President Goodluck Jonathan Tuesday directed the federal government negotiating teams to take all the necessary steps to ensure the quick resolution of the industrial dispute declared by university teachers.
The president gave the directive when members of the two committees set up by the federal government to negotiate with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) briefed him on the progress so far made in ending the lingering strike by the union.
The meeting with the president came against the backdrop of the deadlock on Monday in negotiations between the federal government teams and ASUU over the implementation of the 2009 agreement signed between the government and the union.
THISDAY checks on the state of the implementation of the 2009 agreement showed that government has provided N30 billion to support the governing councils of the universities to pay earned allowances.
Chairman of the Universities Needs Implementation Committee, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, who is also Benue State governor, told State House reporters after a closed-door meeting of the two committees and other stakeholders with Jonathan at the State House, Abuja that the president instructed them on what to do to end the strike.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) also intervened in the industrial crisis in the education sector as it urged the federal government to save the future of students who have been at home for about seven weeks by meeting the demands of the union.
Suswam, according to a report by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), said the meeting was summoned by the president “to take some decisions that would end the strike.”
“The president has instructed us as to what to do and he has shown a lot of commitments to flagging off projects worth about N100 billion in all the universities in the country, about 61 of them.
“So, we are hoping that we will be able to see the end of the strike very soon.
“At the end of the day, we hope ASUU is satisfied with the measures that have so far been taken.
“The federal government will also be meeting with the universities councils and vice-chancellors of our universities within the week towards updating them on some of the decisions taken,” he added.
He told the reporters that the federal government had approved about N100 billion for his committee to address infrastructure deficit in all the universities.
He said: “The president has graciously agreed that in the first week of September, he will be able to launch the projects.
“You also know that the procurement process will have to be followed and these projects includehostels in our universities, classrooms and theatres, libraries and laboratories among others.
“Some are renovation; some are new and all the 61 universities are going to benefit from one project or another.
“So, it is not going to be selective, all the universities are going to benefit from this infrastructure revitalisation of our universities.”
According to him, contentious issues between the union and the Earned Allowance Committee, headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, will soon be addressed.
“As you must have heard, the federal government made an offer of N30 billion to assist the various councils of our universities to be able to pay the earned allowances,” he said.
However, ASUU had rejected the offer of the N30, insisting on the full payment of the N92 billion needed to settle the earned allowances.
Asked whether government would be willing to shift ground on the ASUU insistence, Suswam said negotiation was still ongoing.
“If ASUU said that this was the amount of money that the federal government is owing and the federal government has shifted ground from its initial posture of ‘there was no money’ to offering N30 billion, it means we are moving forward and with a N100 billion available now for addressing the physical infrastructure deficit in our universities, I think the federal government has done quite well to have moved to where we are today.
“The federal government has opted to also meet with the councils and managements of the universities, because earned allowance is something that can be certified by the management and councils of the universities.
“I think that the government has demonstrated some substantial faith,” he said.
Yesterday’s meeting with the president was attended by Vice-President Namadi Sambo; Anyim; Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, her Labour counterpart, Chief Emeka Wogu; Minister of State for Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike; the Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okogie; and the Chief of Staff to the President, Chief Mike Oghiadomhe.
THISDAY checks have further revealed that the federal government has since it signed the agreement with ASUU in 2009, strived, within its limited resources and the ambit of the law, to fulfil its obligations to the union.
On the disagreement over the payment of the earned allowances, it was learnt that the government had reached an understanding with the union to undertake a Needs Assessment of the universities with a view to harnessing all funding of the sector to expand the internally generated of the institutions to enable them fund their recurrent expenditure, especially the earned allowances.
According to a source familiar with the negotiations, universities ought to pay the earned allowances to deserving staff but the federal government decided to assist because of the amount that ASUU is claiming as arrears.
It was learnt that government did not receive any computation of amount involved until February, 2013 for which it is claiming N92 billion as arrears for three years’ payment based on percentage range of between 15 and 20 per cent.
THISDAY gathered that government decided to provide the N30 billion to support the university councils in settling the earned allowances after discussions with various stakeholders, including the National Assembly and some cabinet members.
The amount will be disbursed to the university councils that are in the position to know who is entitled to how much after verification, the source added.
Besides, it was learnt that contrary to the claim by ASUU, the federal government has shown its readiness to implement the 2009 agreement it entered into with the union, which has led to the implementation of the agreement on the Consolidated Salary Structure for Academics of Nigerian Universities (CONUASS), a new retirement age under which professors retire at 70 and others at 65 instead of at 60 years, among others.
The APC yesterday however urged the federal government to honour its agreement with ASUU in order to end the ongoing strike that has paralysed academic activities in the nation’s public universities.
The advice came as the senator representing Sokoto Central senatorial district in the National Assembly, Alhaji Ahmed Maccido, urged the federal government to involve elder statesmen and traditional rulers in the resolution of the impasse.
The APC said since ASUU was not making any fresh demand beyond the agreement it reached with the government in 2009, the federal government should have no reason dragging the issue.
In a statement by its interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said no government worth its salt could afford to play with education, because it is the path to national development.
”Agreements are meant to be honoured, and breaching them comes with some consequences,” it said.
According to the party, the strike is a further blow to the country’s education system, which has deteriorated so much that no Nigerian university is currently listed in the top 100 universities in the world and only a few Nigerian universities have made the top 100 in Africa.
”It is an indication of the kind of priority that this federal government attaches to education that while it has refused to meet its own side of an agreement it reached with ASUU since 2009, it could pay out N3 trillion in non-existent fuel subsidies to fat cats; spend N10 billion annually to maintain the jets in the presidential fleet and do little or nothing to prevent the stealing of 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day, which translates to $120 million in a month, money that surely ends up in some people’s pockets,” the party said.
APC explained that it viewed with disgust the apparent nonchalant attitude demonstrated by those who should be working round the clock to resolve the crisis, especially Wike, “who has enough time on his hands to be launching vigilance groups and dancing ‘palongo’ around town when the nation’s public universities are shut and students are languishing.”
Meanwhile, Maccido, while speaking with journalists in Sokoto, stressed the need for the nation’s past leaders, to as a matter of urgency, call the federal government to order to save the education sector from collapse.
Maccido, who is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, maintained that past leaders and traditional rulers owe the country a duty to call the federal government and ASUU to order to quicken the resolution of the industrial dispute to enable students go back to school.
Source: Thisday Live