Varsity teachers remained adamant last night, saying their strike would go on, despite the government’s shifting of its position. The strike has been on for four months. More cash has been pledged for projects on the campuses. Besides, the earned allowances due to the teachers have been increased from the initial N30 billion offer, which the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) rejected. The teachers are insisting on the 2009 agreement, which they say President Goodluck Jonathan was part of. Besides, they say, they do not trust the government.
According to a circular by the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, Prof. Bolaji Aluko, to the staff of the school, quoted yesterday by the news website, Sahara Reporters, the government has pledged to spend N200 billion on the universities in the 2014 budget and the same amount annually for the next three to four years.
This is in addition to the N100 billion already made available this year, but which ASUU has rejected.
The government has also increased to N40 billion, as a first installment, funds for the payment of earned allowances to the striking lecturers – an improvement from the N30 billion previously released.
On the earned allowances, Aluko said: “Government will top it up with further releases once universities are through with the disbursement of this new figure of N40 million. So, Vice-Chancellors are urged to expedite this disbursement within the shortest possible time using guiding templates that have been sent by the CVC,” the circular said.
Aluko said the latest development followed meetings on September 19 and Oct 11 of representatives of the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, led by its Chairman, Prof. Hamisu of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) and ASUU representatives led by its President, Dr.Nasir Fagge, with Vice-President Namadi Sambo and Minister of Education Nyesome Wike.
A source in the Ministry of Education last night also confirmed that the meeting took place.
“But the government decided to leave the announcement of the decision to the ASUU chiefs,” the source said.
It was gathered that Sambo urged ASUU to call off the strike, as he apologised for the “take-it-or-leave-it” comments credited to Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the beginning of the strike. The Minister did not seem to have been involved in either meeting, perhaps as the government’s way of soothing the feelings of the university teachers.
Other points of agreement at the meetings include:
•Project Prioritisation: Universities will now be allowed to determine their priorities and not be “rail-roaded” into implementing a pre-determined set of projects with respect to the NEEDS assessment. Decisions are not to be centralized;
•TETFund Intervention: The government assured the teachers that the operations of the TETFund will not be impaired, and that the regular TETFund intervention disbursement to universities will continue, unaffected. So the NEEDS assessment capital outlays are in addition to regular TETFund intervention;
•Project Monitoring: A new Implementation Monitoring Committee (IMC) for the NEEDS Assessment intervention for universities has been set up to take over from the Suswam Committee. The new one is under the Federal Ministry of Education and chaired by the Minister of Education. In addition, to build confidence and ensure faithful implementation and prevent any relapse as before, the Vice President will meet quarterly with the implementors to monitor progress.
.Blueprint: ASUU was mandated to submit a blueprint for revitalising the universities to the Vice President.
Prof. Aluko stated that a signed document will soon be issued to itemise the full issues on which the consensus was reached.
But ASUU last night was unimpressed with the new offer. National Treasurer Dr. Ademola Aremu said the offer failed to meet the teachers’ expectations.
He said the offer falls short of the agreement signed with ASUU by the government.
Aremu insisted that ASUU would not end the strike until the 2009 agreement is fully implemented by injecting N500 billion into the universities yearly to shore up the system’s quality.
Aremu, who spoke to our correspondent on the telephone, said any offer below what is contained in the signed agreement, would amount to unilateral repudiation of an agreement the government willingly signed in 2009.
According to the unionist, ASUU is not making any new demand, but a mere implementation of an agreement. He pointed out that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by both parties in 2009 stated that the government would commit N1.5 trillion to the system in three years.
He said: “ Even if the Federal Government made that promise, it would be a unilateral repudiation of the 2009 agreement. By now, the government should have injected N500 billion. That amounts to N100 billion in 2012 and N400 billion in the current year.
“As a matter of fact, any new commitment from the Federal Government is belated. Implementation of the agreement ought to have started before this year. I don’t think there is any way we can trust this government, going by its past behaviour on this issue.
“The mandate from our principal as at the last time we met was that we won’t end the strike until the agreement is fully implemented.
“We do not need promises again. What we need now is actual implementation. What if they do not release the funds again after making the promise?
“It was this same Mr President that mid-wifed the agreement in 2009 when he was the Vice President. The MoU was in his custody. He studied the agreement well before asking then President Umaru Yar’Adua to sign it. We can’t trust this government.