Change Your Hard Terms , Don Tells ASUU

Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) currently on nationwide strike, have been advised to avoid their hard line posture.

A don, Prof. Isaac Obasi of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja, gave the advice in a letter sent to the union.

He said that his appeal was based on research evidence.

Obasi explained that in the past strikes “produced pyrrhic victories’’ but “unfortunately, this ultimately failed to guarantee realistic, implementable and long lasting agreement’’.

“There is evidence that some branch chairmen of ASUU have already taken this unhelpful hard line position by stating openly that ASUU members will not yield ground until all demands are met by the government.

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“This should be wisely modified this time around as past agreements were not fully implemented partly because the process was devoid of the spirit of give-and-take.

“I am interested in an implementable agreement under a peaceful atmosphere ‘because I am involved’ in two ways (both as a researcher on the issue as well as a potential beneficiary) as distinct from a beneficiary only or an onlooker.’’

The professor whose 1991 Ph.D thesis was on “ASUU-Government Conflict’’ chronicled the strikes embarked upon by the union in the past and concluded that there should be spirit of “give and take’’ in negotiation.

“Indeed, its essence is to appeal to ASUU rank and file this time around to change this scaring strike duration history collective bargaining principle of give and take.

He urged the union to consider the sincerity with which the government was handling the current crisis and to accept the offer of government.

“This acceptance is not a sign of weakness, and it does not mean that the other demands are lost.’’

Detail of the letter below:

Open letter to the rank and file of ASUU
by
Isaac N. Obasi

Historically speaking, the strike statistics of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are usually frightening in both strike frequency and its duration. The duration of ASUU strikes appears to impact more negatively on the reputational status of our otherwise highly respected ASUU members than even the incessant nature of the strikes. In terms of frequency (starting from the first ASUU strike of 1980), we can count a total number 16 national strikes excluding warning strikes of shorter durations. This figure also excludes the first ever strike by Nigerian university academics under the umbrella of the Nigerian Association of University Teachers (NAUT) which occurred in 1973.

However, in terms of duration, the picture is more scaring to members of the public, and more damaging to academics in reputational terms. For example, ASUU had: (a) 7 months strike in 1996; (b) 6 months strike each in 1994, 2003 and 2013; (c) 5 months strike each in 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2010; (d) 4 months strike in 2009; (e) 3 months strike each in 2002, 2007 and 2011; and (f) 2 months strike in 2001. This picture shows that on the average of the number of declared strikes (using these figures only and excluding both warning strikes and the earlier national strikes of 1980, 1981 and 1988), the duration of any declared ASUU strike, is 4.6 months. This is a bad record for both our public labour relations’ managers as well as to our academics. Something has been fundamentally wrong. Strategies on both sides are not good enough to drastically reduce the number of strikes in the past 37 years (counting from 1980).

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This article is not in any way condemnatory of ASUU strike at all, because historically speaking, strike has been the only language successive governments understood. The article rather condemns the mismanagement processes that consistently produced long periods of strikes. Indeed, its essence is to appeal to ASUU rank and file this time around to change this scaring strike duration history. As it is now, the current strike announced by ASUU President Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi on Monday August 15, is already on the usual trajectory of a long national strike if nothing unprecedented happens. For example, by the time ASUU leadership consults the rank and file this week, and gets back to the government on a negotiating table, we would have lost two weeks or even more. To me therefore, the ASUU rank and file is the important factor that holds the key to changing this trajectory.

