SENATE President David Mark barely stopped short of calling those who negotiated the 2009 Federal Government agreement with the Academic Staff Union of Universities foolish.
Mark said the government negotiators couldn’t differentiate between their right and left hands and that the ASUU leadership took advantage of their ignorance.
He said, “Listening to the agreement that was signed by the Federal Government as Comrade Uche Chukwumerije read out, I was really wondering whether this was signed or it was just a proposal.
“But when he concluded, he said it was signed. It only shows the level of people the executive sent to go and negotiate on their behalf because ab initio, people must be told the truth, what can be accomplished and what cannot be accomplished.
“If a leader says I am going to accomplish this, he is morally duty bound to honour it. But even if you decided immediately after that you cannot accomplish it, I think it is only proper for you to go back and start renegotiating.
“But if you prolong it on the basis that you are still going to honour it and you don’t honour it, then it doesn’t portray us in good light.
“This is where the Federal Government ought to call those who were party to this agreement.
“On the other hand, I think ASUU simply took advantage of the ignorance of those who were sent and simply just allowed this agreement to go on because it is obvious that this is going to be very difficult piece of paper to implement.
“They found that those who were sent there simply didn’t know their right from their left and they just went ahead.
“I think that also is not fair because ASUU is an organisation in Nigeria and we are not going to go to another country to implement this piece of paper.”
The Senate President spoke on the floor of the senate during a debate on a motion by Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba. The senate, in the motion supported by 107 members, said the ASUU strike, which began July1, 2013, had become a national embarrassment.
At the head of the Federal Government re-negotiating team with ASUU in 2009 was the boardroom guru, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode. The members of the team were Prof. Musa Abdullahi, a former Pro-Chancellor of the University of Jos who died in 2008; Prof. Creg Iwu, ex-Pro-Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; Rev. Father T.E. Uwaifo, ex-Pro-Chancellor, Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma; Emeka Nwankpa, ex-Pro-Chancellor, Abia State University, Uturu; Ambassador Muhammed Adamu Jumba, ex-Pro-Chancellor, Bayero University, Kano; Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Executive Secretary, Education Trust Fund; and Senator Abdullah Wali, who was a member until February 2008.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Education, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, who briefed his colleagues on the text of the FG-ASUU agreement said the varsity teachers negotiated N1.5tn, comprising Varsity Funding and Earned Allowance for lecturers.
He said that ASUU demanded that the government should spread the implementation of the pact for a period of three years at N500bn per year.
Chukwumerije, who admitted that some clauses in the agreement were ambiguous, however said efforts by the government to raise funds to meet the ASUU demands were rejected by the lecturers.
He said that ASUU had rejected the N130bn offered them by government which comprised of N100bn for funding and N30bn as Earned Allowances.
Most of the senators who contributed to the debate said that varsity education in Nigeria was underfunded but also noted that some of the demands by ASUU were outrageous.
The senators noted that both the leadership of ASUU and the Executive should shift grounds on the strike because the agreement, which was the cause of the conflict, was defective.
They also mandated the Committee on Education to continue to liaise with the Federal Ministry of Education, the National Universities Commission, ASUU and other relevant stakeholders to proffer lasting solution to stem further strikes in the education sector.
They equally mandated Mark as the Chairman of the National Assembly, to engage President Goodluck Jonathan and the leadership of ASUU in a meaningful dialogue with a view to bringing the strike to an end.
The senators lamented the crises in the education sector in the country and submitted that the current ASUU strike, if allowed to continue, could spell doom for the nation.
Mark, apparently miffed at the shoddy negotiation conducted by the government, said he could only beg the striking lecturers to go back to the classrooms and give room for a renegotiation.
Mark said, “The essence of this motion is to find a solution and a way forward. I have listened to all those that have spoken so far.
“Let us shift ground in our understanding of the problem and find a solution because if all the parties involved just dig in and they say they won’t shift ground then there will be no solution to it and Nigeria will be worse off for it.
“Whether it is the executive, the legislature or the judiciary or ASUU, not shifting ground is not going to help to find a lasting solution to the problem.
“I want to appeal to ASUU and in fact let me even use the words, I want to beg ASUU on behalf of the Senate, that they resume and come back to work. They have made a strong case. Their position is obvious now.
“We can now see the consequences of their action and I think if they extend it beyond this then they will begin to lose public sympathy.”
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