Falana reeled out how fascist regimes in the past had tried to ban labour unions in the country and failed, including the British colonial masters.
A human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Femi Falana has revealed why President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration cannot ban the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on account of the ongoing strike action embarked upon by university lecturer’s union.
Following the protracted ASUU strike that is in its sixth month, which was declared to force the government to implement the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement on how to fund the nation’s university education, the government is now contemplating banning ASUU.
SaharaReporters had reported that ASUU declared the industrial action with an initial four-week warning strike, which has been extended due to the government’s failure to implement the agreement.
But speaking on the possibility of President Buhari’s government to ban ASUU, Falana in an article titled: “Why ASUU Cannot Be Banned,” said the government must first amend the chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.
He also noted that to ban/proscribe ASUU the government must first withdraw its ratification of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention No 87 of the International Labour Organisation.
Falana reeled out how fascist regimes in the past had tried to ban labour unions in the country and failed, including the British colonial masters. He noted that the anti-democratic forces urging President Buhari to ban ASUU should be made to realise that a democratic government lacks the competence to abrogate the fundamental rights of citizens outside the ambit of the Constitution.
“Therefore, to ban ASUU the Government will have to amend the fundamental right of citizens to freedom of association enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution. It is a special amendment which requires the resolution of four fifths of members of the National Assembly and approved by two thirds majority of members of not less than 24 Houses of Assembly.
“In addition, the Federal Government will withdraw its ratification of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention No 87 of the International Labour Organisation. The anti-democratic forces urging the Buhari administration to ban ASUU should be made to realise that a democratic government lacks the competence to abrogate the fundamental rights of citizens outside the ambit of the Constitution,” he said.
The human rights lawyer advised those berating ASUU for allegedly being recalcitrant to rather advise the Nigerian government to prioritise the funding of tertiary education.
He said, “After all, following the directive of the Federal Government the Central Bank of Nigeria has just released $235 million to foreign airlines to facilitate foreign travels by a few privileged citizens. And whereas the Federal Government budgeted the sum of N443 billion for the so called fuel subsidy in the 2022 Appropriation Act the fund has been increased to N4 trillion via a Supplementary Appropriation Bill approved by members of both chambers of the National Assembly.
“It is interesting to note that the details of the humongous sum were not scrutinised by the federal legislators. As if that was not enough the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed has disclosed that fuel subsidy will gulp N6.5 trillion this year alone. And very soon, the National Assembly will approve another supplementary budget of N2.5 trillion for the monumental fraud. But when it comes to funding tertiary education the Federal Government is said to be broke!
“Instead of embracing the fascist option of prescribing ASUU the Federal Government should commit itself to the faithful implementation of collective agreements reached with ASUU which are enforceable by virtue of the relevant provisions of the Trade Disputes Act. For instance, in the 1992 and 2009 FG/ASUU Agreements it was expressly stated that the revenue realised from the sale of the properties of the Federal Government abandoned in Lagos when the Federal Capital was moved to Abuja would be channelled towards the funding of tertiary education in the country.
“But the Federal Government has turned round to sell the properties to private individuals and corporate bodies at low giveaway prices. Some of the properties were sold to powerful individuals and corporate bodies including a multinational corporation. Since a number of the properties have not been sold the Federal Government should turn them over to the universities in line with the terms of the FG/ASUU Collective Agreements.
“It may also interest concerned citizens to know that pursuant to the 1992 Agreement the management of the universities had registered and established consultancy firms to handle jobs by professionals in the academic community in the country. But the university councils peopled by government appointees prefer to farm out multi million Naira contracts to contractors nominated by the ruling political parties.
“Through such dubious arrangements the meagre fund earmarked for capital projects in the universities is diverted as a number of the projects are abandoned. It is on record that some cases of large scale corruption reported to the anti-graft agencies were not allowed to be investigated by the Federal Government.
“The Tertiary Education Trust Fund suggested by ASUU and incorporated into the 1992 FG/ASUU Agreement was enacted into law in 1993. Thus, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund Act imposes a two percent (2%) education tax on the profits of every registered company in Nigeria.
“Regrettably, the fund is collected in a rather haphazard manner by the Federal Government. In spite of pressure from ASUU the Federal Government has failed to recover the several billions of Naira from companies that have defaulted in contributing to the Fund.
“The Government has also refused to publish the list of companies that are qualified to contribute to the Fund for the purpose of monitoring the collection and updating the list. There are other leakages in the system which could be blocked by the Federal Government in collaboration with all trade unions in the tertiary institutions.”
He, however, reminded the government that under the British colonial regime, trade unions were prohibited while strikes were criminalised but in all Nigerian workers defied the ban and formed trade unions to challenge the crude exploration of the nation’s resources by the foreign colonisers.