Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities have given the Federal Government certain conditions to be met before the union could call off its four-month old strike.
Part of this condition, Saturday PUNCH learnt, is that all federal parastatals in charge of fund, labour, and education must sign the agreement purportedly reached between its leadership and the Federal Government on Tuesday.
A prominent member of the union, who craved anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on behalf of the union, told Saturday PUNCH that doing this would give the association the confidence that “the Federal Government knows what it is doing when it signed the agreement.”
He said, “I must tell you that our mandate remains. The only mandate we have is that 2009 agreement must be met. We have not reached any agreement with the Federal Government.
“Since the Federal Government wants to be releasing N220bn every year for five years, then all monetary and regulatory agencies must sign. The Central Bank of Nigeria, Ministries of Finance and Labour, National Assembly, Office of the Presidency, National Universities Commission, Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Trade Union Congress and our umbrella body, the Nigeria Labour Congress, must sign with consequences stated.
“The reason we will ensure this is that we don’t want argument tomorrow that the agreement was entered in error or that they don’t know the implication of signing the agreement. If possible, documents that will provide for automatic deduction of the agreed money at a particular/agreed date must be provided.”
The leadership of the union had engaged in a 13-hour marathon meeting with government delegation led by President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja between Monday and Tuesday.
Though it was generally perceived that both ASUU and the Federal Government achieved breakthrough in negotiation for the first time after the lengthy meeting with the President, Saturday PUNCH learnt that the lecturers might not be in a hurry to go back to class.
Another source close to ASUU who was also part of the marathon meeting with the President in Abuja, said there was nothing new in what the President promised members of the union.
According to him, government had always failed in implementing agreements reached with ASUU. He said, “Truly the President sat down for more than 13 hours with us. He told us that we were not leaving the venue until the issues were resolved. The Federal Government also promised to inject funds into the system, but a promissory note is not enough.
“Where would the money come from? There is no assurance that government will provide money especially with the mop-up policy in place that ensures that unspent money is refunded to government’s coffers at the end of every year.’’
Asked when the lecturers would call off the strike, he said, “I doubt if the strike is ending soon. The problem is with the Finance Minister. Where is government getting N1trn from? A government that could not implement agreement between 2009 and 2013, what is the guarantee that they would honour this agreement.
“It is all politics. We are still awaiting directives from our branches. We have told them the outcome of the meeting with the President but we are waiting for them to tell us what they think of government’s proposal.
“Imagine the Minister of Education has travelled out of the country.
He was appointed Vice President for UNESCO General Assembly. How can he travel out of the country without resolving the crisis in the education sector?’’
He said the Federal Government should spend the trillions of dollars in its Sovereign Wealth Fund to finance university education and improve infrastructure in the country.
A key component of the agreement reached by both ASUU and the Federal Government was that government would inject N1.1trn into public universities in the next five years. Government is expected to inject N220bn yearly into the public university sector beginning from 2014. But government said it could only release N100bn this year, noting that the amount had already been processed.
The Federal Government also indicated that the N1.1trn would be domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria to show its commitment to the agreement. The money is expected to be released on quarterly basis to the universities so that there won’t be any problem about funding the deal.
The National Universities Commission and the Trade Union Congress will be the joint guarantors of the agreement while the Minister of Education will be the implementing officer. Government, according to sources at the meeting, also agreed to revamp public universities by ensuring that all the issues that always lead to strike are dealt with once and for all.
Asked to confirm if lecturers were planning to call off their strike, ASUU Chairman, University of Calabar branch, Dr. James Okpiliya, said the local chapter was yet to get formal briefing on the meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan.
He, however, said the union would make its position known to the press on the President’s offer after the end of a meeting scheduled for mid-night Thursday.
Also, Chairman of ASUU in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof. Adegbola Akinola, said that members must be properly briefed on the resolution between the Federal Government and representatives of ASUU in the last marathon meeting.
He said the only condition that could make its members accept any offer would be the provision of necessary documents.
He said, “The NEC meeting may not hold now. It is the local congress that is expected to hold first which is either tomorrow or Monday.
“Our members are not yet briefed about the details, so it is when we meet that we will know the details and then discuss whether what we got is sufficient enough to justify our action or demand.
“I can’t really pre-empt the mind of other members. But if we are to accept any offer, there must be document to back that up. We need to obtain documents on that. Maybe if there is a document, people may look at it critically.”
However, the Federal Government said it would include the N1.1trn promised ASUU in the education budget starting from next year. It also said it was waiting for the union to know the next step to take.
The Director, Press and Public Relations of the Ministry of Education, Mr. Olu Lipide, told one of our correspondents on Thursday that government was waiting for ASUU to take the necessary steps.
Meanwhile, the Dean of Social Sciences, University of Lagos, Prof. Omololu Soyombo, has said that the general ASUU body must agree before the strike could be called off.
He said, “It is difficult to believe the President but we give him the benefit of doubt.
We believe that the President is noble, the ASUU president promised to give him a feedback. If this had been done earlier, the strike wouldn’t have extended for so long.”
Corroborating his view, the Chairman, Lagos State University, ASUU, Dr. Jamiu Oluwatoki said, “It won’t be long again. By next week there should be a NEC meeting and subsequently the congress meetings before the president can call off the strike...'';