By Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Dike Onwuamaeze in Lagos
The federal government has referred the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUUlong-running )’s strike to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) for adjudication. This was the result of a failed dialogue between the union and the Federal Ministry of Education.
According to Section 18 (I) (b) of the TDA Cap T8, the government requested a court order allowing ASUU members to resume work at their various universities while the issues in dispute were being addressed by the NICN. LFN 2004.
A statement by the Head, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, said the demand was contained in a referral instrument addressed to the Registrar of NICN, dated September 8,2022, and signed by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige.
In the matter billed for mention at 9am today, the federal government asked the NICN to inquire into the legality or otherwise of the on-going prolonged strike by the ASUU leadership and members that had continued even after apprehension by the Minister of Labour and Employment.
It asked the court to interpret in its entirety the provisions of Section 18 LFN 2004, especially as it applied to the cessation of strike once a trade dispute was apprehended by the Minister of Labour and Employment and conciliation was ongoing.
Other requests included that the court should “Interpret the provisions of Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act, Cap T8. LFN 2004, titled, ‘Special Provision with Respect to payment of wages during Strikes and Lock-outs,’ specifically dealing with the rights of employees/workers during the period of any strike or lock-out.
“Can ASUU or any other union that embarked on strike be asking to be paid salaries even with clear provisions of the law.
“Determine whether ASUU members are entitled to emoluments or ‘strike pay’ during their period of strike, which commenced on February 14, 2022, more so in view of our national law as provided in Section 43 of the TDA and the International Labour Principles on the right to strike as well as the decisions of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association on the Subject.
“Determine whether ASUU has the right to embark on strike over disputes, as is the case in this instance, by compelling the federal government to employ its own University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) in the payment of the wages of its members as against the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) universally used by the federal government in the nation for payment of wages of all her employees in the federal government Public Service of which university workers including ASUU members are part of or even where the government via NITDA subjected ASUU abd their counterpart UPPPS university payment platform system software to integrity test (vulnerability and stress test) and they failed.”
The federal government further asked the court to determine the extent of ASUU’s demand since the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA) that the union signed with government.
The demands included the funding for revitalisation of public universities as per 2009 agreement, Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) payments, state universities proliferation and constitution of visitation panels, and release of white paper on the report of the visitation panels.
The others were the reconstitution of the government renegotiation team for renegotiation of 2009 agreement, which was renegotiated 2013/2014, due for renegotiation 2018/2019, and the migration of ASUU members from IPPIS to its own UTAS, which is currently on test at NITDA.
Meanwhile, as parents and students of Nigeria’s public universities worry that there might be no end in sight to the disagreement between the federal government and ASUU, a report by the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities (CNANPU) that was set up by the government to carry out a detailed appraisal of the existing situation in the universities and the requirements for their transformation, revealed that Nigeria’s university system had a manpower crisis.
CNANPU also reported that the physical facilities for teaching and learning in Nigerian universities were inadequate, dilapidated, over-stretched, over-crowded and used beyond their original carrying capacity.
The committee noted, “Academic culture is dying very fast” in the public universities, as “library facilities and services are archaic and comatose (while) many laboratory equipment are only known to students in theory (who) never seen many of them not to talk of using them.”
It also observed that there was numerically more non-academic staff in the services of the universities than the teaching staff they were meant to support. It said that had created “a scenario in which the tail is wagging the dog, as more expenditure is incurred in administration and routine functions than in core academic matters.
“More than 70% of non-teaching staff lack a first degree, indicating a lack of professionalism or unqualified personnel in specific roles within universities.”
The committee’s report, which was submitted to the federal government on November 1, 2012, and a copy of which was obtained over the weekend, provided insights that may aid in resolving the crisis that has kept the university gates closed for nearly seven months.
It stated that many lecturers, including professors, shared small offices while open-air sports pavilions, old cafeteria, convocation arenas, and even uncompleted buildings were used for lectures; and in some cases, workshops were conducted under corrugated sheds or trees.
The eleven-man committee’s membership included Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund); representatives of the Senate and House of Representatives; Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Ministries of Education, Finance, and Trade and Investment; National Planning Commission; National Universities Commission (NUC); and then President of ASUU, Professor Ukachukwu Aloysius Awuzie.
It noted, “So much pressure is put on existing facilities mainly due to unplanned expansion of programmes” in the public universities.
The committee lamented that the current enrolment into public universities in Nigeria “is a reversal of the national policy, as the current science to non-science ratio is 32:68 instead of 60:40.”
In addition, “There is no relationship between enrolment and the tangible manpower needs of the nation,” the report said.
It captured the state of Nigerian universities, thus, “students sitting on bare floor or peeping through windows to attend lectures; over 1000 students being packed in lecture halls meant for less than 150 students; over 400 students being packed in laboratory meant for 75 students; students cannot get accommodation, where they get they are packed like sardines in tiny rooms; no light and no water in hostels, classrooms and laboratories and that students use the bushy areas of their campus for toilet because lavatory facilities are too hazardous to use.”
Other problems, according to the committee, include “broken furniture everywhere, unkempt buildings and dilapidating facilities” as well as “over-worked, untrained, and inadequate teachers, etc.”
It stated that these were actually symptoms of the real problems, which “are the quality of leadership and governance in the universities.”
The committee stated that some university administrators “spend millions to erect super-gates when their libraries are still at foundation level; expend millions to purchase exotic vehicles for university officers even though they lack basic classroom furnishings; spend hundreds of millions in wall-fencing and in-fencing when students’ accommodation is inadequate and in tatters.”
The committee also stated that in the course of its assignment, it found that majority of the universities in the country were, “Grossly under-staffed, rely heavily on part-time and visiting lecturers, and have under-qualified academics, and only a few of them attract expatriate lecturers but have no effective staff development programme.”
It added, “Based on the available data, there are 37,504 academics in Nigerian Public Universities (in 2012) that were saddled with teaching 1,252,913 students. The teaching staff-students’ ratio is as much as 1:363 in some universities.
“Instead of having 100 per cent of the academics having PhDs, only about 43 per cent do so. The remaining 57 per cent have no PhDs.
“Instead of having 75 per cent of the academics between senior lecturers and professors, only about 44 per cent are within the bracket while the remaining 56 per cent are not.”
The report added, “Only seven universities have up to 60 per cent of their teaching staff with PhD qualifications…there are universities in which the total number of professors is not more than five. And total number of PhDs in the whole university is not up to 30.”
The committee lamented the increasing culture of visiting lectureship’ in the university system. It stated that out of a total of 37,504 lecturers, only 28,128, representing 75 per cent, were engaged on full-time basis, implying that 9,376 are recycled as visiting, adjunct, sabbatical and contract lecturers.
It said, “Some academics are always on the road travelling from one university town to another and unable to meet their primary obligations with their tenure-employer.
“It is making some proprietors of state universities to believe that they can run universities without any programme for academic staff development and for recruiting full-time lecturers.
“No Nigerian academic is in the league of Nobel Laureates or a nominee of Nobel Prize.
“There are only two registered patents owned by Nigerian academics in the last three years,” as at 2012.