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By Isaac N. Obasi
Honourable Minister, Sir, in an earlier open letter on the on-going strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), my thoughts centred on how best to shorten the duration of the strike, while remaining on the path of constructive dialogue. It is my submission that a minister’s posture in the dialogue though not a sufficient condition for shortening the duration of a strike, is nevertheless one of the necessary conditions for it.
So far so good, judging by the agreement reached at the latest round of talks that ended on Friday, September 8, 2017. I, therefore, commend both sides of the negotiating table for being on this path of dialogue. Let me once again commend your open admittance that the Federal Government failed to implement the agreement it reached with ASUU. Your frank admittance of government failure was for me an unprecedented game changer in the history of efforts to arrive at a quick end to the ASUU strike.
Your calm disposition and non-adversarial approach (unlike much of what happened with past education ministers) constitute, so far, an asset in moving forward in addressing serious issues raised by ASUU in the on-going strike. Elaborating further on the significance of your non-antagonistic posture, there are three historical cases with respect to the postures of past Ministers of Education, whose lessons I believe are instructive. First, during the 1988 ASUU strike, Prof. Jibril Aminu’s antagonistic approach aided the proscription of ASUU. He even announced this proscription with passion and invectives. Secondly, during the 1992 strike, Prof. Babs Fafunwa’s non-antagonistic approach provided the good ambience that led to the successful negotiation of the 1992 FG-ASUU landmark agreement – among the lasting benefits of which was the establishment of the Education Tax Fund (ETF) now renamed the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).
Thirdly, in the 1993 strike, Prof. Ben Nwabueze’s hyper antagonistic approach led to the repudiation of some of sections of the 1992 landmark Agreement, as the minister renounced the separate salary structure for academics, and ultimately sowed the seed of the lingering discord between the academic and non-academic unions in our public universities today. In all of these, a posture of a minister mattered much as it helped either to escalate or de-escalate the conflict. A posture appears to be one of the critical success factors for sustaining a constructive and result-oriented dialogue.
A non-antagonistic approach, to some extent, could demonstrate a sense of commitment to a quick resolution of a strike. But, the situation at hand requires much more than a posture, as you need to match your words with action. This is where implementing what has been agreed on will aid a quick resolution of this strike.
The restoration of trust is a major test of government commitment to shortening the duration of the strike. Historically, trust-deficit was a defining characteristic of successive governments in their relations with ASUU. For this government of change, the issue centres on integrity, as you are expected to demonstrate beyond words and promises, that this government is fundamentally different from past governments in resolving labour disputes with ASUU.
When I argued in my earlier open letter for the benefit of doubt to be given to you based on your frank admittance of government failure and the subsequent promise, many felt and rightly too, that the historical evidence of a huge trust-deficit, does not favour such an option.
According to ASUU president, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, a concrete offer has been made by the government to ASUU during the last round of talks. What is required now for moving forward is for you to sustain your rising social capital (i.e. integrity and trust) as demonstrated so far. The expectation now from the rank and file of ASUU, is implementation! implementation!! implementation!!! and nothing more. This will also provide the right ambience for the continued renegotiation of the 2009 agreement under the Wale Babalakin-led committee.
Coming to some specifics, matching words with action on the triple-issues of payment of outstanding earned academic allowances (long overdue), payment of full (rather than percentage) salaries, and the injection of massive funds for the revitalization of the universities, would demonstrate good faith and further enhance the mutual exchange of trust in the collective bargaining spirit of give-and-take. A minister’s legacy in resolving ASUU strike will always be there for posterity. This on-going strike has already entered its fourth week. Achieving maximum results within a short strike duration, therefore, is the test case of your managerial ability in ending this strike.
Prof. Obasi, of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja, writes via [email protected]