“If you don’t intend having a compromise, you don’t negotiate at all.”—Nelson Mandela.
Africa’s greatest leader, beside who others appear ordinary or atrocious, left behind a piece of advice from which the leaders of Nigeria’s Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, would profit immensely, if they would heed it. At the very least, they ought to know the difference between negotiation and ultimatum.
When the Honourable Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, drafted Dr Wale Babalakin, SAN, to hold discussions with ASUU, two Mondays ago, he was turning to someone whose firm – Bi-Courtney – had claims of over N160 billion against the Federal Government which he was pursuing in Abuja that Monday. Yet, Adamu was also calling on the patriotism of Babalakin who had left an indelible mark at the University of Maiduguri as Chancellor and is embarking on more achievements at the University of Lagos. From information reaching me, he has delivered all his services to the universities free of charge. There are only two business magnates known to me in Nigeria who can be so selfless as to abandon their own self-interest and attend to national interest so promptly – Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Mr Tony Elumelu. For Wale’s sake alone, ASUU should have temporarily shelved the strike.
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It needs to be restated that the agreement constituting the reason for this strike was reached in 2009 with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Yar’Adua/Jonathan/Sambo governments, 2009-2015 and not with the All Progressives Congress, APC, government led by Buhari. It was also pointed out last week how ASUU under Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, in 2011 called off its strike to save Jonathan the embarrassment of going into the 2011 Presidential elections with ASUU on strike and the kids at home. They were lured back to the campuses with a promise and an agreement which needed a Bill passed by the National Assembly, NASS. Once elected, Jonathan forgot about the Bill and the agreement and the Sixth NASS went into history.
A more honourable President, once re-elected, would have sent a Bill to the seventh NASS to ratify the agreement. But, Jonathan, who was once an ASUU member depending on the union for survival was set for life and had forgotten his former associates. Did ASUU threaten to proceed on strike again in 2011? Not a chance. The next time ASUU would announce a strike to the nation was in 2013; after bluffing about one in 2012. As usual, permit me to take us back to what happened when Dr Goodluck Jonathan, former Senior Lecturer, dealt with his colleagues on campus. Read on.
ASUU STRIKE: BLAME FINANCE MINISTER
“This is a government that signed an agreement with us on January 24, 2012, to the effect that they would inject N100 bn, as funding into the universities in the first month; and that before the end of 2012, they would inject another N300 bn”. Dr Olusegun Ajiboye, ASUU University of Ibadan branch chairman, August 14, 2013.
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala increasingly is cutting a sorry figure as Finance Minister. And nothing has demonstrated this fact more than her utterances on the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
To start with, she announced, as if it was true, that government cannot pay the N92 billion causing the present palaver. She turned out to be wrong on three counts at least – none of which does her reputation as a global financial expert any good. It was poor defence and exposed her as someone who did not do her homework very well before commenting on a vital national issue.
First, as Dr. Ajiboye pointed out, N92 billion represented a figment of the imagination of the former World Bank Managing Director. Ajiboye, a valid representative of all the ASUU creditors, told us that the amount due to them was N87 billion; not N92 billion. Even for a wasteful administration, overpaying by N5 billion would have been reprehensible. There is a lot of good work which government can do with N5 billion instead of throwing it away carelessly. Throwing public money away carelessly was what led to the fuel subsidy scam which tarnished her reputation in 2011/2012 when she jumped into the fray without checking her facts properly.
Second, her statement about government’s inability to pay lacked credibility and was soon discredited by the President. There is a distinct difference between “can’t pay” and “won’t pay”. The former admits of financial weakness or destitution; the latter connotes willful refusal to honour an agreement into which government voluntarily entered. For the Minister of a government which allowed the country to be defrauded of over N1 trillion to claim that government cannot pay N92 billion or less than one percent, is an insult to the intelligence of Nigerians and discredit to government itself. As if to prove that the Minister spoke, not for government but herself, the President a few days after ordered that more than N92 billion be released to the universities. That order by Jonathan had elevated Okonjo-Iweala’s claim from the realm of the incredible to a colossal lie. Where will government find N100 billion to carry out the President’s instructions if it cannot afford N92 billion?
But, all those pale by comparison with Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s real contribution to this awful national calamity. Read Dr Ajiboye’s assertions again and the astute reader can readily see the genesis of this whole mess. In January last year, long after the 2013 budget had been presented to the National Assembly, obviously with no provisions for paying the N87 billion owed to ASUU, the President, who at that time was facing a national revolt on account of fuel price increase from N65 per litre to N141 did not want another ASUU strike to add to the uprising. So, government, perhaps ill-advisedly and hastily promised ASUU N400 billion additional money; that brought the total debt payable in 2013 to N487 billion.
Call it incompetence or lack of courage but given a 2012 budget, from which any provisions for ASUU had been excluded, promising eleven per cent of last year’s budget to the academic staff of universities was fraudulent. When Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745, wrote that, “Promises, like pie-crusts, are made to be broken”, (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p203), he must have had a government like the present one in mind. It is one government on whose promises nobody should rely. So 2012 ended without government honouring its agreements. That was bad enough.
Any financial officer, involved in budgeting, knows that when planning the budget for any year, you must take into account all the bills past due as well as those likely to fall due during the year – if the decision is to pay. They can only be ignored if there is a willful and conscious decision not to pay and to damn the consequences. The fiasco this time around has occurred because the Finance Minister either forgot to make provisions for paying the N487 billion, not even N92 billion as she claimed, or because she deliberately excluded those outstanding bills. Forgetting such a huge liability demonstrates incompetence and gross negligence – for which the nation is now paying dearly. Remembering that the debts are long overdue and deliberately ignoring them is proof beyond reasonable doubt of lack of budgetary integrity. It does not require the towering intelligence of a Harvard graduate to predict the outcome of that benign neglect of government’s obligations.”
Jonathan was a vicious dissembler who promised ASUU what his government had no intention of delivering by not including the promise in the budgets for 2012 to 2015. Former ASUU leaders should share the blame for not pressing for the funds all the time. Only God knows how many ASUU members have retired without collecting their entitlements.
The reader should bear in mind that the price of crude oil averaged $115 per barrel in 2012 and 2013 unlike now when we are fortunate if it reaches $50 per barrel. Yet, the Jonathan administration was allowed to get away with failure to discharge its responsibilities. If what had been revealed so far about what the former Minister for Petroleum alone had put aside and what her accomplices are accused of taking to America to buy yachts is anything to go by, it is easy to see why there was nothing for ASUU or anybody else.
Revelations about over N trillion fuel subsidy scam were also not deemed sufficient reasons for ASUU to bring down the government which promised them and made “mugus” out of them. They had to wait until crude oil drifted towards $40 per barrel and a new government comes in to embark on another strike. Can anybody tell me the justice in this? Does this not amount to blaming the victims? Where were these people when Jonathan was deceiving them?