Managing Industrial Disputes in the Nigerian University System. A focus on Enugu state University of Science and Technology (ESUT)

Managing Industrial Disputes in the Nigerian University System. A focus on Enugu state University of Science and Technology (ESUT)

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University worldwide is regarded as the citadel of knowledge, the fountain of intellectualism the most appropriate ground for the incubation of leaders of tomorrow. According to Ike (1999:1) a university fulfills, one major function it is a knowledge and value provider it stand or fails in its ability or inability to deliver on this criteria. According to magna carta universitatum, “the university is an autonomous institution at the heart of societies differently organized because of geographically and historical heritage; it produces, examines, appraises and hands down culture by research and is an enterprise that serves multi disciplinary purposes. This according to Nwankwo (2000:25) explains why merit has been the watchword in the university system – a system a student must first be certified worthy in character and learning before being admitted into the Honours Degree Hall. Universities are key author in national development, more so in Africa than in other regions. Their roles in research and this explains why the Federal Government of Nigeria is acknowledging the university as a fulcrum for national development, set up a commission headed by Chief Gray Longe 1992 to review higher education in Nigeria with particular reference to universities in Nigeria. The commission was given terms of reference amongst which were;

i.        To re-examine the developmental roles of universities in developing countries such as Nigeria. 

ii.      Determine the middle and higher level manpower supply and demand of the country, and advice in the area of under / over population and under/ over utilization of the same.

iii.   Examine the availability and adequacy of academic staff in universities.

iv.    Investigate the nature, sources and criteria of funding in higher educational institutions. (Especially universities) with a view to improving the situation and guaranteeing steady source of funds for optimal functional of these institutions.

v.      Review the general condition of staff in higher educational institutions such as salaries, pensions and retirement benefit, housing of the public service and private sector and particularly to stemming the brain drain phenomenon.

vi.    Review the criteria for appointment of administration, including the vice-chancellor, provosts, rector, registrars and other principal officers, their terms of office and the process of renewal of their appointment.

The commission held special sessions with a number of eminent personalities and educationist from whose knowledge and experience of the educational system in Nigeria it benefited immensely.

        Finally, the commission defined higher education as the type of education in higher educational institution especially in universities (conventional and specialized), which produce high level and middle level manpower, but not specialized set up by professional bodies.

          The commission also noted that the goals and objectives among others include; teaching, research and public service. The commission observed that Nigeria universities had established standard comparable to the best in other parts of the world. The commission, however, frowned at the discovery that the following physical conditions are still the trade - marks of the Nigerian universities;

(i)               Dilapidated workshops equipment in most of the higher institutions.

(ii)             Inadequate facilities such as libraries, lecture rooms, laboratories and work farms.

The commission was also appalled by the fact that universities have not achieved much in terms of the goals and objectives for which they were set  up, owing to incessant disruption in the academic flow chart caused by strike actions, industrial unrest, students hooliganism, political instability etc.

     Based on these discoveries, the commission recommended among others, that;

(i)               The university education as the apex of the system of higher education should play a leadership role in the nation providing people of special qualification and motivation.

(ii)                Universities education is not a means to earn a living. It should also equip the individual to the highest level of his ability with the intellectual and physical skill which he requires to be an innovative, creative and self-reliant member of the society.

(iii)          The university, because of its key role in the overall economy should always encourage and facilitate industrial harmony and provide a conducive atmosphere for learning and attainment of other goals and objectives.

The government on its part accepted these recommendations and thus, commented as follows:   

(i)               That university should undertake periodic reviews of programmes and activities to meet national priority goals as defined from time to time. 

(ii)             In order to develop closer academic / industrial relationship and also   ensure that the programmes of tertiary institutions are relevant to the needs of the industry and the national economy, there should be regular interaction between the institutions, the employers of their products, and the National Manpower Board.

(iii)          The government on its own pat should render its lawful obligations to the universities by providing funds, research grants, the required infrastructure (roads, laboratories , electricity, telephone), a conducive learning environment and allowing universities to operate autonomously by ensuring that government does not interfere with the university administration.  

(iv)           To encourage industrial harmony in the higher educational institutions by passing laws that will preserve the rights of various interest groups within the university system, especially organized trade unions and employers associated.

