• Accuses Tinubu of nonchalance over education  • Says varsities operating illegally in last 1 year without governing council

 

From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has given the Federal Government two weeks to reconstitute the governing councils of the federal universities and also meet its other demands contained in the agreements they signed.

The said it would not guarantee industrial peace and harmony in the universities after the grace period if government fails to meet its demands

ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodoke, at a press conference, in Abuja, yesterday, said the decision was taken at the meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC), which ended in Abuja on Monday.

He said: “Imagine the level of illegalities and impunities going on in the universities. The vice chancellors are practically running the institutions like sole administrators. That’s an illegality that can only happen in Nigeria. Several decisions that ought to be reviewed and taken by the Council are being taken by the VCs with some of them claiming that they got approval from the Minister of Education.

“Sadly, despite the presidential directive early in the year, our members are still being paid through the IPPIS platform. This has inflicted unprecedented hardship on our members, and fraudulently distorted university operations. That’s against university autonomy.

“Similarly, the Federal Government recently adopted salary awards but we have consistently stated that salary awards are not a substitute for a negotiated agreement.”

He, however, said the decision to issue the two weeks ultimatum was to awaken the consciousness of the government to the challenges, insisting that the silence of the government in several issues highlighted was affecting the smooth running of the universities.

“A number of other issues on which ASUU has been engaging owners of public universities (federal and state governments) in the last one decade or so, are yet to be meaningfully addressed.

“These include the sanctity of legally constituted Governing Councils; review of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreements, revitalisation fund for public universities; earned academic allowances; and withheld salaries, promotion arrears, and third-party deductions of our members.

“The other issues are ongoing illegal recruitments in the system; proliferation of public universities/abuse of universities rules/processes, and inclusion in the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and new IPPIS vis-à-vis the autonomy of universities.

“In view of the critical review of the current state of affairs in our universities, and in our nation at the last ASUU NEC meeting, the Council condemned the seeming refusal of the federal and state governments to decisively address all outstanding issues with the union.

“NEC, thus, rejected all the ongoing illegalities and flagrant violation of university autonomy in public universities, as a result of non-reinstatement/reconstitution of the Governing Councils and decided to reconvene in two weeks from the date of the NEC meeting to review the situation, and take a decisive action to address the issues.”

Speaking earlier at a workshop on ‘Emerging Areas of Students Needs in Beneficiary Institutions’ organised by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) in Abuja, Osodeke argued that the absence of Governing Councils in the federal universities for almost a year means the institutions have been operating illegally within the period.

He noted that the Establishment Act of the universities stipulated that the Governing Councils must always be on ground to monitor academic and non-academic activities of the universities but unfortunately, there have not been Governing Councils for the federal universities in the last one year.

“Are we serious in this country at all? We are obviously not serious with our education system. Nigeria is the only country in the world where universities are allowed to function for one week without a Governing Council, which ought to monitor and control the activities and spending of the universities.

“Governing Councils of all the federal universities were dissolved about one year ago, though illegally, and nothing has been done about it nearly a year after. Universities function illegally if there’s no governing councils and that’s exactly what it means. Heads of the tertiary institutions practically operate solely without checks and balances, which is contrary to the Establishment Act of the universities.”

He challenged the government to quicken actions and constitute the governing councils.

He also decried the neglect of the education sector, saying Nigeria ranks lowest in education budgets in the West African sub-region and reiterated the union’s call for an upward review of education tax to 10 percent, insisting it would increase TETFund funding from the current N600 billion annually to N3 trillion.

“We have done a survey of West African countries. The least budgetary allocation to education by any country in West Africa is 15 percent. The highest is 32 percent.

“We are in a country where we give 4.5 to seven percent out of which less than 70 percent is released. But, the Awolowo government was allocating over 30 percent to education,” he said .

He singled out Enugu, Abia and Oyo states for earmarking more than 20 percent of their budgets to the sector.

Osodeke berated many universities’ vice chancellors for their failure to carry necessary stakeholders along in the utilisation of TetFund allocation to their schools.

“TETFund inviting us as stakeholders to this meeting is an example of how it should be.

“But, you remember that when you were allocating money to university VCs, we agreed that they would call stakeholders’ meetings before that money is utilised.

“We had our National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting some days ago, less than 10 percent had called for that stakeholders’ meeting.

“I want to plead that any university that does not take the stakeholders along should not be allowed to have access to the funds. The funds belong to the Nigerian people.”

In the same vein, the ASUU president suggested that the government should quickly consider an increase in education tax from the current three percent to, at least, 10 percent.

“A few years ago, former president, Muhammadu Buhari, took bold steps and approved the increase in education tax from two percent to three percent. That resulted in significant increase in funds available for disbursement to the tertiary institutions. TETFund revenue rose to over N600 billion last year.

“If President Tinubu is interested in fixing the education sector, he should increase the education tax to 10 percent. That will increase TETFund revenue to over N3 trillion, and that would solve all the problems in the education sector.

“Sadly, in this country, the rich pay little in tax while the poor are heavily taxed. For example, a company that wants to build infrastructure in a community may ask for a tax waiver from the government, and they may end up getting a five or 10 years tax waiver. But, a one year tax from that company will build that road.

“But, an average lecturer who earns N400,000 a month as salary pays tax of N75,000. How do you relate the two scenarios? In simple terms, the government can solve the challenge in the education sector if it is willing. We have done research/survey of education funding in West African countries, and discovered that the least budget of education in any West African country was 15 percent, and the highest was 32 percent.

“Sadly, Nigeria still struggles with 4.5 to 7 percent, some of which are not even released at the end of the day (cash backed). But, the government in the early years of independence of Nigeria was budgeting over 30 percent.

“In this year’s budget, Enugu, Abia and Oyo states allocated over 20 percent of their budget to the education sector, and I hope they implement it for the benefit of their people and Nigeria. I challenge other states to emulate them.”

Similarly, the President of Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) who was represented by former president, Anderson Ezeribe, challenged TETFund to start pushing for value for money.

“ASUP has been involved in activities that have taken our representatives across the country to look at equipment in the laboratories and others in the tertiary institutions, and the reports are not good.

“I want to join the ASUU President to stress the importance of TETFund to activate a platform that will ensure monitoring at institutional level. That’s one sure way of extracting value for money. It’s not about establishing intervention lines, but the impacts in the education sector.”