It has taken alternating weeks of protests, silence and more protests to get university lecturers in the same room as President GoodluckJonathan.
Supervising education minister, Nyesom Wike quickly made his presentation on Monday and jetted off to Paris for a UNESCO general assembly meeting Tuesday, leaving the president to hammer nails into government agreement with Academic Staff Union of Universities.
The meeting which lasted for much of Monday may be a watershed in the four-month-long strike by lecturers, but it has potential for the sort of moral persuasion lecturers may need to hear from a president who’s spent time in academia.
“It is not about this-and-that meeting,” says Oyewale Olusegun of the think-tank, Eduwatch Consult and Research Centre, when asked at a press conference what he would do if he were president.
“If the president of this country calls ASUU and has a meeting one-on-one with them today, the strike will be called off.”
It has lingered since July as administration officials urged ASUU to heed governments’ olive-branch overtures, as ASUU accused government of insincerity and as different groups—from students and herbalists to market women and commentators on labour and education issues—threatened, cajoled, begged and even wept.
Late October, Haruna Danjuma, president of National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria, broke into tears before cameras and recorders as he narrated how the strike had turned “disastrous” for young people denied the classroom.
He also demanded both government and lecturers to publish “hidden truths” about their agreement at the heart of the strike.
“We want the two bodies to tell us the hidden truth of what was agreed in 2009. The parents are suffering. The students are suffering as well,” he said.
The negotiations centred on conditions of service, funding, university autonomy and academic freedom—all contained in documents ASUU uploaded on its website.
But it’s the money factor—government’s agreement to shell out N1.5 trillion in funding for all universities and N3.6 million per student of state universities between 2009 and 2011—that’s grabbed the most headlines.
The conditions of service still linger. And university autonomy, which would leave government free and universities locked in tight competition was not pursued, a source close to that negotiation tells liveschoolnews.
“Government thought the agreement would be the harbinger of university autonomy—self governing, self funding and self regulating.”
Official documents liveschoolnews obtained show then education minister, Sam Egwu authorised Gamaniel Onosode, a former pro-chancellor of University of Ibadan to “commence re-negotiation” and sign an amended 2006 provisional draft agreement between government and National Association of Academic Technologies.
He also led government’s re-negotiation team with ASUU.
But the move has recently come under criticism when Senate President David Mark made comments questioning the persons who negotiated and signed the standing agreement on government’s behalf.
“No point was taken that wasn’t cleared with government,” says the inside source.
Referring to Mark’s comments, the source adds, “Giving the impression that some people negotiated for government is far fetched.”
In addition, the signed draft demanded a committee to regularly meet and monitor how the agreement was to be implemented, which fell under “other matters” during negotiations.
The Implementation Monitoring Committee, as it was called, two pro-chancellors, one federal university vice chancellor, a representative each of National Universities Commission and the federal education ministry, five members of ASUU, one head each from pro-chancellors and vice chancellors committee of state universities—along with one senator from the senate committee on education and a counterpart from the House of Representatives.
But legislators’ membership of the committee “wasn’t apparent because the Senate and House of Representative members hardly attended the meetings” of the committee, said the source.
“Any fault should be on the National Assembly, for not attending.”
Whatever truths lie in the agreement and any fresh one that might arise from a flurry of closed-door meetings that began last week could end the strike. But what happens after a temporary end of industrial action could spell what really lies ahead for education in Nigeria.
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