In the eyes of an undergraduate who has lost 60 days of his academic calendar due to the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), N130bn is a lot of money. To the parents of such a student, N130bn should be enough to settle whatever grievances ASUU has. So why then has ASUU refused to put an end to the strike despite Federal Government’s disbursement of N130bn? In this report, Vanguard Learning seeks answers to these questions, and delves into the root causes of the ASUU strike.
The Federal Government recently asked striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to get back to their classrooms and resume work while all contending issues are being resolved as it had disbursed N130 billion to their governing councils.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim in Abuja ordered the striking lecturers to return to their duty posts saying that the Federal Government has “shown enough commitment to ending the strike but that the lecturers are being inconsiderate with their demands.”
The 2009 Agreement/2012 MoU
For the lecturers, the word “demand” might not be the appropriate term for this situation. The National treasurer of the union, Dr. Ademola Aremu, while speaking to newsmen recently said: “When we come for negotiations, each side comes with their own charter of demands. That is what both ASUU and the Federal Government did. For two years, we were negotiating, until we came to a middle ground and arrived at the agreement. The agreement was not our original demand, but as a result of compromise on both sides.”
In 2001, the FG entered into an agreement with ASUU aimed at resuscitating the university system in Nigeria and saving the system from total collapse. The agreement provides for re-negotiation every three years for impact assessment and its implementation.
The agreement was due for re-negotiation in 2004 but government reneged and it didn’t take place until 2007 and lasted more than two years to produce the 2009 agreement, which was freely entered into by ASUU and government. Out of the 10 issues agreed on in 2009, two have been implemented. Of the eight remaining issues, none has caused more ruckus than the funding requirements for the revitalisation of Nigerian universities as well as the payment of Earned Allowances.
The 2009 Agreement stated that funding requirement provides that all federal universities would require a sum total of N1.5 trillion spread over three years (2009-2011) to address rot and decay in the universities. Three years lapsed without any action in this direction. However, in the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Union and the Government in 2012, the Federal Government decided to extend the gesture to include both federal and state universities.
Instead of N1.5 trillion, the government would infuse a total of N1.3 trillion into the universities over four years. In an open letter to ASUU, the permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, relayed the details of the MoU signed by the Secretary to the Government, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, as well as the Minister of Education, and the Minister of Labour and Productivity.
It read; “Government reaffirms its commitment to the revitalisation of Nigerian universities through budgetary and non-budgetary sources of funds. Government will immediately stimulate the process with the sum of N100 bn and build this up to a yearly sum of N400bn in the next three years.” The ASUU Chairman, Dr. Isa Faggae said; “By our own estimation, the MoU should have fetched the Nigerian public universities a total of N500bn now if Government were to faithfully implement the understanding reached with ASUU in 2012. A continuation of that process would have yielded a revitalisation fund of N1.3 trillion by the year 2015.”
In spite of this, ASUU reported that at the first meeting called by the Government after the July 1, 2013 strike commenced, the SGF denied the existence of the MoU on the annual release of N400bn for three years as intervention for public universities.
Scope of FG’s 130bn disbursal, and the Needs Assessment report
It would be easier to understand the scope of the Federal Government’s N130bn disbursal if it is segmented into two: N30bn for the payment of earned allowances to lecturers and N100bn for the revitalisation of the universities.
Speaking to the Press on earned allowances recently, the SGF said; “Traditionally, universities pay this to deserving staff but because of the amount which ASUU now claims as arrears, government has decided to assist the university councils to pay as government did not receive any computation of amount involved until February 2013. By this computation, ASUU is claiming N92 billion as arrears for three year’s payment based on percentage range of between 15 and 20 per cent of personnel cost.”
The ASUU chairman, speaking on the issue of earned allowances said; “Government has declared that it will not pay university academics their earned allowances which have accumulated from 2009 to 2013. Rather, it is talking about providing N30bn to assist various Governing Councils of federal universities to defray the arrears of N92 bn owed to all categories of staff in the university system.”
Continuing, he said: “ASUU team was particularly amused that government believed that what our members are looking for is just money to spend. Why else would government, through the Minister of Finance dangle N30bn as if it was a dole out when, in fact, that amount of money was unrelated to the agreement and the work of the implementation committee. Our members have earned their allowances by working for them. They are not begging the government for crumbs. They are owed by the Nigerian government and they deserve to be paid. Government officials are collecting much more from our economy than they are contributing to it.”
The ASUU President’s claims do not seem farfetched. Reports say that 109 senators put together earn about N19.6 billion a year, while N51.8 billion is spent on members of the House of Representatives for the same period, with a total cost of N71.4 billion. N71.4bn is about 17.8 per cent of the N400bn yearly intervention fund recommended by the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian universities.
Faggae opined; “All the Government is gloating over now is N100 bn which is nowhere near the scientifically arrived congruent sums in the 2009 agreement, the 2012 MoU and the 2013 Technical Report on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities.”
The union is also worried that government plans to divert the yearly allocations to universities by TETfund to make at least 70 per cent of the N100bn. The ASUU Chairman said; “This is unacceptable to ASUU; it is like robbing Peter to pay Paul, since the idea of revitalisation took cognizance of the intervention role of ASUU ab initio.”
Beyond the payment of earned allowances and the funding requirements for the revitalisation of Nigerian universities, other issues include: Federal Government assistance to state universities, establishment of NUPEMCO, Progressive increase in Annual Budgetary Allocation to education to 26 per cent between 2009 and 2020; transfer of government landed property to universities etc.