The Lagos State Government on Saturday appealed to striking workers of the Lagos State University, LASU, to embrace dialogue as the ongoing industrial action enters its first week.
Describing the strike action as an unnecessary drawback for its spirited efforts to boost the academic standing and reputation of the institution, the state government faulted the union’s crude attempt to force new terms and conditions of service on the university without due regard to their practical feasibility or its interests and perspectives as employer of labour, proprietor and sponsor of the university.
According to the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Lateef Ibirogba, ASUU-LASU appears to be whipping up sentiments to justify a premeditated industrial action, as all the points they advanced could not even be properly classified as trade disputes that could warrant an “Indefinite Strike Action.”
He accused the union executives of evading all attempts to make them follow due process and engage in reasoned dialogue as regards the issues raised, most of which, he said, were not at all contemplated by the terms and conditions of the lecturers’ employment as well as it’s financial and academic plan.
The Commissioner said further that the lecturers should have exhausted the dialogue option before resorting to a strike which, he insisted, could by law only be called after a well constituted meeting for which a proper notice would have been served on all members beforehand.
He said following a “14 day ultimatum” issued by the Union, the State Government set up an ad-hoc committee which examined all the points raised by the lecturers and that even though it was discovered that the issues did not warrant a strike action, the administration made clear it’s determination to carry on the dialogue towards resolving the issues through the established processes.
On the call for the reversal of LASU School fee’s regime, Ibirogba expressed surprise at how such could have justified a strike since the lecturers themselves knew that Government was already in constructive discussions with the students.
“It is a matter of fact that the students have already submitted a position paper on the issue which government has also constituted a 7-man committee to review and advise upon,” he said.
He added that the University’s main source of funding (80 per cent) was from the State Government while the new fee regime accounted for only 10 per cent with the Governing Council being mandated to fund the balance of 10 per cent.
He also disagreed with the unsubstantiated claims of the Lecturers’ union which blamed the new fee regime for low enrolment into the University, maintaining that the perennial unstable academic calendar of the University being caused by incessant restiveness among staff unions impact negatively on the perception of the public and in turn affect the enrolment figures of the institution adversely.
According to the Commissioner: “It was concluded by the Ad-hoc committee that in the absence of the conduct of a reliable survey to investigate the reported low enrolment into the University, ASUU-LASU’s position on the new fees cannot be justified.”
Ibirogba said part of the resolution of the Committee was an advice that ASUU-LASU should articulate progressive ideas that will make the University a financially independent institution that would not rely solely on the State Government for its survival.
On the clamour for a repeal of the “No Vacancy, No Promotion” Policy of LASU, the Commissioner explained that the committee examined the conditions of service for junior and senior staff and noted that there had always been a clause regulating promotion of staff based on “Available Job Openings”.
According to Ibirogba: “The proviso is a very reasonable principle of management and has always been among the University’s conditions of service. It is not a recent invention of the management, hence it is morally, ethically and indeed statutorily expedient for staff to observe and respect the clause which was an express term of their own employment.
“It is also a common practice in Universities, consistent with NUC policy guidelines for the number of professors and other staff which must be engaged in each department to be appropriately regulated. Academic staff profile must be related to the needs of each department and the moral burden is on the Union to request and justify a review of the clause through the appropriate channels and NOT by a declaration of Trade Dispute.”
According to the Commissioner, the Ad-Hoc committee in its findings also gathered that the conditions of service of the Union members were already being reviewed by the University with ASUU members invited to partake in the exercise. He advised the Union to avail itself of such a legitimate opportunity to inject its suggestions into the new document.
On the call for the implementation of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2012 in LASU, the State Government, through the Commissioner, posited that while education was on the concurrent list of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, states were allowed to establish Universities and the terms and conditions of service of the lecturers they engage must necessarily be as determined by contract and relevant Law of the State Government.
“The State Government is not under any obligation to implement any aspect of a Federal legislation if the State legislature had not appreciated the need for amending its own Law in line with that of the Federal Government,” he said.
The Commissioner also decried a situation where lecturers in the employment of the State Government would always insist on enjoying the terms and conditions of lecturers in federal universities whenever it suited them.
Ibirogba disclosed that the Ad-hoc committee in its report had also advised ASUU to study the State Government’s White Paper on the last Visitation Panel to the institution so as to appreciate the Government’s position on the tenure of the University’s Principal Officers.
The White Paper states inter alia: “Government rejects the recommendation of the Visitation Panel and restates Schedule 1930 (3) of the LASU Law, 2007 that the Vice Chancellor shall hold office for a period of four years and upon such terms as shall, subject to the provisions of this law and the relevant statutes, be determined by the Council, unless he is removed from office and unless so removed, he shall be eligible for re-appointment for second term of four years only; provided that no person shall hold the office of the Vice Chancellor for more than two terms of office.”
Finally, the Information Commissioner reiterated the State Government’s commitment to ensuring cordial relationship with labour unions in the State within the confines of mutual understanding and respect for laid down rules and regulations. He added that the State Government would not allow itself to be stampeded into acceding to demands, which are inconsistent with its policy objectives, stating that it is imperative for ASUU-LASU to have a rethink on its proposed industrial action in the interest of the students and allow for dialogue.