ASUU shelves strike as Gbajabiamila intervenes

November 19, 2021
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ABUJA – Indications emerged on Thursday to the effect that the planned strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) may no longer hold following the intervention of the House of Representatives’ Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila.

At a meeting held at the speaker’s office, it was resolved that the N30 billion revitalisa­tion fund be released to the universities within the next one week, while the N22.1 billion earned academic allowances are to be paid also within the next one week.

The meeting was attended by members of the national leadership of ASUU compris­ing mainly past presidents of the union led by its president, Prof. Victor Emmanuel Osode­ke; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahmed; Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba; Chairman of the House Committee on Tertiary Education, Comrade Aminu Suleiman. and his Basic Edu­cation counterpart, Prof. Julius Ihonvbare.

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The speaker had summoned the meeting on Tuesday to find ways of addressing the griev­ances of the university lectur­ers as informed by a motion of urgent public importance moved by Prof. Ihonvbare on the floor.

The meeting also agreed to compel the Nigeria Informa­tion Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to fast track the process of testing and ap­proving the University Trans­parency Accountability Solu­tion (UTAS) being developed by the union for the payment of salaries of university lecturers.

They also agreed to set up a tripartite committee made up of members of the union, the government and the National Assembly to work out modali­ties for the resumption of rene­gotiation of the 2009 agreement between the union and the gov­ernment.

Renegotiation, according to the union, had stalled fol­lowing the resignation of the chairman of the renegotiation committee and the union was apprehensive about resump­tion of the exercise.

Speaking at the commence­ment of the meeting, Gbajabi­amila said the House decided to summon the meeting because the consequences of the lectur­ers going on strike was grave, saying, “We know the conse­quences of ASUU going on strike. The unintended conse­quences which we don’t know will be far reaching.

“Whether on the side of ASUU, the government and the House, we all mean well for our children. I do not believe we can afford another strike.

“I have a fair idea of what the issues are. But whatever it is, it cannot be a recurring decimal. Strike should not be incessant. It should be a last re­sort when negotiations break down,” Gbajabiamila said.

Turning to the ministers present at the meeting, the speaker said, “Government cannot be signing agreements that are not worthy of the pa­per they are written on. In the long run, we might need to set up a tripartite committee that will review all these issues and address them once and for all.”

He, therefore, directed the House Committees on Educa­tion and ICT to link up with ASUU and get NITDA to give its final approval for the deploy­ment of UTAS for payment of their salaries and work out ways to deploy the system which the union said will be domiciled at the National Uni­versities Commission (NUC).

ASUU President, Prof. Vic­tor Emmanuel Osodeke, said the issues in contention start­ed with the 2009 agreement whose implementation did not start until 2013 when former President Jonathan convened a 14 hours meeting where an agreement was reached on modalities for implementation of the agreements.

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He said it was agreed that the government make available the sum of N1.2 trillion over six years at an annual rate of N200 billion for the revitalisation of the university sector, adding that it was followed with an immediate release of N200 mil­lion, while another N20 million was released in 2017.

According to him, the gov­ernment has failed to make any further release of the fund since then, adding that it was agreed in December 2020 that government will make avail­able the sum of N30 billion in January 2021 as part of one tranche while the balance of the tranche will be released at a later date.

He said, “That money was to be paid in January. This is No­vember and we are yet to see the money 11 months after and the meeting which was to be set up to work out the payment plan of the balance of N190 billion has not been set up.”

He also said the issue of earned academic allowance of the lecturers has also been lingering with the government failing to pay the N22.1 billion it owes them, adding that the controversy about sharing for­mula with other unions in the universities does not arise.

“The Ministry of Finance is not supposed to discuss sharing formula of earned academic al­lowance because it belongs to us. It was earned and it is only for our members. So, the issue of sharing does not even arise.

“The normal procedure is that for every one academic staff, you have one none aca­demic staff. But in several uni­versities, the reverse is the case. For example, in University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the average academic staff is 3000. But they have close to 8,000 nonacademic staff.

“National Salaries Incomes and Wages Commission has re­moved most of our allowances in collaboration with IPPIS and I can tell you that we have some of our members that have not been paid for close to 17 months, while in their report, they ad­mitted that some people got double payment.

“Another issue is that of proliferation of state univer­sities. The states are creating more universities when they have not been able to fund the available ones. Abia has just created three and Delta State has also created three. We agreed that the NUC should up the standard of accreditation so that when you create one, you should be able to fund it.

“Working with the NUC, we worked out the standard and a bill is to be prepared and sent to the National Assembly to up the standard for the establishment of universities,” ASUU said.

Also speaking, Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, said the ministry was in agreement with the presentation of the union, but stressed that there was no need for them to go on another strike since the government was do­ing everything possible to im­plement the agreement.

Minister of Finance, Zain­ab Ahmed, disclosed that the ministry only work on payment advice from the Education Min­istry, adding that they have relieved such advice from the ministry, noting that they are working out the payment of an additional N10 billion in ad­dition to the N20 billion already released for the purpose of the revitalisation fund.

She expressed shock that some lecturers were being owed salaries of up to 17 months and asked the union to make a for­mal presentation saying, “We only have information from about four universities and we are working on that already”.

She assured that all payment to the union will be sorted out within the next one week, but was quick to add that the N22.1 billion earned allowance was part of the supplementary budget passed by the National Assembly which also included money for the health sector and payment of arrears of mini­mum wage.”

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