The brief solace that has calmed nerves in Nigeria’s public universities due to the negotiations between the lecturers and the federal government may soon shatter. This is because the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has just rejected the Federal Government negotiating team led by Wale Babalakin for what they term lack of confidence in his ability to continue with members of the Union.
News of this just let out of Calabar where the executive council led by the president of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, has been meeting. ASUU NEC reviewed the state of affairs in the country – with special focus on the crisis in the education sector and other sectors.
On the collapse of the 2017-2018 renegotiation, the Union said: “The Chairman of the Government Renegotiating Team, in the person of Wale Babalakin, has constituted a stumbling block in the process of the renegotiation. He has arrogantly exhibited “I-know-it-all” attitude and also conducted himself as a judge, instead of a negotiator. With unwarranted arrogance, he has disregarded the cardinal principles of collective bargaining, deliberately slowed the process and made mockery of the core tenets of industrial democracy. He has arrogated to himself the power to decide matters that should be collectively debated, analysed, and agreed upon by the two parties. He has also consistently attempted to substitute core constitutional provisions of Nigeria on education, including university education, by market principles of trading in and purchasing higher education, putting Nigerian children in debt peonage in order to acquire higher education. This situation is not acceptable to the Union.
ASUU has tried through several entreaties to make him see reason and return to the path of collective bargaining and respect for the Constitutional provisions on Education to no avail. The Chairman of the Government team has amply demonstrated that his major interest is to force ASUU to accept the dependence of the education of our youth on debts whereas the Constitution promises free education. Since March 2017, a period of over fourteen (14) months, discussion has hovered only on funding and Babalakin’s insistence that a tuition regime must be introduced into the public universities in Nigeria. It is significant to point out that education is a right, according to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Education is also a public good, and it is the constitutional responsibility of the Nigerian state to provide qualitative and sound education to its citizenry (Chapter II – Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy). Since the return to civil rule in 1999, the highest budgetary allocation to the education sector was in 2015, when government allocated 11.75 per cent to education. However, in the 2018 budget, the allocation to the education sector fell to a scandalously low point of 7%. This is also unacceptable.
The FGN/ASUU 2017-2018 renegotiations are intended to reverse the crisis afflicting the universities in particular and the education sector in general. Our Union has, since the 1980s, struggled along with the students, the trade unions and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) to reject attempts by Nigerian governments to impose on Nigerians the Bretton Wood institutions’ policy of privatising education and taking it out of the reach of the majority of Nigerians who cannot afford privatized education.
The FGN/ASUU renegotiation, which started in March 2017, never got on to substantive negotiation both in content and procedure. The Chairman substituted his views for those of the Renegotiating Committee, dismissed opposing proposals without input from members of his team, and ignored substantive input by a joint committee of both sides. ASUU as a Union of intellectuals totally rejects the castration of the truncated renegotiation single-handedly by Dr. Wale Babalakin This action has led to palpable fear, anxiety and apprehension on our campuses.
ASUU calls on all patriotic Nigerians to prevail on the Government to return to the path of honour by immediate reconstitution of its team in order to conclude the renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement.
ASUU said they also looked at he increasing despondency among the generality of the citizenry owing to the hazy political environment foisted on the people of Nigeria by the ruling class, the inclement economic atmosphere that is said to have continued to produce joblessness, hampered productive activities and the development of productive capacities. It reviewed the total disconnect between the government and the Nigerian people at every tier of the nation’s political structure.
The communiqué said; “ASUU as a Union of patriotic intellectuals is compelled, once again, as in our established tradition, to call the attention of Nigerians to the multiple malaises that have constantly conspired and are still conspiring against our developmental aspiration as citizens in the Nigerian state. As a union in the education sector, we have the duty to the Nigerian people to assess and report on the state of our universities which is gravely disturbing.
“Education, which is the kernel of transformation in any society, is being treated with levity in Nigeria. The ruling class in Nigeria has constantly refused to pay due attention to the significant place of education in the improvement of the living standards of the people. Promising pronouncements by politicians about education notwithstanding, no state in Nigeria has an all-round internationally competitive system of education. Yet, Nigerians are widely acknowledged to be among the most intellectually endowed in the world, judged by their performance in all parts of the world. The Nigerian society is left to drift because of the neglect of the educational sector, especially the Nigerian University system (NUS).