In a rare display of candour, the Federal Government has admitted breaching the agreement it reached with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) last year.
Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu told State House Correspondents at the post-Federal Executive Council meeting briefing at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, yesterday, that government failed to fulfil its own part of the agreement.
The national headquarters of ASUU declared an indefinite industrial action on Monday to press for demands contained in the 2009 and 2013 agreement signed by Federal Government and the union which government has failed to implement.
The minister said he was sad that the union had embarked on the current strike.
“Late last year, we had a meeting because ASUU gave one-week notice of strike and we were able to work out some agreement. I must confess that government has not fulfilled its part of the bargain. Even though we are unhappy that ASUU went on this strike without following due process and giving us good notice, we realised that we promised something and we didn’t fulfill it.
“I hope I will be meeting them later today or tomorrow and I am sure we will be able to reach some agreement so that the strike will be called off as soon as possible.
“I am sure you are aware of the issues we agreed on. There is the issue of re-negotiation, which is the only one they agreed. Government has done what it promised because we set up the re-negotiation team and negotiation is already ongoing. There is the issue of Earned Allowances and I think because of some miscommunication, what we promised could not be done, but I am assuring ASUU and the whole nation that this is going to be done. There is the issue of registration for Nigerian Universities Pension Commission. I believe there will be no problem with that.
“There is the issue of their staff school, which I think the court has given them verdict to go ahead with.
“They have requested that they should be allowed to stay off TSA and I think government will not do this but there are some peculiar funds in the university like endowment, which are monies kept and all the interest they generate, prices and so on are given. Government will exempt that one only.
“I hope later on when I meet them today there will be total agreement.”
The minister said he was in support of ASUU’s strike, describing it as a necessary tool to pressure government to do the right thing, a position he canvassed before being appointed as a minister.
Asked to reconcile this statement he made during the last dispensation about ASUU strike: ‘So, instead of hectoring ASUU to call of its strike, the nation should be praying for more of its kind in other sectors of the economy,’ the minister said that was still his position.
He said if ASUU had not forced former president Goodluck Jonathan, he would not have created the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), without which he said, the university system would have collapsed. That is still my view. I believe ASUU is composed of patriotic people, very responsible.
“If I can look at what their struggle is, they forced the then government to create TETFund and today, without TETFund, the university system would have collapsed. I’m not supporting ASUU, i am supporting what is good. If it is something bad, I will condemn it.”
As the strike enters the fourth day, the Senate Committee on Tertiary Education has appealed to lecturers to return to the classrooms and the negotiation table.
Addressing journalists, the committee’s chairman, Jibril Barau, claimed provisions were made in the 2016 supplementary to offset some requests made by the ASUU.
“We captured some aspects of their grievances in the supplementary budget we passed immediately after the negotiation was concluded here in the National Assembly, because they raised those issues that had to do with their allowances that were not paid.”
He did not, however, reveal if the funds were released to the various universities.
“The Senate Committee on Tertiary Education will now begin to get involved, to monitor. Its purely an executive affair but…we will need to go in and monitor to see what is happening. It has now become a matter of interest to us. It has always been a matter of interest but we thought it could be handled by the two parties. But since it has become something else, we will need to be monitoring what is happening on a daily basis,” he said.
Inspite of the confession by the minister and senate’s intervention, there are indications that the industrial strike would not end anytime soon. Chairman of ASUU, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) branch, Dr. Chinedu Aguba, said the signal from the national secretariat instructed them not to yield ground until all the demands from the federal and state governments in 2009 were met.
He said besides the N825 billion revitalisation fund owed both federal and state universities, there were other areas of dispute, which must be addressed before ASUU would call off the strike.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, had on Tuesday said the N825 billion arrear being demanded by ASUU was more than the entire appropriation of N369 billion for the Ministry of Education.
Yet, Aguba disclosed that the university teachers have Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) as another area of default by the governments, saying that “the problem of EAA has become a sore-thumb adversely affecting morale and productivity on our campuses.”
In Registration of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) and Pension Matters, he said there were two issues still in dispute there.
He also said that many state governments have not only failed to fund the existing universities but have gone ahead to establish new ones.
“Many state governments have completely stopped the release of statutory subventions to their universities; our members in state universities have experienced untold hardships owing to denial of salaries and allowances for several months. All the capital projects in our state universities are TETFund-sponsored as state governments have since refused to give capital grants to these universities,” he regretted.
Aguba said ESUT joined the strike in line with the NEC directive, saying, “during the strike, no lecturer shall teach any course, attend any statutory meeting, senate, appraisals, council etc. Members shall not conduct or supervise any examination at any level; shall not engage in supervision of projects or theses at any level; shall not force any academic staff to do any of the things listed above. We are ready to prosecute this strike as long as the ruling class refuses to listen to the voice of reason and do the needful. The strike is total, comprehensive and indefinite.”
However, the Ebonyi State University (EBSU) lecturers have been told to shun all academic activities until the industrial action is called off.
Chairman of the chapter of ASUU, Dr. Uche Onwe, who briefed newsmen shortly after a congress held at the Faculty of Law Auditorium, warned that the task force of ASUU would not take it lightly with any academic staff flouting the directive.
He said the union was disappointed that the Federal Government reneged on the Memorandum of Understanding reached in 2013, after the intervention of the National Assembly.
At EBSU, normal academic activities went on on Monday and Tuesday, despite the declaration of the strike by the leadership of ASUU in Abuja.
Onwe warned lecturers not teach any course whatsoever, attend any statutory meeting, engage in supervision of project or theses and projects at any level.
The strike was fully observed at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).
Briefing newsmen yesterday in Nsukka shortly after the congress attended by members of the union from Enugu and Nsukka campuses of the university, Dr. Ifeanyichukwu Abada, chairman of ASUU-UNN said members unanimously agreed to join in the strike.
He said members during the congress agreed that the strike would be total and comprehensive as all forms of academic activities have been suspended until Federal Government did the needful.
The UNN-ASUU chairman disclosed that a five-man monitoring committee for UNN campus and UNEC campus has been constituted in order to achieve total compliance and enforcement.
“Members are advised to adhere strictly to the directive of ASUU national on the ongoing strike as defaulting members will be brought to book’’, he said.
He however, solicited for parents and student understanding in the ongoing nationwide strike since it was targeted at providing necessary facilities and infrastructure that will make universities in the country conducive for teaching and learning.