The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has begun consultations with its members on whether or not to accept the new offer of a yearly payment of N220 billion over the next five years made by the federal government, in furtherance of the implementation of the 2009 Agreement aimed at ending the four-month strike by the university teachers.
THISDAY gathered that the federal government at a marathon meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan that ended Tuesday, had made the offer of the annual payment of N220 billion for five years after the union had insisted on getting paid N350 billion in 2014 and N400 billion annually over the next four years.
But the federal government had pleaded with the union to be reasonable in its demands so that the universities could be reopened. It also appealed to ASUU's representatives at the meeting to take its offer to its members and gave them one week to thrash it out.
If the federal government's offer is accepted, the amount will be used for the universities' infrastructure needs and lecturers' earned allowances as stipulated under the 2009 Agreement. Following the N200 billion annual offer made by the federal government, the union, after the 13-hour meeting, said it could not take a decision yet on the proposal until its members had examined the offer and decided whether to accept or reject it.
Although none of the parties to the negotiations, which began on Monday at 2.40 pm and ended at about 3.30 am yesterday, was willing to divulge details to reporters who had kept vigil throughout the meeting, it was gathered that the concrete annual lump sum of N220 billion offered by government, raised hopes of an imminent end to the protracted labour dispute.
Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu, and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) were upbeat yesterday that students who had been kept home by the strike would soon return to schools. Briefing State House reporters yesterday morning after the marathon meeting, ASUU President, Dr. Nasir Fagge, said the union would take the message from Jonathan to its members.
On what the message was all about, he said the union got a message from the president and would take it to the members.
He however declined to say what had transpired at the meeting and whether a truce was reached or not. "Well we had a lengthy meeting with Mr. President, rubbing minds on how best to address the problem of university education in this country. And we now have a message from Mr. President which we are going to take to our members. And we are expecting that our members will respond appropriately to the message of Mr. President," he explained.
When asked for details of the message, Fagge said: "I can't tell you (reporters). It is not for you. It is for our members." He also declined to say if he was satisfied with the president's offer, adding: "Don't put words into my mouth. Our members will determine that."
On whether the union was ready to call off the strike to allow the resumption of academic activities in universities, he stressed: "That is up to our members."
Wogu, also in his interaction with reporters, expressed optimism that the outcome of the negotiations with ASUU would lead to the suspension of the strike. He said: "We made progress. The president of ASUU told you (reporters) that they are going back with a message from the federal government to their members. And the message is full of high expectations and hope."
On whether the message was good enough to make ASUU call off the strike, he said: "That is why the message is full of high expectations and hope. So our prayer is that they come back with a positive outcome. "They might not even come back to meet us, they might take decisions there that will meet your expectations. "Nigerians should be patient for ASUU to finish their meetings and come out with a message to Nigerians."
On whether the government made any fresh offer to the union, Wogu said: "Well, the offers we made are the offers they are talking about in line with the 2009 agreement. The issues that led to the strike are issues contained in the 2009 Agreement and we did not go beyond the agreement."
The minister, who also spoke to THISDAY on the issue yesterday, reiterated his statement that the marathon meeting focused on the 2009 agreement with the union.
"We believe the presidential intervention has resolved the logjam. The ball is now in the court of the union leaders to meet with their members to convey the outcome of the meeting to their members. "We are very optimistic that this will bring about a positive outcome. Even the ASUU team was very happy with the deliberations," he said.
The minister however was not categorical on whether the federal government had accepted to implement the terms of the 2009 Agreement to the letter. The NLC, which was part of the negotiations, also welcomed the offer made by the federal government to ASUU.
NLC acting General Secretary, Chris Uyot, who declined to give any details on what was discussed, described the proposal as "acceptable".
But he told THISDAY in a telephone conversation yesterday that while the federal government's offer was acceptable to the NLC, suspending the strike would depend on whether ASUU finds it acceptable or not. He added that the acceptability or otherwise of the offer would be determined after a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of ASUU. "We held a meeting with the president and ASUU. Yes, there was an offer, the offer was okay and acceptable to the NLC but it depends on ASUU on whether they can accept it. When you have an offer in a situation of this nature, you need to put them before your members who gave you the mandate; you have to get back to them before taking a decision," he said.
Uyot described the process as a regular feature of industrial relations' negotiations. On details of the proposal put on the table by the federal government, he said: "I cannot reveal the details of the offer. The offer to ASUU are not to the NLC, so until ASUU comes out with a statement, we cannot reveal the details."
Also, the Chairman of ASUU (UniAbuja chapter), Dr. Clement Chup, said the union's NEC would reach out to members before taking a decision. "The meeting has been held. There will be a briefing at different levels and we will get back to you all," he said.
He also declined to reveal details of the meeting or whether the union would accept the new offer. "I am sorry, I am not permitted to speak on whether the offer is acceptable or not, or discuss the details," he added.
But it was gathered that given the latest development, ASUU might be more disposed now to return to the classroom.
A labour analyst who asked not to be named said it was in the interest of the union to make some concessions on its demands following the interventions by the president, after several interventions by highly-placed individuals and the National Assembly had failed.
Negotiating teams headed by Vice-President Namadi Sambo as well as Benue State Governor, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, who chairs the Needs Assessment Implementation Committee had both failed to yield fruit. "ASUU has to realise that it has no support among Nigerians, even NANS has condemned the strike. Nigerians are also unhappy with ASUU whose demands have been described as outrageous since the details were revealed," the analyst said.