The fate of undergraduates and admission seekers into public universities may continue to hang as the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, yesterday, vowed to continue the nine-week-old strike.
Speaking with SUNDAY VANGUARD, ASUU National President, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, said universities lecturers had rejected the Federal Government offer of money to end the strike because it was far from their demands.
He confirmed that the Federal Government had, last Tuesday, through the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Ministry of Finance presented to the union the evidence of the payment of N15.4 billion to universities.
Ogunyemi on telephone told Vanguard that after due consultations with its executives across the country, they have resolved to continue the ongoing strike until the Federal Governments pays at least N220 billion out of N1.1 trillion it owed the public universities.
According to him, the union leadership during their last meeting warned government representatives that ASUU members were not likely to accept those figures, adding that they insisted we should go and inform them first.
He said: “We agreed to go back to our members in order to show to them that we are a difficult union.
We will communicate our position to the Federal Government this week, if our demands are met, we will call off the strike.
“We have shifted ground from N1.1 trillion to N220 billion that will cover for three quarters in 2019.”
You will recall that during the meeting between the Federal Government and ASUU on Tuesday in Abuja, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige who believed the federal government offer of N15.4 billion would be acceptable by the Union said: “ ASUU is at the verge of calling of the strike.”
Ngige explained that besides the N15.4 billion for public universities, the Federal Government had also approved N20 billion to offset teachers arrears on earned academic allowances from 2009 to 2012.
However, in his conversation with Vanguard reiterated that the union was ready to call off the strike next week if the federal government paid the N220 billion.
Asked if the union was ready to shift grounds from the N220 billion, he maintained: “We have already shifted ground. “We presented five tranches payment to the federal government. If we made request for five tranches of N1.1 trillion and they are not ready to give one, that shows they are the ones not ready to shift grounds.
“For the earned allowances of the teachers, we have shifted grounds. What we were asking for was the payment for the balance, based on the forensic audit reports of government. Now they are proposing to pay in four installments. “What they agreed to pay initially was a token and our members are saying they have gone beyond a tokenism.These are the issues that are critical to the situation.
Asked his take on the impact of the strike on February elections, Ogunyemi said: “ASUU strike has nothing to do with the February elections. We have being on these issues since 2016, it’s not something new. Government is aware of the Memorandum of Understanding it signed with us since 2016, therefore nobody should come and say in 2018 that we are after the elections. We want people to know that our position has nothing to do with election. We have always draw a line between ASUU struggle and elections.
“If they know they are banking on students to use for election, then let them do what they ought to do. If they do what we asked them to do, our member can take decision this coming week and the matter would be resolved.
“They should not tie our resumption to their elections because they saw it coming. We have been serving our notice since 2016. In 2017, when we came back, we gave ourselves six months and nothing happened. For somebody to turn round now to say that we targeted their election, no.
“We have been having meetings with the organs of the union and even people from government side have spoken with us and we have told them the minimum. For five tranches, we are saying let them release one tranche so that the one tranche could be spread over one year, over four quarters in 2019. That is fair enough.
For some public universities who are at the verge of boycotting ASUU strike, Ogunyemi said: “We know that there are some moves by government agents at federal and state levels to break our ranks. But our members are getting back to us and to a large extent now, our members are resolute. “Yes, there are some overzealous chancellors and administrators in one or two universities who are trying to brake these ranks. However, on the scale of balance, they are not having their ways. On the way of handling the default institutions, he said, “Our union shall handle that.”
You will recall that as part of the agreement reached between the union and the government before ASUU ended its industrial action in September 2017, the Federal Government released a total N22.9 billion for earned allowances of both academic and non-academic staff across 22 Federal universities.
Of the amount, academics under ASUU got N18.3billion, while non-teaching staff belonging to the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian University (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) got N4.6 billion.
The sharing formula, which was condemned by the three non-academic staff unions, had led to pockets of protests across various campuses at the time, and eventually compelled the unions to embark on prolonged strike.
However to avoid the controversy that greeted the sharing of the allowance in 2017, ASUU is insisting that the Federal Government should categorically state the amount earmarked for its members, which it said must not be lesser than N18.3 billion it received then.
November 4,2018 ASUU commenced the industrial action to demand the improved funding of universities and implementation of previous agreements entered with the government.
Some of the demands as contained in the ASUU’s list of grievances, include the implementation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreements, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU; 2012 and 2013) and Memorandum of Action (MoA, 2017) and the truncation of the renegotiation of the union’s agreements.
The union said its ongoing strike is aimed at compelling the government to make funds available for the revitalisation of public universities based on the FGN-ASUU MoU of 2012, 2013 and the MoA of 2017, and that the operational license of the Nigerian University Employees Pension Company (NUPEMCO) should be released.
The unions also asked for the release of the forensic audit report on Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), payments of all outstanding earned academic allowances and the mainstreaming of same into the 2019 budget.
The lecturers also demanded the payment of all arrears of shortfall in salaries to all universities that have met the verification requirements of the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA).
The 2013 MoU stipulated that public universities needed N1.3 trillion for a modest revitalisation. The fund was to be paid in tranches of N200billion in 2013, N220billion in 2014, N220billion in 2015, 220billion in 2016, N220billion in 2017 and N220billion in 2018.