Dabbling into ASUU-Federal Government negotiations matters as I intend to do in this short piece is always “risky business” because of very many hardened positions over time, and due to fundamental lack of trust on all sides. However, with what is at stake in human capital and socio-economic development of the country when it comes to tertiary education – and education in general – it is worth the risk.
I write below as an individual, but cannot escape the fact that I am Vice-Chancellor of a federal university – a fledgling one at that at Otuoke, Bayelsa State established in 2011, currently with only about 700 students, and for now without ASUU, NASU, SSANU or NAAT membership. Consequently, FU Otuoke has not been on strike as all public universities (except for a handful) have been under ASUU mandate for ten weeks now since July 1, 2013, with no end in sight. I also write, remembering that my sabbatical leave to Nigeria from my Howard University base in the United States during the 2002/2003 academic session at the then University of Ado-Ekiti UNAD (now Ekiti State University EKSU) was truncated in January 2003 due to a total all-unions national universities’ strike that lasted from December 2002 to July 2003. That strike was a result of a 2001 Agreement with ASUU (which was then due for re-negotiation every three years) that was not fulfilled by the Federal Government; re-negotiation that should have been held in 2004 was not re-opened until 2007, and that delayed renegotiation lasted for two years and resulted in the present 2009 Agreement (updated in 2012 with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) brokered by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation) which is yet again under contention.
With that preface, I now state that I sincerely wish to see a speedy resolution to the current universities’ crisis in the country so that our colleagues and their students can resume normal academic activities in the shortest possible time. Government should bend, and ASUU should do likewise in a spirit of give-and-take on all sides.
We first must admit that initial negotiations on these matters causing the imbroglio were flawed in the first instance because the hard total financial implications (in terms of Naira and Kobo, that is) were never placed on the table at the time of negotiation – one hears that these numbers did not even become fully known until February 2013. Rather, agreements were based on general principles of what needed to be done and paid for or not, at what rates and to who – no total financial caps discussed – not only with ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities), but with SSANU (Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities), NASU (Junior Staff; Non-Academic Staff Union), and NAAT (National Association of Academic Technologists), each feeding off of each other’s most-recently successful negotiations. Episodic exasperation and frustration caused these serious lapses – which happened twice, first in 2009 (when negotiations were with a high-powered Federal government team led by Chief Gamaliel Onosode), and secondly in 2012 (when the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Pius Anyim took over to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding.). Now that the Federal Government has realised what it agreed to, it is balking – and ASUU is fully and understandably not buying it, calling it an unacceptable and re-cycled reneging on promises.
However this stalemate situation cannot continue forever, as our tertiary institutional spirit is being drained and damaged by the day. For example, a cousin of mine in a federal institution who would have graduated the very month that the universities’ strike began is now sitting idly at home, wondering what will happen to him. He was hoping to join the NYSC batch this year, but that hope is now lost…next year, maybe – and possibly more idle time while waiting for call-up. I am sure that similar stories abound of suffering and dispirited students nationwide.
The three major issues on the table now – and my own suggestions as an individual – are as follows:
– Percentage of money spent on education in the Federal Budget. Government must definitely commit to an increase from the present allocation (one hears or reads various percentages, as low as 9%) to as close to 26% as it can get over a time definite (say five years, ten years), after calculating exactly how much it is spending on education across various sectors. In fact, according to a breakdown of the 2012 budget (the last signed one), the sum of N400.15 billion, representing 8.43 per cent of the budget, was allocated to education, out of which N345.091bn (82%) was allotted to recurrent expenditure and N55.056bn (18%) for capital expenditure. Of the recurrent expenditure, N317.896bn was proposed for personnel cost and N27.192bn was for overheads. Also, the main ministry had a budget proposal of N5.491bn; MDGs N2.173bn; parastatals N5.196bn; universities, N14.411bn; colleges of education, N4.555bn and unity colleges N7.663bn. Finally, the Federal Ministry of Education got a total capital allocation of N5.49bn in 2011, out of which N3.688bn was released; total commitment was N3.497bn and actual draw down was N2.699bn. In moving towards 26%, we should not consider only money committed to the Federal Ministry of Education; the states should also be called upon to ante up their commitments. It would be beneficial to spell out percentages and target increases/adjustments to Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Adult and Vocational Education sectors, as well as specific allocations and target increases/adjustments in each of those five sectors to Infrastructure, Education Bureaucracy, Professional Development/Teacher Training, Instructional Materials, Personnel and Overhead in order for money to be spent more smartly on Education. A new and bold vision for Education in the country is definitely needed, linked to Jobs/Employment, Socio-Economic Development and Technological Needs.
