- FG and ASUU must be ready to shift ground in the interest of all stakeholders
Two days after the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, announced that the Federal Government’s negotiating team was still awaiting completion of Integrity Test on the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU’s) University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), the Federal Government made an offer to the university lecturers. The latest offer seems to have moved the eight-month negotiation to a higher gear.
The Federal Government, at its recent meeting with ASUU, shifted grounds noticeably when it offered a total sum of N65 billion to the public university system to address some of its demands; revitalisation of universities and arrears of payment for earned allowances to lecturers. The government also said that salary arrears to striking lecturers would be reviewed for payment on an older platform, different from the government’s Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) and the UTAS. This has also reduced some of the troubling points in the industrial dispute. The new offer has been taken back to ASUU by the union’s president for consideration, a marked change from the stasis of the past months. The ball is now back in the court of ASUU.
It may be too soon to pop champagne over the imminent resurrection of the university system. But it is timely to remind the two parties to the dispute that university education should be given more seriousness than has been evident since the beginning of this year’s disagreement between the Federal Government and the country’s professoriate. Given the importance of higher education to the country, and its youth in particular, the shutting of the gates of universities for eight months is avoidable. Without prejudice to the consideration of the new offer from the government, the negotiation has been insensitively dragged. It is time for both parties to come to a closure on this matter.
We frown at the prolonged absence of students from their studies. This kind of temporising on a matter that is central to the economy, and of major emotional and psychological importance to university students and their parents should not have been dragged inordinately, given the repercussions of such a long period for the economy and the society. Citizens are already complaining that were most students in the universities from the ruling class, the negotiation between ASUU and the Federal Government would have been handled with more dispatch, as such political leaders would have felt the pain of parents and their children who have been kept out of the classroom for the past eight months.
Now that the matter of IPPIS and UTAS has been put in abeyance, and the government has offered more of the outstanding funds due to lecturers and toward ‘revitalisation of universities’, both sides must be ready to shift grounds. It is encouraging that the government no longer insists on any of the two special salary payment platforms that have been a bone of contention. But we urge the government to sustain the momentum that has made it possible for ASUU to have a proposal to take to the members after several months. The slowness with which the government has handled the negotiation so far requires more speed from now on.
On its part, ASUU needs to shift ground too. Whatever payment that is outstanding on earned allowances after the most recent offer to it should be delayed for future settlements while lecturers are brought back to the classrooms, to enable students return to classes. The union should not keep the students any longer away from their studies, because of the consequences for them, the parents, and thousands of workers that make a living by providing services to the university sector of the economy.