Stuck to Their Guns

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Ruqayyatu Rufai, minister of education

In spite of the hopes raised by the federal government, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities are not in a hurry to call off their seven-week industrial action

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Sep. 9, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

HOPES that the seven week-old indefinite strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, will end soon are fast fading. There are palpable indications that the lecturers are not ready to shift grounds. The union on August 26 rejected the N130 billion the federal government released into the university system, as part of efforts to persuade ASUU to call off the strike. The lecturers insisted that they will only return to the classrooms whenever the federal government implements the agreement it entered into with the body in 2009.

Nasir Isa Fagge, ASUU president, in a letter to the head of the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy, NEEDS Assessment, and Gabriel Suswan, Benue State governor, insisted that based on the 2009 ASUU and federal government agreement and the January 2012 Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, signed by both parties, what was due for 2012 and 2013 was N500 billion, not N100 billion.

The letter read: “We observe that the Committee is so far mentioning only N100 billion. If the implementation is to be related to the funding requirements in the 2009 ASUU/FGN agreement and the Jan 2012 MoU, what is due for 2012 and 2013 is N500 billion not N100 billion. Only the provision of this sum will meet the immediate needs of the universities. Our Union is very apprehensive of the manner in which the sources of the initial N100 billion to be used for the stimulation of the process are shrouded in secrecy. We believe that monies that already belong to the university system should not be blocked and recycled. This will not only be counter-productive but will brew even deeper crises in the system. ASUU will not accept this.

Fagge
Fagge

“We are also concerned that a clear procedure or process for assessing the funds by the universities is yet to be defined. This concern is even more germane given the statement of the Chairman of the Committee (during the last meeting on Monday, August 19, 2013) that the committee is taking some documents to the Due Process Office. We hasten to add that while due process must be followed, it is the sole responsibility of the benefitting universities to respect all the provisions of the Procurement Act. The meaning of your Committee going to the Due Process Office is that it is the one that will be responsible for awarding contracts. We want to make it clear that this will never be acceptable to our Union. We believe that monies meant to fund projects in universities should be sent to the universities just as it is the practice with the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFund,” he said.

The union condemned the allocation of the construction of 2,500 bed space hostel for N1billion, instead of 3,000 bed space for N1.2 billion. “We are worried that instead of allocating N1.2 billion each to construct 3,000 bed space hostels to the 10 Category 1 universities, N1.0 billion for 2,500 bed space hostel to the 16 Category 2 universities, N500 million to construct 1,250 bed space hostels in the 12 Category 3 universities and N250 million each to construct 625 bed space hostels in the 13 Category 4 universities, the secretariat has changed that to constructing 1,400 bed space hostels in 25 universities at the cost of N2 billion each. We see no rationale in this. Expending N50 billion to construct 35,000 bed space hostels across 25 universities will be ridiculously scandalous since the same amount can be used to construct 125,000 bed space hostels across 51 universities. The standard cost of building a bed space ranges from N200,000.00 to a maximum of N400,000.00. This is even more worrisome given the tangential suggestions made by the chairman that only monies for refurbishment will be sent to universities while the rest will be handled centrally.”

The union also condemned the exclusion of 22 universities from the allocation for the refurbishment of laboratories and libraries and three universities from the allocation for the refurbishment of lecture theatres and lecture rooms. According to ASUU, 24 universities are denied allocation for the construction of libraries and laboratories, while two are denied allocation for the construction of new lecture theatres and lecture rooms. Again, 26 universities are denied allocation for the construction of hostels.

This impasse has made some civil society groups and students’ organisations in Edo State to stage a protest march on August 27 against the prolonged impasse in the negotiation between the federal government and the striking members of ASUU. The angry groups included the Concerned Nigerian Students; Coalition of Edo Youths Organisation; Edo Youth Congress; Edo State Students; Comrade Across the Nation; South-South Youth League; and Edo Youth for Good Government.

Suswam
Suswam

Kashetu Ilavbare, former ASUU chairman, University of Benin chapter, said the presence of some of the ASUU members in the midst of the protesters was to guide them, so that they would not take the laws into their hands. “We don’t have anything to do with them; but we got information that they were on the road, so we came to guide them so that they will not destroy anything and it peaceful. You can see they are rational people. There is need for infrastructure both in the schools and outside, so that is why we are trying to ensure they don’t go on the rampage,” he said.

The protesters in a statement read by Omobude Agho, one of the conveners, called on patriotic Nigerians to support the action and to enlighten parents and others on why they were agitating. “Investigations have shown that the issues at stake are far and above the demand for higher wages. ASUU has resumed its strike because the Federal Government of Nigeria has failed to honour the agreement that it entered into with ASUU in 2009. This agreement provided for government funding of quality higher education for Nigerians. Provision of teaching and learning facilities, laboratory equipment for science students and research grants, payment of earned allowances, retirement age and progressive increase up to 26 percent in the annual budgetary allocation to the educational sector which is the UN standard. ASUU has used all alternatives possible in labour relations: lobbying, negotiations, letters, warning strikes, begging, press releases and conferences. However, government has refused to honour the agreement that it willingly signed with ASUU,” he said.

The National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, also plans to hold a nation-wide protest as a last resort to force the federal government and the ASUU, to end the protracted strike of university lecturers. Yinka Gbadebo, NANS president, said the union had been employing other mature approaches to appeal to both the government and ASUU. “The NANS is not relaxed but we have decided to take approaches that don’t require us to make noise. We have been meeting with executive members of ASUU, the Nigerian Universities Commission, minister of education and the FG. We have also written to meet with the universities NEEDS Implementation Committee chairman and Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswan. If we don’t receive any response by the end of the week, we would issue an ultimatum and take it up from there. I have been consulting with all SUG leaders in the affected schools so that we would speak with one voice. Going to the streets would be our last option but we would do so to protest how long this strike has lingered,” he said.

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