As things stand, indicators from abiding indices show that save something is done posthaste by the federal government, all the nation’s tertiary institutions – universities as well as polytechnics – may close down following strike actions being threatened by their academic staff unions. Earlier we did warn of a slow build up to this scenario on account of veiled threats by some of these unions but apparently, both or either of the parties to the adumbrated showdown never bothered to do anything to prevent it.
Yes, since our last expose, both the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) have released ultimata to the federal government of their intentions to down tools if their demands remain un-met at the expiration of set deadlines.
According to ASUP, they are giving the federal government three weeks effective from the 27th of March, 2017 to address the shortfalls in the personal and other payments owed its members. The president of the union Comrade Usman Dutse said the decision was reached at the end of their National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held at Plateau State Polytechnics Barkin Ladi. The release shows that they were being owed salaries and promotion arrears despite a host of the owing states having been recently bailed out by funds from the federal government and the Paris Club.
ASUU on its part has threatened to embark on their own action if the whooping One Hundred and Eighteen billion Naira arrears of allowances they were being owed are not paid by the end of July 2017. Its national president Prof Biodun Ogunyemi made the disclosure at a news conference he convened at the University of Abuja. He also alluded to the non-release of operational licenses of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) by the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) despite their having met the stipulated requirements for registration as a Pension Fund Administrator (PFA). This, by him, has created a sense of insecurity and loss of confidence among their retirees.
Interestingly, all these are coming to a head with the federal government’s avowed expression of a commitment to improving the standard of education in the country, like President Buhari did hint at the 33rd convocation ceremony of Bayero University Kano last month. Represented by the Executive Secretary National Universities Commission Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, the president announced the release of over Two Hundred and Thirty-Four Billion Naira being the 2016 annual intervention funds to Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) for onward distribution to public universities.
However, he also stated that the syndrome of financial recklessness and other maladies besetting our higher institutions of learning was cause for concern to government. According to him, a series of petitions and reports on these were being investigated. He also restated the readiness of government to purge the education – and indeed every other – sector of corruption. Perhaps in lieu of the implied corruption in our ivory towers, the ASUU president in his release did fault the insistence of the executive arm of government that they would not release funds to universities until there was a forensic audit of their accounts. Defending their insistence that the payment of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) be pegged to July 2017, he maintained that this can only be meaningfully addressed within an agreed framework. This, by him, has been communicated to the education minister, senate president and the chairman of the senate committee on tertiary institutions and TETFUND – just as their ultimatum has been likewise communicated to government.
The ASUU president further alleged that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the federal government and ASUU in 2013 has not been released as agreed. And by it, Two Hundred Billion Naira was supposed to have been released to help reposition our public universities for global competition. Thereafter, Two Hundred and Twenty Billion Naira was to be released for the subsequent 5 years – adding up to 1.3 Trillion by 2018. According to Prof Ogunyemi, ‘not a single kobo’ of this has been released. From the foregoing, The Authority once more urges either party in this tug-of-war – the federal government on one side, with ASUU and ASUP on the other – to do all in their powers to save the nation this debacle. The government, for one, should urgently get the two unions to sit down with its representatives to iron out these differences once and for all. Though the mentioned MOU was signed in 2013, government must own up that government itself – just like staff unionism – is a continuum. Corruption or no, the government should first meet its responsibility before talking about whether the checks and balances in the system are working. Any foreseen harm to our tertiary education should be nipped in the bud before it can come to pass.