– Money to be spent on university infrastructure as an outcome of the 2009 Needs Assessment Report that was published in 2012. Government has distributed letters in my presence (in a recent gathering of Pro-Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors in August) in Abuja granting N100 billion to 61 universities and institutions. In this distribution, most First Generation Universities got N3 billion each, 2nd Generation got N2 billion each, etc. and state universities – in a bonanza that they would not otherwise get from the Federal Government – got about N1 billion each. I saw the letters myself.
I merely peeped, because Otuoke got no money under this category since the university was NOT in existence at the time of the Needs Assessment; only 27 federal and 34 state institutions got anything. Unfortunately, these letters also spelt out what amount each university should spend in various categories, with hostels getting as high as 67% in many if not most of the allocations.
I strongly believe and advise that ASUU should back-pedal on its N500-billion-now-or-nothing stance, but rather INSIST that each university council be ALLOWED to determine how it spends its money within the Needs assessment deficiencies identified and their PRESENT status relative to those deficiencies, rather than the line-item expenditures that the letters to the universities spelt out. That would be in the spirit of the autonomy of universities, which we must not confuse with independence since we still depend on government funding. For example, Federal Government should not ask a university to spend N2 billion on hostels when hostels are NOT its priority….it may be for some, but not for others. I heard a Vice-Chancellor lament privately that his hostels are currently only 70% occupied, and that building more hostels would mean more overhead, expenditures that cannot be covered in light of the limits of bed space costs and school fees imposed by government.
Certain deficiencies may have been identified in their Needs Assessment in 2007/2009, but those may have since been solved. Government should also commit to spending this N100 billion for the next three years as a clearly BUDGETED ITEM starting with the 2014 Budget being called for now, but it should remember to include the twelve new universities next year and going forward – including Otuoke, Government should also give an assurance – and this is clearly verifiable with time – that the average annual expenditure that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TetFUND) has been statutorily spending on all universities in the past several years will not be affected by this fresh annual injection of N100 billion in a bid to avoid robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The issue of earned allowances….this is the sticky wicket. The gap of funding is N30 billion that has just been given (apparently once and no more) by Federal Government to N87 billion/N92 billion being demanded strenuously by ASUU on behalf of both academic and non-academic staff. (By the way, Otuoke got N33 million in this category for payment of earned allowances.) This is where there should be most give-and-take, because certainly, the universities themselves CANNOT make up this difference from Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). To break the impasse, Federal Government should commit to REPEATING this N30 billion funding in August every year for the next two years (again as a BUDGETED ITEM starting with the 2014 Budget), so that at the end, it would have committed the N90 billion that ASUU seeks for the university system and not for itself. ASUU should readily concede to this graduated measure.
Finally, the position of the Committee of (public university) Vice-Chancellors (CVC) to which I belong can be encapsulated as a pragmatic one as follows: “Let us take all this money first and spend it wisely as determined within each university – a bird in hand is worth more than a thousand in the bush.” However, unless students and staff return to their campuses, it would be difficult if not impossible to get or spend the money at all – a total of N130 billion.
And a billion in any currency, even cowrie shells, is a lotta money.
And there you have it.
Otuoke, Bayelsa State