Call off the strike, we’re ready to pay you the allowances
By SAM OTTI
The Federal Government recently approved N30 billion to assist various Governing Councils of Federal Universities to defray the arrears of N92 billion, said to be owed all categories of staff in the university system.
This is in addition to the N100 billion voted for infrastructural development in the 62 Federal universities.
But the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) rejected the offer, saying ‘it would not grab the crumb.’ In this interview with Education Review, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, Nigeria’s former Minister of Works, under President Olusegun Obasanjo civilian administration and Pro-Chancellor, and Chairman, Governing Council, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), advises the aggrieved lecturers to accept the offer and return to their Councils for the implementation. In his view, the Federal Government has demonstrated sufficient commitment to ending the 10-week strike that has turned public universities into ghost communities. Excerpts:
As a father and also the Chairman, Governing Council, FUNAAB, how do you feel seeing so many students out of school because of the ongoing ASUU strike?
Let us feel for these children because our own children are abroad schooling. Most of these people you are talking about, their children are not in our universities. The children of the masses are suffering.
How much do they pay as school fees? It is about $100, the highest you can pay in a federal university is N14,000 per session. So, as far as I am concerned, we must revisit this matter and go and fight at the level of each university. Fighting at Abuja, to me, is futile. They cannot get anything there. Assuming the government releases all the money they are demanding, where do they go to? Are they going to collect the money in Abuja? Where will they go? I am appealing, as the Pro Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) fought a good fight. Let them go back and iron out the nitty-gritty of the disbursement of the amount of money released. Based on the following criteria, the 92 billion was arrived at as the 15 per cent of the total emolument of federal universities, which is an estimate but allowances are not the same for all categories of staff.
Now that the Federal Government has approved N30 billion out of the N92 billion demanded by ASUU, can the councils source out the outstanding allowances? Do the councils have the financial backbone to pay these allowances?
It is the university that will determine the allowances accruing to each staff, not the federal government. So, the Federal Government has given FUNAAB now about N1billion to pay all the allowances for all the staff. We are appealing to all the staff to sit down with the management of the university and determine how far this amount of money can go in payment of the outstanding arrears. Let us know the shortfall. In some universities, there will be no shortfall.
This money will be more than what everybody is thinking about because there is nobody that can specifically say it is this exact amount. It is not a percentage of the salary. It depends on the type of job one is doing in the university. And allowances are not the same. So you cannot equate it by saying 15 per cent of total emolument. Let them have confidence in the government and go back, sit down and let each university calculate the allowances that are accruing to the staff in the university.
Also, the federal government has given us money for infrastructural development. In FUNAAB, we got N800m and they indicated the project that we should spend the money on. And they gave money to state universities too. Every state university was given money for infrastructural development. Even if the Federal Government gives the universities the N400 billion being demanded by ASUU, the capacity to spend this money is not there.
There is a Procurement Act, there is a process, a procedure you have to adopt to be able to spend the money. It is not that the government gives out the money and universities spend it arbitrarily. There are procedures. Let us see how far the money they have approved will go before continuing with the battle. That’s my own opinion.
Part of the demands made by ASUU was addressing the infrastructure deficit in universities. Would this money allotted to individual universities address this major challenge?
It will not. There is no way, in demand and supply, that any amount will be enough in any nation all over the world. But they have given N100 billion to all public universities. I will show you a letter now. They gave Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) the sum of N800m and they specified the area the money would be spent on. In the next six months, I cannot finish spending this money. I cannot just give the money to the contractor.
It has to follow due process. That will take us to the end of the year, then, they will give us another N100 0r N200 billion next year. We begin the process again. The procurement act does not allow, even if they give N1 trillion to each university today, the process of spending the money is cumbersome. We will not be able to start spending the money even in another six months. So, it is not that there is money, start tomorrow to build new hostels, renovate laboratories. No, you have to follow due process.
ASUU members said they will not call off the strike unless the FG implements the 2009 Agreement. Do you think the government would accede to this request?
The government is implementing it. Even if the government gives the universities all the money today, universities will not be able to start the implementation till another three months. If they release all the N400 billion demanded for infrastructure today, we cannot spend a kobo from there in another three months. There is a process. You must design. You must quantify.
You must advertise. You must do environmental impact analysis. Contractors must bid and so on. The process is not done in one day. So, ASUU should not pretend before the public that if the government releases the N400 billion, all the universities will become okay. It doesn’t work that way. Yes, they have done well by attracting the attention of the public to this issue. Government has responded. Let us see how far we can go in another six months.
If there is need, they can continue the fighting. It is the children that we are fighting for that are at the losing end, not the lecturers, not the workers. University exists for the students.
The students are the ones suffering most. No matter how long ASUU members stay at home, they still get their salaries. But, these children can lose a whole year of their academic life because of the strike. ASUU members should look at themselves as parents too and let us continue the struggle while we implement together the amount of money given to us. We can tell them later that the money is not enough because we have implemented it.
It seems ASUU members are not comfortable returning to the Governing Council of their respective universities for negotiation. What could be the possible reason why they wouldn’t want to relate with the council?
It is because the Governing Council is their employer. To me, they have no business with the Federal Government. When they are about getting promotion, will they go to the Federal Government? If they want to become professors, is it the federal government that will make them professors.
Who is their employer? Who gave them letters of employment? During the initial negotiation between the ASUU and the federal government team, the government did not carry along members of the Governing Council. Instead, they constituted a federal government committee. They should have contacted the council. We are the people that know what each of the universities needs.
There is a law that established each university. There is no university that hasn’t gotten any law. The law specifies how to run the university. Three years ago, they passed Autonomy Act. It stated that anything that does not conform to the Act that established the university should be ignored.
That each university is autonomous. It is this same ASUU that said if you want a Vice Chancellor, it should be the Governing Council, not the Federal Government. That is what is operating now. There is no external interference now. This same Council that they are talking about appoints Vice Chancellors, not the federal government. So, what are we talking about?