This is however, the general picture of the events that surrounds the university system in Nigeria. We shall examine at the appropriate chapters of this work how far these major actors in industrial disputes have discharge their respective obligations in order to reduce the rate of industrial disputes in the Nigeria universities.


Over the last thirty years in Nigeria, the educational system has witnessed an unprecedented industrial unrest and so many official assaults than other social institution. According to Onuoha (2001:8), this is so perhaps, because of its strategic place both in the nation’s hierarchy of priorities and its considered role as a veritable machine for development. In his own contribution, Nwankwo (2000:37) opined that Nigeria educational institutions, characterized by military intervention in governance have witnessed untold negative political interference and a seeming calculated moves to submerge it in the river of irrelevances. He further argued that those in authorities see universities as a burden and as institutions to be exploited and left desolate. Consequent upon this ures, non-payment development, our universities he posited, have become aberrations of themselves. The manifestation are in form of cultism,  brain drain, under funding by government, erosion of academic freedom, general insecurity, dilapidated he structures,  non-payment of university staff salaries.  These are indications that all is not well with the Nigeria university system.

ASUU went on strike on 27th June, 2009 in protest against non implementation of agreement against signed with the federal government of Nigeria.

In a press briefing on 30th August in Calabar, ASUU president, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie accused the Minister of Education of not presenting the true facts concerning government’s handling of the issues that led to the strike. He expressed regret that the minister claimed in his reaction to the strike, that there was no agreement between the federal government and the union (ASUU) and that the government needed to review the agreement because of the global economic meltdown.  He said the minister also claimed that government was not properly briefed during the negotiations and that the strike action by ASUU would further   reduce the quality of education, which the union claimed that it was fighting to improve.

          Awuzie described the minister’s remarks as “particularly vexatious and unfortunate” as the federal government was responsible for the strike action, which has thrown the university system into another turmoil.   He said contrary to the minister’s assertion, there was an agreement reached between the federal government and the union (ASUU). On May 12, 20009 and government invitation, they assembled at the NUC to sign the agreement between the federal government of Nigeria (FGN) and ASUU.  He said the union is on strike “to persuade government to be serious for once and take the interest of its citizens seriously by signing the agreement already reached.” According to him, the much touted sum of N78 billion is actually the shortfall in the amount needed to fund personnel emoluments arising from the various agreements which government has reached with hall federal tertiary institution in the country.

          He said it was therefore not true that N78 billion was needed to fund the FGN/ASUU agreement as claimed by the minister. “It was an assertion meant to politicize the issues, deceive and hoodwink the Nigerian people. By the way, is it not a crying shame that our government finds the same N78 billion too much to spend over a period of time to revamp t the educational system? Yet, the same government wastes millions of Naira on frivolities”, he said.

          He added that even though the present government touts education as one of the issues in the seen-point agenda, the allocation to education in the 2009 budget betrayed its lack commitment to the education of Nigerians. The ASUU president further argued, “ASUU believes that with an average of N120 billion earned from oil each day, government should be able to fund education effectively. If it considers this impossible, the money should be enough to increase access to education by a greater majority of our people. We cannot aspire to being one of the developed economies by 2020, if the bulk of our citizenry remain uneducated as is the case today.” He however, assured that the union will call off the strike as soon as the federal government signs the agreement reached with the lecturers. 

          ASUU strike ended on October 22nd, 2009 by 8:10pm.

          The incessant strikes closures and boycotts of lectures on work by academic and non- academic staff in our universities are also evidences that there is strained industrial relations in the Nigerian university system.

          In the light of the above facts, the management of these universities has been confronted with the following problems.

(i)               To find ways of improving such deteriorated relationship in order to move the education industry forward.

(ii)             To find the causes of the deterioration in relationship between the labour and management.

The sources of discontent in our university system are in exhaustive.  According to Akpala (1982:56) it has bearing with present economic situation in the country, our political history and inheritances authoritarian attitudes of both the government and university. Management towards labour issues, the presence of obsolete labour laws, corruption in all segments of the society, mal administration, class conflict and struggle, struggle for survival etc. Also in the list of the problems is the inability of the Nigerian universities to actualize the objectives for which they were established, such as a training of high caliber manpower etc. it was on the basis of the above problems that the researcher was motivated to conduct this research work to find out the true posi

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