ASUU Strike: Union Speaks On Grievances With Negotiating Team

Wale Babalakin team Inaugurated to Negotiate with ASUU

The Nigerian government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have been at loggerheads since 2009. Over that period, agreements and promises were made but broken and university education has been left to haemorrhage.

At the centre of the dispute between the two parties are poor funding of public universities, and alleged plan by the federal government to introduce tuition fees and an education bank. The university teachers also complained about non-implementation of previous agreements.

Between 1999 and 2018, Newsmen checks revealed ASUU had gone on strike for over 40 months – a grim reality that the federal government says it wants to turn into a forgettable past.

In February 2017, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, constituted a committee “to engender sustainable peace, industrial harmony in tertiary institutions and resolve impending issues.”

The 16-member Federal Government/Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) 2009 Agreement Renegotiation Committee, has as chairman Wale Babalakin, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

Among the members are M.M. Jibril, Pro-Chancellor, Federal University, Lafia; Nimi Briggs, Pro-Chancellor, Federal University, Lokoja; Gbemisola Saraki, Pro-Chancellor, Federal University, Otuoke; and Lawrence Ngbale, Pro-Chancellor, Federal University, Birnin Kebbi.

The team was asked to interface with the university-based labour unions – the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) – over the contents of the agreement the unions reached with government in 2009.

But in August this year, ASUU described Mr Babalakin as “a stumbling block in the renegotiation process” and called for the suspension of the committee.

The union on August 7 said the renegotiation had collapsed over the alleged arrogance of Mr Babalakin, who it said to had made a mockery of the renegotiation process.

ASUU president, Biodun Ogunyemi, alleged that Mr Babalakin did not relate with the union as a negotiator but as a judge. “He was always trying to overrule,” he alleged.

According to Mr Ogunyemi, Mr Babalakin dismissed ASUU’s report. “That kind of person cannot be a negotiator because he believes that his opinion should be superior. That’s not a good trait of a good negotiator and that’s unbecoming of him. Dr Wale Babalakin has an ideological position in terms of how to fund Nigerian education.

“We identified many sources on how to fund education. We talked about leakages in tax collections and brought examples. We talked about corruption and we documented. We talked about Alumni contribution, we talked about consultancy. The only one we did not agree on was on the issue of tuition fee,” the ASUU president said.

“His ideological position has translated to his difference with ASUU. Babalakin has not been telling the truth about what he was doing at the negotiating table. On the issue of Education Bank, fact was produced and we told him it cannot work in Nigeria. We produced a document where wrote on Government failure to fulfil its obligation for seven years when we once tried it.”

Explaining the union’s stand on funding education and the proposal for the Education Bank, Mr Ogunyemi said “We showed that if every student is given a loan of N1 million and N700, 000 to universities, is that realistic? He initially denied that he never said students will pay tuition fee but when we presented fact, he could no longer talk.”

Mr Ogunyemi said Mr Babalakin should be penalised for misinforming the government and public. He said the negotiation team chairman was representing private interest and using government platform and wanted to use government money to boost private business.

“We don’t take the issue of criminality very serious and that’s why banks will continue to collapse and people who caused it will remain in politics. That’s our issue with Babalakin,” he said.

On the “no work no pay” directive in which the federal government recently said vice-chancellors of federal universities must ensure that members of ASUU who are currently on strike are not paid their salaries, Mr Ogunyemi said the directive is not new.
He said the union is committed to making a sacrifice to rescue public education and restore the integrity of a university degree in Nigeria.

“ Although, we learnt that the circular has been withdrawn. They have enough information on what our demands are and they know they are for the future of the country. Our work is in three folds. We are to teach, do research and use the result to contribute to community demand. So our advocacy for improved education to transform Nigeria is the third leg of our service.

“We didn’t go far with the meetings. We have a meeting on Tuesday with the Ministry of Education and we hope to hear from them tomorrow if we get their invitation. Students should, however, be asking Government when they will go back to school.”

Meanwhile, Mr Babalakin had earlier explained areas where his committee disagreed with the striking university lecturers. The lawyer said his team and ASUU were in agreement on the need for improved education funding but differed on where the funding should come from

Mr Babalakin on November 10 said he believed Nigerians deserve quality education and that this must not be compromised as a result of inadequate funding, which he said has been the situation in the last 30 years.

He debunked the allegations that his team suggested a fee hike in universities, explaining that the committee’s scope of work had nothing to do with fees payable in schools.

“Unfortunately, we are compelled to respond to the allegations by ASUU which have been made severally in the print and electronic media because some Nigerians may begin to believe the inaccurate narratives that have been consistently provided by ASUU.

“Our position as a team is that Nigerians deserve and should have quality education. This must not be compromised as a result of inadequate funding which has been the situation in the last 30 years,” he concluded.

All effort to get a response from two of the committee members, Messrs Briggs and Bamiro, were unsuccessful as they did not respond to calls and messages to their known telephone numbers.

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