I argue with all sense of humility (as a long standing scholar of ASUU-FG conflict), that there is now an emerging strike resolution window which is unprecedented in the history of ASUU-FG conflict and negotiations. For the first time in this history, a serving honourable Minister of Education Adamu Adamu openly declared very frankly that the federal government did not fulfil its part of the bargain with ASUU. This sincere and open confession of failure (uncharacteristic of past ministers on that seat), opens to me new window to a quick resolution of this on-going ASUU strike. More importantly, this is a spirit that allows for constructive engagement necessary for reaching a consensus in any collective bargaining engagement. Again, this cooperative spirit de-escalates rather than escalates the conflict. It is a spirit that facilitates mutual trust and compromise on the bargaining table. Furthermore, this is the spirit that enables negotiation to proceed in good faith. Compare this spirit with the known historical uncooperative spirit that starts with the careless political statement namely that ‘the Federal Government cannot meet ASUU demands’ (some past governments added ‘unreasonable demands’). This posturing usually escalated the conflict by making it more political than managerial. For example, in his reaction, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu had already taken this position by stating that what ASUU was demanding was bigger than the entire appropriation for the Ministry of Education this year. In the past, it was this discordant tones that escalated ASUU-FG conflict, created stalemates and kept the strikes going for too long.

Historically, the federal government usually politicized, mismanaged and escalated ASUU strikes rather than addressed the substantive issues at stake all in an attempt to cover its failure. Fortunately, this time around, this appears not to be the case with the honourable Minister of Education Adamu Adamu and to a reasonable extent Chris Ngige the honourable Minister of Labour and Employment. Ngige’s initial position that the strike is illegal got mellowed down, as he has been working on the side of de-escalation of the conflict. Furthermore, the honourable Minister of Finance Mrs. Kemi Adeosun as well as the honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General Abubakar Malami have all been cooperating to resolve the issue. Again, members of the National Assembly who have always had a history of being very cooperative in resolving ASUU strikes has so far not disappointed. All these demonstrate that only those adding value in making the duration of the strike short, are the ones talking and managing it, unlike in the past when every minister, other government officials and rented crowds, would be disparaging, demonising and blackmailing ASUU leadership and the rank and file, all in an attempt to cover their failure to implement agreement with ASUU. To me, this is a window for a quick resolution of this current conflict.

I argue again that this on-going strike could be one of the shortest national strikes in ASUU history depending on how the ASUU rank and file votes when the leadership consults the branches on the offers made so far to ASUU by the government. I restate from hindsight that a window to resolve this strike is already open and I plead that nobody should close this rare opened window. So far, the two honourable ministers of Education, and Labour and Employment have categorically stated what the government can do now and what it cannot do. Historically too, this is also unlike in the past when government officials spoke deceitfully sometimes contradicting or even denying what those negotiating on government’s behalf already agreed on the bargaining table. This time around and luckily enough, these two ministers have categorically listed what the government has already agreed to implement and what it has not agreed to implement. My plea is that the rank and file of ASUU should accept these offers in the spirit of the collective bargaining principle of give and take.

This acceptance is not a sign of weakness, and it does not mean that the other demands are lost. The spirit of give and take promotes mutual trust and institutionalises a future workable collective bargaining process, rather than the repulsive tendency that a hard line posture foists on the relationship. I suggest that the national leadership of ASUU should explore new vista of opportunities within the instrumentality of collective bargaining on how to go about resolving areas of differences with respect to the operation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). This is not beyond our software experts when the substantive issues are agreed upon not-minding that in the field of labour-management relations, these are contentious areas especially for those operating authoritative style of management which they regard as their prerogative. Yet for those operating a culture of industrial democracy, negotiation on such issues is allowed in the spirit of compromise, consensus-building and peace in the workplace.

Finally, my appeal (based on research evidence) is that the rank and file of ASUU should avoid hard line posturing in this on-going strike which sometimes in the past produced pyrrhic victories. Unfortunately, this ultimately failed to guarantee realistic, implementable and long lasting agreement. There is evidence that some branch chairmen of ASUU have already taken this unhelpful hard line position by stating openly that ASUU members will not yield ground until all demands (emphasis added) are met by the government. This should be wisely modified this time around as past agreements were not fully implemented partly because the process was devoid of the spirit of give-and-take. I am interested in an implementable agreement under a peaceful atmosphere ‘because I am involved’ in two ways (both as a researcher on the issue as well as a potential beneficiary) as distinct from a beneficiary only or an onlooker.

Prof. Obasi of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja did his Ph.D thesis on ‘ASUU-Government Conflict…’, in 1991.

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