A breakthrough in talks between the Federal Government and Acad-emic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) came yesterday as both signed an agreement, bringing to an end the stalemate that has paralysed academic activities for three months.
Although both parties refused to divulge the details of the agreement, THISDAY learnt that the final deal are on four major issues.
These include proper funding of the universities in line with the UNESCO target of 26 per cent of budget to be devoted to education, autonomy and academic freedom, retirement age of professors now pushed to 70 from 65 years and increament in salaries and allowances.
On salary, government made an offer of 52 per cent increase. The agreement also provides for enhanced bonuces for other academic works like supervision of thesis.
At exactly 5.15pm, Pres-ident of ASUU, Prof. Ukac-hukwu Awuzie, signed the agreement, followed five minutes later by the Chairman of the Federal Government /ASUU Re-Negotiation Committee, Mr. Gamaliel Onosode, and Chairman, Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Federal Universities, Dr. Wale Babalakin.
This also brings to a close years of disagreement between both parties, which led to many strikes, the latest being the recently suspended three-month strike by ASUU.
However, students and lecturers have to wait for the National Executive Council (NEC) of ASUU to meet and decide when the suspended strike would be called off officially.
Onosode, who presided over yesterday’s signing ceremony, started by asking both Awuzie and Babalakin to ascertain if the document to be signed represented the agreement between both parties and that it was acceptable to whether principals.
Both men responded in the positive. He then passed six copies of the agreement to Awuzie to append his signature.
“On behalf of my principal, I hereby sign the agreement," declared Awuzie. He was followed by Onosode and Babalakin after which a copy was presented to the ASUU President.
They all later authenticated the document by signing each page of the copies presented at the ceremony.
Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Minister and Minister of State for Education, Dr. Sam Egwu and Hajiya Aishatu Jibril Dukku, the Permanent Secretary, Prof. Oladapo Afolabi and members of the re-negotiation committee were present.
Oshiomhole remarked that the signing was the result of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s statesmanship and flexibility, as well as ASUU’s patriotism.
“The lesson learned is that there is no substitute to dialogue”, he said. Oshiomole added that the challenge is to ensure that the agreement is implemented to the letter.
While state universities are not obliged to abide by the provisions of the agreement, the governor said that was only in theory. “In practice state universities cannot escape because there is what they call neighbourhood effect. If UNIBEN is paying a particular benefit, Ambrose Alli (University) cannot but pay, so Edo State will abide by this agreement.”
Egwu confirmed that both the Federal Government and the union shifted grounds “so that we could meet at a point in the best interest of the country and the university system.”
Asked what the final decision was on salaries and wages, since the union had rejected the 40 per cent increase offered by the government, Egwu referred newsmen to the Salaries and Wages Commission.
Awuzie declined from giving details of the agreement and concessions made by the parties.
According to him, “the important thing is that we have signed the agreement. We have overcome early difficulties and arrived at where we are going. You know in collective bargaining, there is give and take and we are all patriots. We want the best for this country, so all of us have to make compromises here and there.”
On what becomes of the suspended strike, the union leader said he did not have the power to call it off. He however explained that he would go back to NEC, where the decision will be taken after which he will address a press conference.
He expressed the hope that every party to the agreement would play its part.
Oshimole was invited by Yar'Adua to intervene on the issue after communication between the government and ASUU broke down irretrievably. The former labour leader was able to pull the two parties back to the negotiating table, leading to the suspension of the strike to allow for renewed talks.
Some of the issues that led to a deadlock was government's refusal to sign an agreement that would be binding on state governors. The teachers also claim government has refused to honour past agreements.
Culled from Thisday