The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Monday continued to defy the "return to work" ultimatum issued by the federal government, vowing that the lecturers would only return to work when the 2009 Agreement as discussed at the November 4 meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan is implemented.
Despite the union's pledge to keep public universities shut, the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko (AAUA) resumed academic activities yesterday, while the University of Jos (UNIJOS) ordered the resumption of lectures immediately.
However, the lecturers at the University of Uyo decided to side with ASUU, stating that the order by the federal government to resume classes, failing which they would be sacked, was not binding on them.
This is just as the union described as tragic the threat of mass sack issued by the Minister of Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, describing the action as a "thoughtless solution to the problems arising from government's non-implementation of an agreement reached with ASUU.
"The strike ends when government implements the agreement as agreed with Mr. President and when we are assured that the government would renegotiate in 2014. "We are convinced that if the government does what is right, very soon, our students would go back to the classroom. If government invites us today, we are ready to meet," the union said.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, the National President of ASUU, Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge, refuted the statements made by Wike that the union presented a new set of demands to the government after the November 4 meeting.
He presented the union's position after revealing documents from both warring parties, showing that the union had requested the disbursement of the N200 billion agreed to within two weeks, a position, which he pointed out was documented in the Government Paper from the November 4 meeting.
The paper, dated November 6, 2013 and signed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Dr. Mac John Nwaobiala, on page two read, "Federal Government shall provide funds for the revitalisation of the university system in the following manner in the next six years: 2013 - N200 billion; N220 would be provided in subsequent years."
Fagge added that the union demanded the inclusion of renegotiations of the agreement in 2014, which was already agreed upon at the meeting, in addition to a non-victimisation clause in line with international labour standards.
He also explained that ASUU insisted on a proper endorsement of the resolution to make it a binding document after "the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) announced to the public and ASUU that the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding - a document authorised by himself - was not binding on government since it was signed by a permanent secretary and was therefore a mere promise and non-binding piece of paper."
None of these, he noted, were fresh demands, adding: "The legitimate procedure is that both sides should sign a resolution showing what was agreed and what was not.
"But this is how the Minister of Education expects ASUU to take it. He would want ASUU to accept that the government was doing ASUU a favour, this is wrong."
On the directive of the government that the universities be reopened, Fagge noted that the union does not play a role in the opening or closure of universities, but would withhold its (ASUU) services as a fundamental right. When reminded that some schools had already resumed, Fagge said: "All I know is every ASUU member is on strike." He also refuted reports that over 60 per cent of ASUU branches voted to suspend the strike.
Forty-eight of the 52 branches of ASUU, he said, voted that the strike be suspended only if certain conditions are met while four voted for suspension of the strike before pursuing the implementation of certain conditions.
Flanked by 13 other members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of ASUU, Fagge confirmed that the union did ask for the four months' salary arrears of its members, which are being withheld as part of the no-work no-pay policy.
The demand for the salary arrears, he said, was predicated on the fact that only ASUU members have had their salaries withheld in instances of a strike, a situation which he described as unfair.
"ASUP (their counterparts in polytechnics) was on strike for five or six months and no one stopped their salaries. Several unions go on strike; no one even threatens to stop their salaries. We cannot be treated as second class citizens in our own country," he said.
Clad in a cream French suit, Fagge noted that none of ASUU members, from graduate assistants to professors are begging for jobs, reminding the government that the threat to sack lecturers was made during the Babangida and Abacha regimes.
He disagreed that the union has lost the sympathy of the public and called on all Nigerians to prevail on government to do what is just and noble as the present approach would only compound the deepening yet avoidable crises.
ASUU's defiance, notwithstanding, academic activities resumed at the Adekunle Ajasin University, even as the Ondo State branch of the union has directed its members not to go back to classes. In line with the directive of the institution that all students must return to the school for the 2012/2013 second semester, some students were seen on the campus getting registered and attending lectures.
Equally, timetables for lectures were released by each of the departments to signal the commencement of academic exercise while meetings of the heads of departments in each of the faculties were held to ensure proper courses allocation among the lecturers. In UNIJOS, on the other hand, the Registrar of the university, Jilli Dandam, issued a directive in compliance with the federal government's order on the reopening of tertiary institutions.
"Following the federal government's order on resumption of academic activities in all federal institutions, the Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council on behalf of the Governing Council has directed as follows: All academic staff of the University of Jos should return to their various departments and units, and commence work immediately," the statement said.
However, the university was uncertain if its ASUU members will comply with the directive and therefore refused to announce resumption date for students, saying, "Information concerning students shall be announced in due course."