BEVERLY HILLS, October 16, (THEWILL) – The resolution of the lingering crisis between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities appears to be in sight, at last. ASUU has been on strike since February 2020, a month before the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed across the country. A meeting between ASUU leadership and Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, Monday, had initially, failed to resolve the lingering crisis.
However, Lawan was able to arrange another meeting, Tuesday, October 13, 2020, between the ASUU leadership and the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Chris Ngige, for the consideration of the contentious issues, mainly the payment system for university lecturers. Already, something positive appears to be coming out of the Tuesday meeting.
“We are subjecting the University Transparency Account System (UTAS) to integrity test today in the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, with the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning in attendance. We will not mind accepting it if we see it as more robust because it is more of local content,” Ngige was quoted as saying after the meeting.
An earlier meeting between ASUU and the Minister had failed despite all assurances by the Minister. Ngige, just before the commencement of the meeting, had assured that the controversial issues would be settled once and for all.
Giving a ray of hope at the negotiation last week, Ngige had said: “The President has directed me to pass the night here until all issues that have kept our children away from school are resolved and strike called off.
“He has also directed me to impress upon you, the imperative of little sacrifice from all sides, knowing full well that the revenue of the federation has dwindled from what it was before the present administration assumed office.”
According to the Minister, “The President told me to assure you of his determination to reposition our universities as he would do everything possible to cast the present challenges in our tertiary education to the dustbin of history.”
However, nothing much was achieved at the end of the meeting as the university lecturers refused to bow to the controversial Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System, which the Federal Government insisted they must sign on to before receiving any salary.
President Buhari has reinstated the need for all federal civil servants in the country to enroll in the IPPS as condition for salary payment while presenting the 2021 budget proposals to the National Assembly, penultimate Thursday.
However, the university teachers would not be coerced into signing on to the IPPS, insisting that they are not civil servants and, as such, not affected by the president’s directive. ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, maintained that his members already had an agreement with the Federal Government on this knotty issue.
“The directive was meant for civil servants; university academics are not civil servants.
We have an understanding with the government to develop an alternative platform that would be sensitive to the operations of the university and accommodate its peculiarities.
“The platform we are developing will also respect the autonomy of our universities as obtained globally. The idea of seeking clearance from the Head of Service or the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation is alien to university operations because it will halt its flexibility.
“The University Miscellaneous (Provisions) (Amendment) Act (2003), which government gazetted as University Autonomy Act (2007), has vested the powers of personnel and payroll system issues in the hands of each university’s governing council,” the ASUU president maintained.
He also added: “We have since done that and presented to the Federal Ministry of Education. What is left is to present to other major stakeholders, particularly in the Ministry of Finance, Budget, and National Planning.
“The development of UTAS was done at no cost to the government. We used contributions from the check-off deductions of ASUU members to finance the project and this cost us millions of naira.”
Apparently, this is where the negotiations got stalled and a position the lecturers presented to the Senate President as part of their consultation with stakeholders on the strike. The Senate President, who had expressed great optimism of resolving the tango, couldn’t hold back his disgust as he came out openly to warn the Federal Government to stop entering into agreements it cannot keep.
Lawan, just before his meeting with ASUU, had said: “Both Government and ASUU must find a common ground. We cannot afford to continue in this kind of crisis. This is why our children are forced to go to neighbouring countries like Ghana to school. What about those who can’t afford to send their children out of the country?
“ASUU must be ready to shift ground. It is supposed to be a give-and-take. ASUU cannot get everything it is demanding from the government”, even as he noted that he was sure that some of the agreements signed earlier must have been overtaken by events.
According to Lawan, “I am sure ASUU is prepared halfway to meet the government to resolve the crisis for good.”
However, with the latest developments, ASUU has declared that the strike continues, thus dashing all the hope of public University students returning to their campuses after eight months of staying at home. ASUU also disclosed that the Federal Government had stopped payment of salaries to its members, saying the government was owning the lecturers no fewer than three months salaries.
Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, had added insult to the injury when he told the striking lecturers that they should go and farm if they were hungry because of non-payment of their salaries. The lecturers however fired back, telling the Minister off out rightly, saying he could go ahead and reopen the schools but their strike continues.
THEWILL totally condemns the initial standoff between the lecturers and the Federal Government as we call for a shift of grounds on both sides just as the Senate President had earlier advised. We also commend the Senate President, for his magnanimity and boldness in saying the truth to the authorities. Lawan has also displayed uncommon exemplary leadership by initiating the last meeting between the two parties, where the Federal Government finally agreed that it wouldn’t mind considering the UTAS payment system ASUU initiated if it passes the integrity test.
THEWILL, however, condemns the apparent insensitivity of some public officials, who just talk without weighing the implications on the crisis at hand.
We feel for, not only the students of the public universities, but their parents as well as the students have been at home for eight straight months. The implications of this perennial disruption on the university calendar in the country are not only being felt in the quality of graduates being churned out every year but also in the loss of confidence in the country’s public university system.
Moreover, the agitations of the lecturers are legitimate and not in any way selfish as they, as the major stakeholders, really know where it pinches, especially in the areas of their welfare and infrastructure development of the public universities in Nigeria.
We therefore appeal for the quick resolution of the crisis in order not to jeopardise the future of our youth as we call on President Buhari to call his men to order by honouring agreements entered into with the university lecturers.
Public officers who want to be arrogant and “playing god” definitely have no space in present day Nigeria. We’ve had enough of our children staying idle at home and now is the time for them to go back to school.