The industrial dispute between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities may worsen following the insistence of the Federal Ministry of Education that its proposed agreement with the union will not be binding on state universities.
The spokesman for the Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Goong , in an interview in Abuja on Wednesday, explained that the Federal Government could not dictate to states on education as it is on the concurrent legislative list.
A committee led by the Pro-Chancellor of the Federal University of Lokoja, Prof. Nimi Briggs, had reportedly recommended a 180 per cent pay rise for lecturers, but the government was said to have favoured a 100 per cent increase.
It was gathered that the ministries of finance, education, labour and employment, Budget Office of the Federation, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation and the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission were still working out the final details of the proposal.
The ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, insisted that any agreement reached with the Federal Government would be binding on the states, thus opening another battle front between the union and the government.
Members of ASUU, including federal and state universities, had embarked on a strike on February 14, 2022.
Following the inability of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige to resolve the strike, President Muhammdu Buhari, two weeks ago directed the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to take over the negotiation with the ASUU leadership.
To compel a quick resolution of the crisis, the Nigeria Labour Congress held nationwide protests on July 26 and 27 in solidarity with the union.
However, ASUU on Monday extended the industrial action by another four weeks.
Responding to a question on whether the proposed agreement would be binding on all universities in the country, Goong said, “The agreement between the Federal Government is not binding on state universities. Education is on the concurrent list, the Federal Government cannot tell states what to do when it comes to the management of their institutions.
“Any agreement made with ASUU is only binding on the institutions owned by the Federal Government. The state government will handle their own institutions.”
Reacting to the government’s position, the ASUU president stated that the university system is a single entity, arguing further that there was no disparity between state and federal universities.
Osodeke said, “I don’t know who you spoke to but that person doesn’t know what he is saying. I can tell you that the renegotiation team is made up of pro-chancellors of state and federal universities. So, how can anyone say the agreement won’t be binding on state universities? The person doesn’t know what he is saying.”
The ASUU leader contended that the few institutions that did not join in the strike were not their members.
He also warned that Nigeria had just one university system and as such the issue of salary is personal to the union.
Osodeke stated, ‘‘Whenever ASUU is on strike, it is not about state ASUU or federal ASUU. We have one ASUU representing all universities in the country; those schools that are not participating in the strike are not our members.
‘‘The issue of salary should be left to the union to decide because when there was minimum wage adjustment, both federal and state schools were a part of it; even TETFund, it funds both state and federal institutions. Do we have a federal NUC or state NUC?
‘’The issue of salary negotiation is exclusive to the union. If a state can increase it, good; but we have one university system in Nigeria, and the state cannot even pay lesser than what the Federal Government is paying.’’