ASUU-Federal Government Agreement Of 2009 As A Smokescreen Solution To The Failed Standard Of Higher Education & Socioeconomic Consequences Of Industrial Disputes In Nigeria Part One
(Public Information, Onitsha Nigeria, 21st of September, 2013)-The leadership of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law is of the firm view that the real solutions to the failed and battered standard of higher education and its institutions in Nigeria including the 124 accredited universities are beyond the 2009 Agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities. The failure on the part of the Federal Government to keep to the terms of the said Agreement especially on “Earned Allowances” for lecturers of the 37 Federal Government owned universities, which had accumulated since 2009 to the tune of between N87Billion and N92Billion, is basis upon which the recent strike action by ASUU members is predicated.
The strike action embarked upon by the teachers of 74 Federal and State Governments' owned universities has been on since 2nd July, 2013. The “Earned Allowances” for the lecturers of the 37 Federal Universities are expected to serve as a benchmark for those of the 37 State Universities in Nigeria. Lecturers of the 50 private universities are not part of the strike action, but are expected to draw some currents from the said Agreement if fully implemented especially the issue of “Earned Allowances” for university teachers.
Nigeria, with the 2012 UN and CIA World Fact Book estimated population of 170 million, has four-tier degree awarding post secondary school institutions called “universities”, “polytechnics”, “monotechnics” and “colleges of educations” numbering 297 recognized or accredited as at December 2012. Nigeria has one of the world's lowest higher education-citizen ratios in the world with only 297 higher education institutions serving 170 million people as against the Republic of Taiwan's 173 universities for 23.4 million people and USA's 5,758 higher institutions for 313 million people (Intersociety 2012). The country has over the years, recorded “weak pass” in the African Regional Universities' ratings and performed abysmally at the international universities and higher education ratings. This is largely due to “brain drain” syndrome, corruption and ill-policies of the government including consistent devaluation of our national currency. There are confirmed over 30,000 Nigerian academic specialists in the United States especially at professorial and doctoral levels.
There are 37 Federal, 37 State and 50 Private Universities in Nigeria as at December 2012 bringing the total of accredited universities to 124(Intersociety 2012). Also, out of 97 polytechnics in Nigeria, Federal Government has 36, States 48 and private 13. Out of 50 colleges of education in the country, Federal Government has 17, States 30 and private 3, and out of 26 monotechnics existing in the country, Federal Government has 22, States 2 and private 2. This brings the total to 297 higher education colleges or degree awarding institutions in Nigeria as at December 2012(Intersociety 2012). The teachers' unions of the 297 tertiary institutions are called their respective names such as “Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU). There are also three recognized government regulatory agencies for them called “Nigerian Universities Commission” for 124 universities; “National Commission for Colleges of Education” for 50 colleges of education and “ National Board for Technical Education” for 97 polytechnics and 26 monotechnics in Nigeria.
The ASUU-Federal Government Agreement of 2009 includes: 1. Funding Requirements for Revitalizing the Nigerian Universities. 2. Federal Government's Assistance to State Universities. 3. Progressive Increase of Annual Budgetary Allocation of 26% to Education from 2009 to 2020 fiscal years. 4. Amendment to the Pension/Retirement Age of Academics on Professorial Cadre from 65 to 70 years (implemented since 2012). 5. Establishment of Pension Fund Administrator and Governing Council. 6. Transfer of Federal Government Landed Properties to Universities as the Setting Up of Research and Development Units by Companies Operating in Nigeria. 7. Provision of Adequate Teaching and Research Equipment. 8. Payment of Earned Allowances of between N87Bliion and N92Billion accumulated since 2009.
Critics of ASUU strike strongly believe that other than demands for payment of the accumulated arrears of Earned Allowances and Amendment to the Pension/Retirement Age of Academics on Professorial Cadre from 65 to 70 years (implemented since 2012), other demands contained in the 2009 Agreement are mere “legitimacy instruments”, designed to legitimize the industrial action with a view to drawing public supports. In other words, once the “Earned Allowances” are settled, others are kept in the coolers to be dusted up in another industrial action.
A cursory look at the contents of the above mentioned Agreement of 2009 indicates that the battered condition of the Nigeria's higher education cannot substantially be remedied on the basis of said Agreement. In other words, the Agreement, even if fully implemented, remains a smokescreen solution. Real solutions are far more than demand and payment of “lofty allowances and pensions” for university lecturers or minimum 26% recommended annual budgetary allocations to education in the developing countries put in place by the UNESCO.
It is sad to observe that industrial disputes in Nigeria over the years have only succeeded in addressing the poor wages of the affected striking unions or bodies such as ASUU, NMA, NUT, NLC, teachers of colleges of education and polytechnics/monotechnics especially in the area of “allowance wages”. The positive outcomes (increase in allowances) of such industrial actions have neither solved the problem of “brain drain” syndrome nor improved standard of higher education in Nigeria. On the other hand, their negative outcomes have led to more borrowings with high interest rates for the payment of huge increases in the motley of allowances demanded and agreed upon as well as denial of social services to other 170 million Nigerians.
Sadly and unfortunately, such industrial demands and their agreements have been predicated upon “national cake sharing”, whereby the striking bodies vent their grudges on politicians and other top public officers on the ground that since politicians spend scandalously to maintain themselves, motley conditions of services especially lofty allowances formulated and demanded by the striking bodies, must all be paid to them even if it means borrowing at exorbitant interest rates. In organized democratic climes, such demands, negotiations and agreements are solely predicated on the performances of their economies including percentage of contribution to the growth of such economies by the striking bodies as well as other fundamental yardsticks including public finance prudency and costs of running public governance.
But in Nigeria, reverse is totally the case. It is also fundamentally important to inform that out of the Nigeria's current estimated population of 170 million, members of ASUU, NUT, TUC, NMA, NLC, teachers of government owned colleges of education and polytechnics/monotechnics and other government controlled bodies capable of going on strike for increased pay wages; when added to the existing 17,500 Nigerians who control top management of the country's top public offices, are not up to 5% of the entire Nigerian population estimated at 170 million in 2012. Yet close to 80% of the annual public finances, generated and borrowed, is scandalously spent on servicing them on yearly basis, out of which, payment of allowances take up to 90%, whereas salaries account for only 10%.
For instance, according to the revised Salaries & Allowances for Top Public Office Holders Act of 2008, the scandalous sum of N1, 13trillion ( about $7.1Billion) is spent annually on 17,500 top public office holders in Nigeria with 90% of the said sum going into payment of allowances. From this, the 12,788 top LGA officials from the country's 774 LGAs are paid N592Billion (about $3.7Billion), out of which, N550Billion is spent on allowances alone.
Other than this approved bogus Pay Act of the Federation, Appropriation Acts of the Federation and Appropriation Laws of the 36 States in the country are also used to squander monies meant for social developments in Nigeria. This they do by allocating scandalous sums in the form of “sitting, oversight and public function allowances and overhead expenditures”. For instance, the Presidency spends N9.08Billion (about $66Million) annually in maintaining 10 planes in the Presidential Fleet (Ezekwesili 2013). The office of the Senate President is given N250Million quarterly or N1Billion annually as “public office allowances” and a Nigerian Senator enjoys 15 categories of allowances annually including annual newspaper allowance of over N1.2Million (Intersociety 2012).
The part two of this public information is in making. Watch out!
2. Comrade Justus Ijeoma, Head, Publicity Desk