The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have asked the Nigerian government to release N50 billion to demonstrate its commitment to the revitalisation of public universities, in line with previous agreements with their union.
The striking lecturers gave this as a condition for calling off its strike which began November 4 last year.
The N50 billion, the union said, will form the first tranche of the N220 billion government agreed for the project this year and add to the N20 billion earlier released for the year.
The President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, disclosed this in an exclusive interview on Wednesday night.
He said the union is not asking the government to release the whole N220 billion at once.
ASUU called the current strike to press for improved funding of universities and implementation of previous agreements with the government.
The union is also demanding 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 asked the government to release funds for the revitalisation of public universities, based on the FGN-ASUU MoU of 2012, 2013 and the MoA of 2017. The teachers are also angry over the failure of the government to release operational licence to the Nigerian University Employees Pension Company (NUPEMCO).
However, a major issue dragging the negotiations forth and back is the revitalisation of the universities. At present, the government is yet to release the N1.1 trillion it agreed to release as part of the funds for the revitalisation project.
The 2013 MoU stipulated that public universities need N1.3 trillion for a modest revitalisation. The fund was to be released in tranches of N200billion in 2013, N220billion 2014, N220billion 2015, 220billion in 2016, N220billion in 2017 and N220billion in 2018.
The previous government of Goodluck Jonathan released N200 billion in 2013 but since then nothing has been released.
At the seventh meeting of government with the leadership of ASUU January 8, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said the dispute with the teachers was on the verge of being resolved. He listed the fresh concessions made by the government to ASUU.
According to Mr Ngige, the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Ministry of Finance presented evidence that N15.4 billion had been released to public universities for payment of salary shortfall.
On earned academic allowances, he said President Muhammadu Buhari approved N20 billion to offset arrears of the 2009 to 2012 verified earnings by university teachers.
As part of the agreement reached between the union and the government before ASUU ended its industrial action in September 2017, the Federal Government had released N22.9 billion for earned allowances of both academic and non-academic staff across 22 Federal universities.
Of the amount, ASUU members got N18.3billion, while non-teaching staff in 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, led to pockets of protests on various campuses at the time, and eventually led to the unions embarking on a long strike.
Apparently, 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 less than N18.3 billion it received then.
We reported how the union said it will communicate its decision on the offers made to it by the federal government on January 16.
The union also urged the government to show concrete evidence of commitment to agreements on meeting its demands.
But in an exclusive interview on Wednesday night, ASUU President, Mr Ogunyemi, said if the government can mainstream the union’s demands especially on earned allowances in the 2019 budget, the union will not need to come back for negotiation in 2020.
“Government promised to mainstream academic allowance in 2017, starting from the 2018 budget but it was not done. If the government is promising it again, what steps have they taken, can we have evidence? Once beaten, twice shy.”
Mr Ogunyemi said the federal government can spread the N220 billion for revitalisation of universities across four quarters.
“In which case, the N50 billion they will release now, if you add to what they released, N20 billion for last year, we would have 150 billion left for the rest of the year and that has been spread over the next three quarters.
“That’s what we’ve been saying as our minimalist position,” he said.
On the shortfall in salaries, he said: “Government promised to release the shortfall in salaries by January 18th, that’s two days away. Let’s wait and confirm that they’ve released it. We told them to also address the case of two or three universities that were omitted,” he said.
Mr Ogunyemi said the union has submitted its suggestions and may be meeting with the government next week. “But we’re waiting for their confirmation,” he said.