The Senate President, David Mark, has said that representatives of the Federal Government who signed the 2009 agreement between it and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASSU), were incompetent.
Mr. Mark stated this while ruling on a motion at Wednesday’s plenary of the Senate brought by the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, and co-sponsored by all the Senators.
ASUU embarked on a nationwide strike since July 1 to protest the failure of the Federal Government to implement the 2009 agreement for proper funding of universities.
The senators appealed to ASUU to call off its lingering strike and return to work to prevent further devaluation of the country’s education sector.
Mr. Mark observed that the basis upon which the agreement was reached did not reflect fairness and sincerity of purpose on the part of both parties.
According to him, the Federal Government ought to have acknowledged from the beginning that the agreement is not implementable because so many demands are embedded which are not realistic.
“The issue of research and development in our educational institutions cannot be over emphasised, our national development must be hinged purely on education not on oil, not even on the amount of money that we get.
“Listening to the agreement that was signed by the Federal Government, I was really wondering whether this was signed or it was just a proposal, but it was signed.
“It only shows the level of people the executive sent to go and negotiate on their behalf because abinitio, people must be told the truth, what can be accomplished and what cannot be accomplished,’’ Mr. Mark said.
The Senate President said “but even if you decided immediately after that you cannot accomplish it, I think it is only proper for you to go back and start renegotiating’’.
“But if you prolong it on the basis that you are still going to honour it and you don’t honour it, then it doesn’t portray us in good light.’
“This is where the Federal Government ought to call those who were party to this agreement.’’
Mr. Mark said ASUU simply took advantage of the ignorance of those who were sent and “just allowed this agreement to go on because it is obvious that this is going to be a very difficult piece of paper to implement.”
“They found out that those who were sent there simply didn’t know their right from their left and they just went ahead.’’
The Senate President appealed to the parties involved in the dispute to show understanding and make necessary compromise to resolve the crisis to guarantee future of the nation.
He advised ASUU to shift grounds as soon as possible, adding that failure to do so might make the union to lose the sympathy of Nigerians who had always supported their cause.
“I want to beg ASUU on behalf of the Senate that they resume and come back to work, they have made a strong case and their position is obvious now.
“We can now see the consequences of their action and I think if they extend it beyond this, then they will begin to lose public sympathy.
“There is no winner and no loser in this exercise. As long as the strike continues, nobody will win and everybody will lose,’’ he said.
According to him, it is not a matter of PDP, APC or any other political party, we are all Nigerians and if we don’t build a solid foundation in our education system, we are going to lose at the end of the day.
In his contribution, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, called for the granting of autonomy to all universities to enable the institutions generate and manage their resources.
Mr. Ekweremadu advised that government should make loans and grants available to enable students pay the fees that would be charged by these universities.
“There is the need for full autonomy of our universities while they are properly regulated to deliver services that meet global best practices as obtainable in other parts of the world.
“Then the government will provide loans and grants to enable students acquire quality education while the universities will be autonomous and charge appropriate fees,’’ Mr. Ekewremadu said.
Ita Enang (PDP- Akwa Ibom), said that the government should have understood ASUU’s demands as an economic matter and not labour issue before venturing into the pact.
“Economic consideration must be given to these demands because the Federal Government cannot raise this money from the blues, but it has to be appropriated by the National Assembly,’’ he said.
Also contributing, Olushola Adeyeye (APC-Osun), urged leaders at all levels to wake up to the responsibility of charting a progressive course for the education sector without any further delay.
Adeyeye suggested the introduction of education tax to be paid by all working persons in the country, adding that effective mechanism should be put in place to protect such funds from being looted.
Ahmed Lawan (APC- Yobe) advised that the Senate President should lead the mediation process to broker peace between the two parties.
George Sekibo (PDP – Rivers) said the National Assembly should take steps to make every tier of government to fund its tertiary schools.
In his contribution, Senate Deputy Leader, Abdul Ningi (PDP – Bauchi) said “for two decades, education is not viewed as a priority in this country.’’
Earlier, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Education, Uche Chukwumerije, said some of the demands of ASUU included; salary structure for academic staff and earned academic allowances.
Chukwumerije listed some of the earned allowances as injury/sick allowance, call duty allowance, excess work load allowance, sabbatical allowance and post graduate study grant.
The others are vehicle refurbishment loans, external assessment of theses, teaching practice allowance as well as funding of universities with the total demands amounting to N1.5 trillion for implementation within three years.
The senators also mandated the Senate President to engage the Presidency and the leadership of ASUU with a view to bringing the crisis to an end.