, punch-up that littered his piece is therefore no brainer. However, the Professor failed to push his readers through his prism of hate as neither the sarcastic revisionism which he used to background his diatribe on Ngige nor its link to scapegoat his current stewardship as an enemy of university education could cut the ice. Afejuku will one day suffuse himself in the right information and in remorse, cease to “persecute the philosophers” as Athens did after Socrates!
Inspite, It is likely that none in the national leadership of ASUU will in fairness hold such jaundiced opinion. His piece is indeed riddled with crass ignorance and misinformation. Did he get the right information and deliberately missioned on preconceived whims, for given the academic height of a professor and a columnist with one of the nation’s journalism flagship, accurate information is taken for a given?
Notwithstanding, the issues in discussion are crystal just as the efforts of the Minister since 2015 to ensure optimum and stable national production milieu. ASUU started strike since March 9, 2020 over nine contentious issues all of which Federal Government has resolved at present. It has set up the visitation panel to the universities while gazetting takes its course. The shortfall in payments at the Federal University, Akure has been solved. Nigerian University Pension Management Commission is in place. The proliferation of the State universities is also being checked both from the Governors Forum and National Universities Commission Act amendment . Earned Academic Allowances of some lecturers at the University of Ilorin have also been settled while the contention around the IPPS platform rested as government has given temporal waiver pending the usability of Universities Transparency Accountability System (UTAS) being conducted by National Information Technology Development Agency. ASUU has also accepted N40b offer made by the Federal Government on Earned Academic / Earned Allowances while its decision is awaited on N30b revitalization offer by Government who similarly agreed to release the withheld ASUU salaries, bending backwards on section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act on No Work, No Pay because of assurances by ASUU that no lecture hours will be lost .
Relevant history is that revitalization of the universities has been a knotty issue since the Jonathan administration signed an agreement in 2009 to pay N1.3t . After renegotiation in 2013, it agreed to pay in six tranches of 220b per year. It however paid only N200b and neither paid in 2014 nor in 2015. The Buhari administration inherited this agreement and expressed interest in revitalizing the universities but hamstrung by manifest dwindling national resources. Ngige brokered conciliation in 2017 and renegotiated payment. Agreement was reached and Government released N20 billion in 2017 while N28b was also released for Earned Allowances for all unions in the universities with ASUU calling off strike on 18 September, 2017. N25b was also released twice in 2018 . Of course, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETF) maintained its funding obligation to the universities.
But why has the strike lasted this long? First is that ASUU opted out of virtual negotiation while the nation was on lockdown. Government in May had sought for virtual meeting towards early resolution of issues so that students can benefit from virtual learning. Next is that in February 2020, ASUU requested for 18 months to enable it develop UTAS ! Critical is the rigid mindset ASUU brought to negotiation especially in expectation of humongous sums at a time of asphyxiating shortfalls in national budget. ASUU initially demanded nothing but N220b revitalization and later N110b, at time the entire Covid-19 intervention budget for all services is N500b ! This attitude might have forced ASUU members to physically assault a female minister while on a courtesy visit to the President in February. Besides, ASUU’s convoluted democratic process is tedious and cumbersome. It has to convoke its national executive meetings/congresses to take every decision and takes a minimum of one week to revert to government on every offer. I’m yet to see where the Minister stood in the way of early resolution of the crisis rather it is ASUU standing against doing their work – to teach their students.
But ASUU leadership despite media outbursts by zonal field commanders across the federation shows implicit trust the Minister has the capacity to solve the problem as the nation’s number one Labour Officer who from all indications enjoys the full confidence of the President; partly the reason he is ever present to handle conciliations while the two Ministers of Education as their direct employer and Finance Minister have beat a retreat because of ASUU’s onslaught. When for instance, ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi on Arise TV, in a fit of anger termed the Minister “ a conspirator,” my reflex immediately culled up the picture of the same Ogunyemi in 2017 showering praises on him. “I wish to place on records that for the first time in the history of this country a government official came out to say something went wrong on the government side and showed honest commitment to redress it.” This is a case of Hosanna Hosanna to the son of David ( Hosanna filiu David) for Jesus on Triumphant Entry to Jerusalem and crucify him (cruxifice eis ) on Good Friday. The fact that the same ASUU would insist that Ngige be tagged for responsibility in the Memorandum of Action in case of non-observance of its timeline is not just an irony but an outright deliberate mischief.
Sources at negotiations say the brilliance, clout, conviviality, candour, wits and literary-pun Ngige takes to negotiations prove a hold on the ego of these intellectuals who would relentlessly assert vaunting airs at meetings. Instructively, in five years of serial thorny negotiations ASUU has never walked out on Ngige or negotiation snowballing to the presidency . Once at the current negotiation according to the source, he asked ASUU leadership , “ is there any promise I have made to you that failed? The silence in the conference room was deafening. The source said ASUU may not easily forget its experience at one of the negotiations earlier in February when Ngige momentarily yielded floor to two youthful Ministers of State, Education and Labour to take the lead. It was such a fire that the ASUU team almost left in fury but for Ngige’s intervention. That was how the famous clause, “young Turks” came into the recent history of FG/ASUU negotiation according to the source. I leave the story here for Afejuku and his likes to verify from their colleagues at negotiation that day.
Summary is that ASUU, indeed the organized labour and the entire nation should be grateful that at this austere time, a nationalist who espouses the stoicism, intellectual democracy, consensus building and economic determinism of the legendary Zik of Africa is in saddle