•Move to liberalise academic sector, claims Ngige
•Labour minister is desperate, newly registered associations are dissidents, ASUU insists
•Speaker of House of Reps presents proposals to Buhari, says end of 7-month strike by academics imminent
Deji Elumoye, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Kingsley Nwezeh, Udora Orizu and Kuni Tyessi in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, accused the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of involvement in endemic corruption in the education sector, alleging that corruption in the sector undermines federal government’s investment in education.
Buhari said incessant strikes by unions created the impression that government was underfunding education.
Speaking at the fourth National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Sector, Buhari said corruption from the basic to tertiary levels of education greatly marred government’s investment in the sector.
The president made the remarks on a day the federal government formally registered two new university-based unions – Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA).
With the granting of registration to the two unions, Nigerian universities now have three academic unions, namely ASUU, CONUA, and NAMDA.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, claimed the move would help liberalise the academic sub-sector and allow more freedom for university workers.
But President of ASUU, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, described the newly registered associations as an inconsequential collection of dissidents, whose inordinate ambitions fed the labour minister’s hubris.
Osodeke said Ngige was only being desperate over what was known to him alone.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, yesterday, met with Buhari as part of efforts to resolve the on-going strike by ASUU.
The theme of the summit on public sector corruption was, “Corruption and the Education Sector.” It was organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), in conjunction with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) and Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), with support from MacArthur Foundation.
Speaking at the conference, Buhari said contrary widespread belief, the academic unions were no less complicit in the systemic corruption in the education sector. He said the effect of corruption in the education sector undermined national capacity to develop requisite social capital for socioeconomic development, acknowledging, however, that no nation develops without adequate and appropriate investment in education.
The president called on stakeholders to demand accountability in the administration of academic institutions. He said unions should interrogate the bloated personnel and recurrent expenditure of their institutions.
Buhari said, “Incessant strikes, especially by unions in the tertiary education, often imply that government is grossly underfunding education. But I must say that corruption in the education system, from basic level to the tertiary level, has been undermining our investment in the sector and those who go on prolonged strikes on flimsy reasons are no less complicit.
“Government and stakeholders in the educational sector are concerned about the manifestation of various forms of corruption in the education sector. I am aware that students in our universities, for example, use different terminologies to describe different forms of corruption they experience on our campuses.
“There is sorting or cash for marks/grades, sex for marks, sex for grade alterations, examination malpractice, and so on.”
He added, “Sexual harassment has assumed an alarming proportion. Other forms of corruption include pay-roll padding or ghost workers, lecturers taking up full time appointments in more than one academic institution, including private institutions, lecturers writing seminar papers, projects and dissertations for students for a fee, and admission racketeering, to mention only the most glaring corrupt practices.
“I am happy to note that ICPC is investigating and prosecuting sexual harassment as abuse of power in our educational institutions. I approve and encourage them to continue to do so.”
Buhari affirmed that government would continue to fund education within realistically available revenue. He urged stakeholders, including the media, to advocate transparency in the internally generated revenues by educational institutions and how such funds were expended.
The president alleged, “Corruption in the expenditure of internally generated revenue of tertiary institutions is a matter that has strangely not received the attention of stakeholders in tertiary education, including unions.
“I call on stakeholders to demand accountability in the administration of academic institutions and for unions to interrogate the bloated personnel and recurrent expenditure of their institutions. Let me also implore the unions to work with government to put faces and identities to names on the payroll.”
He further stated, “I believe that the role of government in education is to guarantee access and establish minimum benchmarks for quality education. Due to declining resources, government cannot bear the cost of funding education alone. I task our academics to attract endowments, research and other grants to universities, polytechnics and colleges of education similar to what obtains in other countries.”
FG Registers Two New University-based Unions
Meanwhile, the federal government formally registered two new university based unions – CONUA and NAMDA. The government said with the registration granted the two unions, they were now entitled to all rights and privileges ascribed to unions and would be given access to those rights by the government and university authorities.
While conveying the approval to the leadership of the two unions at a meeting in Abuja yesterday, Ngige said the move would help liberalise the academic sub-sector and make for more freedom for university workers.
The minister stated, “In view of the above, I Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige, in the exercise of the power conferred on me as the Minister of Labour & Employment, do hereby approve the registration of CONUA and NAMDA.
“The Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment in the discharge of her mandate in the management of employment relationships and the administration of trade unions to ensure harmonious industrial relations system in the nation has decided to approve the registration of two more trade unions in the Nigerian university academic sub- sector. The university sub-sector is a major development plank of any nation’s socio-economic growth.”
Ngige said NAMDA included those medical doctors doing pre-clinical teaching of basic medical courses and honorary consultants teaching clinical students in the universities.
