Notes To Fed Govt And ASUU

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It may be noteworthy, if not heart-warming, for students of Nigerian public universities and their parents to hear that the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), are warming up to return to the negotiation table to hopefully resolve the issues that have kept the public universities shut for almost four months, a strike which impact has been tempered by the lockdown that has attended the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will be recalled that the federal government and the union were at the verge of reaching a final agreement when the differences between both parties on the issue of IPPIS tore them asunder and thus the union continues with its strike amidst COVID-19 lockdown. The forceful migration of most academic staff to the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) platform not only piqued the union, but also escalated the tiff between the two parties.

Now that both parties have realised the need for amicable resolution, the ASUU president has come up with the list of the unfinished business in addition to the IPPIS issue, over which the union is ready to engage the federal government in serious bargain and never in tea party.

The government officials too have created the impression before now that, they are battle ready any day, to combat a union whose leadership is arrogant as we can infer from the altercations that attended the railroading of the academic staff onto the IPPIS platform. It is in appreciation of the need to avoid the likely impasse that may attend this hope raising negotiation, that one has resolved to pass these “public denominated notes” which are embodied in this essay, to both parties.

The issues that have been listed for negotiation by ASUU and which shall form the springboard of this preachy and advisory essay are the following: adoption of ASUU alternative payment platform, University Transparency and Accountability Solution(UTAS) in place of IPPIS platform; provision of funds for revitalisation of the universities; conclusion of renegotiation of 2009 agreement with regard to the conditions of service of the union members; payment of Earned Academic Allowance(EAA) to the union members; setting up of visitation panels for federal universities to examine their governance and halting the proliferation of universities particularly  by the state governments.

The ASUU had out rightly rejected the IPPIS  platform on several grounds out of which two are very significant: that the platform will technically erode the tenuous autonomy of the federal universities as the payment of their salaries will be domiciled outside the university system in rape of the Acts establishing the universities; and that the platform is not flexible enough to take care of the university system in the areas of recruitment  and payment of lecturers on sabbatical leave, part time lecturers, adjunct lecturers and visiting lecturers.

True it is that the IPPIS platform is a further erosion of the very fragile autonomy of the universities, the union should however, appreciate the fact that, in so far the universities are not self- financing yet, this form of intrusion contrived with the good intention of promoting accountability and check corruption, is a reality it has to live with until Nigerian universities can financially stand on their own.

In other climes where universities enjoy greater autonomy, they are indeed self -financing. For instance, in the UK between 2014- 2015, most of their universities enjoyed 74% self- funding; government only gave 26% support (10% for teaching and 16% for research) which is well monitored and audited. The universities are left to cater for their capital projects funding through internally generated funds.

This should not however, prevent the federal government from adopting the union’s contrived template, UTAS, which it claims, has taken care of the peculiarities of the university system as pinpointed by the union. No doubt, the recruitment of ad hoc staff by the universities and paying them require greater flexibility than the regimented IPPIS platform and bureaucratic bottlenecks can permit. Thus, government should not hesitate to concede the adoption of UTAS to ASUU if it meets the principles of accountability, transparency and  is corruption free.

That the Nigerian university system requires revitalization as it is being stridently articulated by the union needs no further contention. To be sure, the infrastructural decay is monumental; and so also the paucity of teaching, learning and research facilities including those that could have facilitated virtual delivery of instructions in pandemic and non-pandemic situations and also in this new normal. For ASUU to have even made this one of its demands is of course a demonstration of a high sense of patriotism. As such, government should take this demand very seriously. Nonetheless, the union should be realistic in this regard.

The union’s demand should not be informed by “ifs”— if the legislators are earning so much; if the EFCC can recover so much— then government should be able to meet the financial implication of the revitalisation. The truth is that, not all “ifs” are correct and above all, there are contending demands in the hands of government. Beyond this, the financial new normal that COVID-19 has created certainly requires that the union should not maintain a rigid stance on the amount of funds that should be going into the revitalisation demand. The same realism should inform the stance of ASUU on the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement.

There is the need for both parties to realise that, between 2009 and 2020, the dynamics and realities of the economy, that informed the 2009 agreement have mutated drastically. On the basis of this therefore, the union should not hesitate to grant some concessions while the government too should not be shy to plead with the union for agreement that is realistic and on which no government will possibly renege no matter the circumstance. On payment of EAA, the government should of course be magnanimous enough not to tamper at all with the initial arrangement to pay the union members. If anything at all, it should rather look for a way of surpassing the initial promise made to the union both in quantum and promptness.

Certainly, the welfare of the academics should be paramount to the government. The issue of sending visitation panels to the federal universities to examine their governance should no longer also suffer foot dragging. This is an exercise that needs to be done on regular basis to promote transparency and accountability in the universities. To be efficacious, the union must extract commitment from the federal government, the political will to implement the recommendations of the panels.

On halting of proliferation of universities, ASUU should rather take advisory position, instead of making it a very strong demand over which it cannot bend. The reasons for this are these: one, Nigeria at this threshold of her educational development needs to accelerate access to higher education given her population and the numerous number of Nigerians having appetency for higher education. Halting establishment of more universities at this time will surely be motion without progress.

Two, true it is that the existing ones should be properly funded. Methinks however, that rather than deliberate halt, the universities should be allowed to mushroom to the point that they will inevitably embrace mergers through evolutionary process. India, South Africa and the United States of America had passed through such process. The fact that Ekiti State, had to, for financial reason, consolidate its three universities into one without losing any of the three campuses at a point, is a sign that the Harmattan will teach the man that wears knickers lesson in cold.

Dr. Adebisi writes from the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure.                    

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