It is in today’s news that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) will end their five months old strike action today. This follows the signing of a new agreement with the Federal Government. The agreement prioritizes greater funding for universities, among other items. The immediate implication of this call-off is that academic activities in Universities can commence.
Unfortunately, the Staff Union has gained nothing more than this.
In 2009, ASUU went on strike and finally suspended its strike action after it secured a signed agreement with the government. Unfortunately, but perhaps, expectedly, the government failed in meeting the Union’s expectations as represented in the agreement. The Union had embarked on several mini strike actions between 2009 and 2013, before finally going on a comprehensive strike action since July.
Why did ASUU go on strike? It did because it’s agreement was breached. That breach has cost us all something. But ASUU seems oblivious of it as it insisted that it be paid its full salaries for the the period it was on strike. A breached agreement- that was what locked down the system. One would expect that ASUU would press for means by which to prevent the government from breaching future agreements. It absolutely did not focus on that. Rather, it gave its full energy to seeing that the breached agreement was implemented or that a fairer one is drawn up. Today, it has achieved its second option. But was the agreement ever the problem in the first place? I think not.
The real problem was that trust had been breached. In the world of contracts, breached trust is not restored by forcing the other party to keep to its end by using extrajudicial and self help methods such as going on strike. Doing that only makes the offending party to momentarily do what it was bound by law to do. But it does not guarantee that the offense would not happen again. In other words, whatever loss occurs from an initial breach of contract is bound to recurr unless a constitutional action is taken to forbid such a breach in future.
What ASUU has today is exactly what it had upon the signing of the previous agreement: a promise by government to follow through ‘this time’, receipt of some funds and a written agreement. What if the government says in mid 2014 that it cannot meet with the financial obligations of this agreement and that it should be written off as a bad debt or that the funds should be delayed for a while, what would ASUU’s ultimate action be at preventing a default? You guessed right. It would go on strike, again. And after that, it would ‘negotiate’ a new agreement, get a little more funds, and all the while, the decay they are allegedly fighting continues.
What can ASUU do differently, to ensure that it does not get the same outcomes of yesteryears? I suggest first of all that it allies itself with the legislature. ASUU can sponsor a ‘university fund bill’ through the legislature. Upon becoming law, the government is constitutionally obligated to follow what the bill requires. There would not be a need for bilateral agreements anymore between ASUU and the government on university funding.
It would also mean that the government must include university funding as a part of the national budget, competing in its own right with items such as education, military spending, and health. University funding would specifically become a matter of budgetary allocation. If the initial budget falls short of what is needed to run these universities up to standard, then an appropriation bill may be passed to release more money. This shifts the burden of university funding from ASUU to the legislature. I find it odd that it is our university staffs that have to worry about how much the government should put into these institutions. That fits what I call ‘over time’, doing much more than your job description tells you.
I also expect ASUU to get a court ruling on this new agreement. If it fails again, ASUU should go to court. Agreements are legal documents. In fact, agreement cases are quite easy to settle because we are dealing with factual and live documents that clearly spell out the terms and conditions of the interaction between both parties. I am sure that ASUU would not only get what the agreement says but also receive compensation for losses resulting from the breach….unless ASUU itself is breaching some parts of that contract.
Using the right institutions in matters of contracts is what makes the difference between an agreement that stands and one that crumbles occasionally.
I would like to add that ASUU’s strike in relation to the 2009 agreement lasted only four months. Yes. By mid November, a new deal was on the table. So the extra one month was an action to portray that the fresh deal was becoming problematic right from take off. Please, ASUU, this has to stop. Make this time different, and please, make it count.