So finally, let’s examine the way ASUU generally behaves when it comes to this perennial issue of government not keeping to agreements. What exactly are ASUU asking for? They say they are fighting for funding for the university system – indeed the 2009 agreement in question has to do with the FG intervening in the university system to the tune of N1.3trn spread out over 3 years. This money is meant to cover all the various problems facing our universities from infrastructure to salaries.
But are ASUU really fighting for the university system or just better pay for themselves? As you might expect, I firmly believe these strikes have nothing to do with improving the university system and everything to do with getting better pay for themselves (not tied to any actual performance).
Since we are making a judgement call on people’s intentions, we will have to use some deduction. This is my opinion (I’m no fan of ASUU) so you are not obliged to agree with me.
As far back as August 2012, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and others had started work on the 2013 budget that is being implemented. The Finance Minister addressed journalists at the State House and said the budget would be ready by September 2012.
The budget will be ready in September, while the actual laying will be in the first week of October, according to the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who addressed state House correspondents after the FEC meeting.
That report said the government was planning to spend N4.9trn in 2013. Another report by Sahara Reporters also said roughly the same thing and went further to provide some breakdown. In short, the budget planning process and even the amounts to be spent were no secret at all as far back as August 2012.
As promised by NOI in August, the budget was indeed ready by September and President Jonathan presented it to the National Assembly on the 10th of October, 2012. Again, this was not a secret (I believe it was even live on TV) and all the details in the budget were made public that day i.e. everything the government planned to spend in 2013 including on education:
Allocations to some critical sectors of the economy are: Defence, N348.91 billion; Power, N74.26; Works, N183.5 billion; Education, N426.53 billion, Health, N279.23 billion, Agriculture and Rural Development, N81.41 billion, and Police, N319.65 billion.
Now, as I said earlier, the purported 2009 Agreement the government signed with ASUU translated into a N400bn per year intervention in the education sector. This is the crux of ASUU’s current quarrel with the government. You can probably tell where I am going with this now.
If the government agreed to intervene in the university system to the tune of N400bn per year and then announced a budget that committed to spending N426bn (N291bn of that is for universities) on the entire education sector – primary, secondary and tertiary – shouldn’t that have raised some red flags immediately if you are ASUU?
Friends, the nature of the Nigerian budget is that there is nowhere you can hide N400bn – it is either there or it’s not there and in this case, there is no evidence of any N400bn or similar amount being dedicated to our universities. It’s worth repeating – it is this intervention money in the university system that ASUU is complaining about and hence the reason for their strike…or so they tell us.
So when the budget was announced and presented a year ago, what did ASUU say? The immediate past president of ASUU, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, was approached for comments when the budget was announced and said the following in October 2012:
Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, immediate past President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), expressed the hope that the education vote, if approved, would turn around the fortunes of the sector.
“However, we would need time to look at how the budget to the sector got to be one of the highest beneficiary, where it should be channeled, the implementation, how it should be managed and what it portends to the sector.
“It is only when we study all these details that we would be able to get a better view of how this would transform the system for the advancement of the country’s economy,” he said.
So the ASUU chieftain gave a cautious endorsement of the budget pending when they had looked at the finer details. The vote in question was the N426bn – that number has not changed since last year. But his comments also reveal something I hinted at in my previous post – ASUU don’t participate in negotiations or budget planning. If indeed they were fighting for our universities, how come the ASUU president didn’t know what was in the budget when it was released? Does this mean that ASUU don’t bother having any input in the budget process or follow-up if they do?
The Nigerian government hardly ever covers itself in glory – it’s their way. But in this case, it clearly stated its intentions as far back as August 2012 in terms of what it planned to spend in 2013. While there was clearly an increase in funding for education, there was nothing like what ASUU is currently demanding as per the terms of the 2009 agreement. A Senior Lecturer in Unilag, Dr. Olubunmi Ajibade was quoted as saying that if the budget was approved, it would be ‘one of the best things that has happened to education in recent times’. The budget was indeed approved but presumably, Dr. Ajibade is on strike today.
Mr. Ademola Onifade, another senior academic staff member in Unilag called the proposed budget a ‘jumbo allocation’ for education while the Dean of the Arts Faculty in Olabisi Onabanjo University (inserts expletive), Prof. Ayo Fadahunsi said the allocation to education would enable the government build more hostels and infrastructure in general.
Perhaps I need Premium Google, but I cannot find any record of ASUU flaying or debunking or condemning the government’s proposed education budget last year when it was released. One can reasonably conclude that they were happy with it.
Again, please read the transcript of the press conference given by the current ASUU president in August and note what they are fighting for. Here
So what has happened since then? Because the budget has not changed – what the government announced last year is what is being implemented today. Is the problem that ASUU do not know how to read a budget or do not understand how budgeting works? If they are complaining today about non-implementation of an agreement from 2009, why didn’t they reject the budget last year when it was obvious that this N400bn was not part of the government’s spending plans? It’s important to note that implementation and the presence of an agreement in the budget are two different things. ASUU are also now saying the government is owing them arrears to the tune of N92bn. I don’t doubt this. But again, when this amount wasn’t in the 2013 budget, why didn’t they complain? Or better still, while the budget was being drawn up, why didn’t ASUU have a committee or something of the sort to liaise with the government to ensure that these funds went into the budget? This is lobbying 101.
But over the years, ASUU have become professional hostage takers so they never really feel the need to do anything like this. Instead, what we get is that every so often they decide its time for a pay rise (perhaps in line with inflation) and then take hostages till these demands are met. It is an effective strategy because the government will always pay up. In fact the strategy worked with military governments not to talk of the current bloody civilians in charge.
But we must call it what it is – a union with a strong bargaining power using that power to obtain more money for its members, this is what unions do after all. It has nothing at all to do with improving university education in Nigeria. This is why these strikes have become tiring. If ASUU are sincere about wanting to improve education in Nigeria, it wont be hard to tell with a couple of things happening;
1. The Finance Ministry is currently working on the 2014 budget. Is ASUU participating in this process in any way? I am almost sure they are not given that they are currently quarreling with the government. Again, this process is not secret, there have been reports in the last couple of weeks about the government’s 2014 spending plans in the international and local media. From the reports, the government is even planning to reduce its spending by N300bn next year. ASUU where are you o?
2. ASUU should be able to tell the public what exactly it expects to see from the education budget in 2014 that will ensure we don’t have to go through another strike next year. Surely within the ranks of ASUU, there are people who can come up with an alternative education budget that sets out what government should commit to our universities going forward? If nothing, this should at least put some pressure on the government before anything is committed to. ASUU where are you o?
Instead what we are seeing is some kind of farce where everyone now smells blood and so want to shakedown the government for more money. From SSANU to NUT to ASUP to COEASU, everyone is now going on strike over some agreement that the government has failed to implement. To be honest, I don’t really mind this because if I was in a union with the power to extract more money for myself and my members, I cant honestly say I wont use that power.
But let’s separate these issues – our education is in a mess. A terrible one. And our teachers and lecturers also want more money. It’s up to the government to decide how much more money it can afford to pay teachers or if it even wants to. But the conversation about reforming education is a much bigger one than just salaries.
Let us know when that conversation starts.