The industrial dispute between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities may worsen following the insistence of the Federal Ministry of Education that its proposed agreement with the union will not be binding on state universities.
The spokesman for the Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Goong , in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja on Wednesday, explained that the Federal Government could not dictate to states on education as it is on the concurrent legislative list.
A committee led by the Pro-Chancellor of the Federal University of Lokoja, Prof. Nimi Briggs, had reportedly recommended a 180 per cent pay rise for lecturers, but the government was said to have favoured a 100 per cent increase.
It was gathered that the ministries of finance, education, labour and employment, Budget Office of the Federation, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation and the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission were still working out the final details of the proposal.
The ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, insisted that any agreement reached with the Federal Government would be binding on the states, thus opening another battle front between the union and the government.
The ASUU, including federal and state universities, had embarked on a strike on February 14, 2022.
Following the inability of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige to resolve the strike, the President, major General Muhammdu Buhari (retd.), two weeks ago directed the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to take over the negotiation with the ASUU leadership.
To compel a quick resolution of the crisis, the Nigeria Labour Congress held nationwide protests on July 26 and 27 in solidarity with the union.
However, ASUU on Monday extended the industrial action by another four weeks.
“Any agreement made with ASUU is only binding on the institutions owned by the Federal Government. The state government will handle their own institutions.”
But reacting to the government’s position in an interview with the ASUU president stated that the university system is a single entity, arguing further that there was no disparity between state and federal universities.
Osodeke said, “I don’t know who you spoke to but that person doesn’t know what he is saying. I can tell you that the renegotiation team is made up of pro-chancellors of state and federal universities. So, how can anyone say the agreement won’t be binding on state universities? The person doesn’t know what he is saying.”
The ASUU leader contended that the few institutions that did not join in the strike were not their members.
He also warned that Nigeria had just one university system and as such the issue of salary is personal to the union.
Osodeke stated, ‘‘Whenever ASUU is on strike, it is not about state ASUU or federal ASUU. We have one ASUU representing all universities in the country; those schools that are not participating in the strike are not our members.
‘‘The issue of salary should be left to the union to decide because when there was minimum wage adjustment, both federal and state schools were a part of it; even TETFund, it funds both state and federal institutions. Do we have a federal NUC or state NUC?
‘’The issue of salary negotiation is exclusive to the union. If a state can increase it, good; but we have one university system in Nigeria, and the state cannot even pay lesser than what the Federal Government is paying.’’
Commenting on the controversy, Ekiti State Commissioner for Information, Akin Omole, said on Wednesday that the state was not part of the ongoing negotiation between the FG and ASUU, hence, any agreement reached could not be binding on it as far as ASUU members in Ekiti State University were concerned.
Omole said, “If Ekiti State must have any dialogue at all, it can only be with the ASUU in EKSU. The ASUU negotiation with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Federal Ministry of Education is not done with the concurrence of Ekiti State Government. It is a national issue and it is the FG that is involved.