He told the new unions, “In view of this registration, you are entitled to all rights and privileges accruable to union of similar status which include right to receive check off dues of members. You can now go back to your institutions and open the doors of your classrooms to teach the students.”
While explaining the government decision, Ngige said that in the last eight months, the classrooms in the country’s public universities had been shut and students kept at home by the strike action embarked upon by ASUU. He lamented that the ugly situation had persisted despite series of engagements to resolve the trade dispute by the federal government through the Ministry of Education.
The minister alleged, “However, all efforts at conciliation failed resulting in the transmission of the trade dispute to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) for adjudication in line with the statutory trade dispute resolution processes.
“At the NICN, an Interlocutory Injunction Order was obtained asking the Union to get back to work while the substantive suit is being heard; an order ASUU leadership and members refused to obey.
“Interestingly, a lot of university teachers in the public universities had indicated their willingness to get back to work while negotiations continue.”
While justifying the decision, Ngige narrated that the experience in some of the institutions was helpless. He noted that some medical doctors teaching in various medical schools/colleges of medicine had carried on with teaching in the universities of Maiduguri, Bauchi, and Sokoto, and had graduated new doctors in the midst of the ASUU strike.
He argued that some of those lecturers had since been applying to have their own academic associations registered as trade unions to organise their members, because they did not share in the models, objectives, modus operandi, mission and vision of ASUU.
Ngige said there were differences among the key segments of the universities, especially those who did not believe in recurring strikes as solution to every welfare problem. He said some lecturers had also accused the ASUU executive of non-rendition of account of incomes and expenditure for years.
Ngige stated, “The Ministry of Labour and Employment set up a committee to look into the merit of their application. The committee saw merit in the application and recommended approval for the registration of the Association by the Registrar of Trade Unions (RTU) since 2020. But for the advent of COVID-19 pandemic and the recurring ASUU Strike, this would have been done.”
National Coordinator of CONUA, Niyi Sumonu, assured the minister that they would work to ensure that the country was not truamatised again by strike. He said CONUA members were never on strike, adding that they would appreciate if the federal government would prevail on the school authorities to reopen the institutions for normal academic activities.
Similarly, President of NAMDA, Dase Lancy Oriue, said the registration gave medical and dental academics in the universities and other tertiary institutions, where training of medical students and postgraduate doctors took place, a legal voice in the determination of the training requirements, management of the training system, and the welfare of its members.
Oriue explained that medicine and dentistry were very sensitive professions, which required a well-programmed, uninterrupted, and hands-on training
ASUU: Ngige is Desperate, So-called Faction are Dissidents
ASUU described the newly registered unions as unimportant, saying it has no faction. ASUU president, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, who spoke exclusively to THISDAY, said Ngige was only being desperate over what he alone knew.
Emphasising that Nigerians needed to ask the minister certain questions, Osodeke said the newly registered unions were just dissidents whose extravagant ambitions were being advanced by Ngige.
Osodeke accused the minister of sabotaging the efforts of the National Assembly to deal with the root cause of the strike.
He said, “We don’t have factions of ASUU. The minister is desperate, but they are inconsequential. Our union is intact and we will continue. When the National Assembly is trying to intercede on an issue and the Ministry of Labour is jumping from court, to the issue of salaries, registering other unions. I think Nigerians should ask him what is his interest?
“We don’t have factions. Call them. Go to any of our branches, we do not have factions. What there are, the new group at OAU are dissidents and he (Ngige) encouraged them. But we don’t have factions. If we have factions, can we be on strike for eight months?”
Gbajabiamila Presents Recommendations to Buhari, Says End to Strike Near
Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, met with Buhari as part of efforts to resolve the on-going ASUU strike. Gbajabiamila led a delegation of principal officers of the House to Aso Rock Presidential Villa immediately after yesterday’s plenary.
Speaking with journalists after the meeting, the speaker said the visit was to submit recommendations from their meetings with ASUU and relevant stakeholders to Buhari for his approval. He expressed optimism that the crisis would soon be resolved, as the delegation had a robust engagement with the president.
Gbajabiamila said, “As you know, what is on the front burner today, even beyond the politics, is that our universities, our lecturers, and our children are out of school.
“The House of Representatives decided to step in at that point four weeks ago and we’ve had a series of meetings that lasted hours and we’ve been able to get both sides to shift ground to an extent and that’s what we came to discuss with Mr. President about those recommendations.
“Mr. President, as usual, had a very good listening ear. He took the report of the House, accepted it. We discussed it at length, the details of the report, and he wanted to go through them himself.
“We have another meeting on Thursday between our good selves and Mr. President for his final decision. We had a good engagement, with a very positive response. He asked us a couple of questions, in some grey areas, which we clarified, and he accepted the report and he wanted a couple of days to go through it.
“We are working and we are hopeful that this (strike) will soon be a thing of the past. I know once this is agreed upon, the strike will be called off.”