Education

Furore over unresolved FG-ASUU crisis

FACE-OFF

 

Stakeholders are angry with the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the protracted strike that has paralysed academic activities and forestalled reopening of the universities, eight months after the declaration of the nationwide industrial action. KAYODE OLANREWAJU examines the lingering crisis

 

˜Minister: Govt can’t meet union’s request

˜Ogunyemi: FG is prolonging crisis, not ASUU

˜Parents: Minister, his team have failed

 

The Nigerian public university system is inching towards a worst time, raising fresh concerns that the looming catastrophe, if not checked, will further bring the country’s university education to its knees.

 

This is as the eight-month nationwide indefinite strike embarked by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which has forestalled reopening of the institutions, is yet to be resolved by the Federal Government.

 

ASUU had since March 22 embarked on indefinite nationwide industrial action before the official closure of all educational institutions in the country ordered by the Federal Ministry of Education following the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

 

Now, there is heightened anxiety among Nigerians following the insistence of Federal Government Negotiation Team led by the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige and ASUU-led by its National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi to find a meeting point to resolve the strike.

 

Stakeholders, especially parents and students are, however, worried over the failure of the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities to end the protracted crisis that has continued to jeopardise the future of the students in the last eight months.

 

Worried by the lingering crisis, they however, condemned the Federal Government for what they described as its lacklustre posture towards addressing the critical issue of the university system by allowing the strike to fester for too long.

 

Going by the present scenario occasioned by the several deadlocked characterizing the Federal Government- ASUU talks, stakeholders are apprehensive whether there is really any solution in sight as to when the universities will reopen for students to continue their education.

 

Some students and parents, who spoke with New Telegraph, however  condemned the government and ASUU over the strike, saying their action over the years has deliberately continued to frustrate university education development in the country.

 

With the strike, they lamented that already the university calendar had not only been disrupted, but also expressed displeasure that the universities and students were at the verge of losing a full academic session for no just reason, but for the recalcitrant posture of the two parties.

 

They, therefore, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently intervene in the crisis since Dr. Ngige and his team had failed to resolve the crisis in the best interest of the students, university system and the entire nation’s education sector.

 

According to them, the attitude of the Minister towards resolving the logjam is an indication that he and other government officials have no regard for the nation’s university development, mainly because their children are not in the institutions and hence not affected by the strike.

 

Describing the face-off as unfortunate, they lamented: “We are wondering about the manner with which the government negotiation team is treating this critical issue of the future of our children. They are talking as if the money to pay the union and the university revitalisation fund belongings to them and not the country. “In as much as we do not support ASUU or any form of strike in the system, Nigeria deserves Ministers, who are serious minded and committed to the development of education.

 

The government representatives have not done anything so far to solve the crisis. This is unfortunate. Our children are at home for about eight months now and  the government has not seen anything wrong or serious in this, only to continue to display ego just because their children are not affected.”

 

Therefore, the parents also called on the Minister to subject ASUU’s UTAS to an integrity test as promised by presenting it to users like the office of Accountant General of the Federation in order for the system to move forward.

 

The union had embarked on the strike following the insistence of the Federal Government that members of ASUU should enroll in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), which was introduced by the government as payment policy for workers in its establishments, without which all employees on government payroll will not receive their salaries.

 

But, ASUU, however, kicked against the policy and insisted that the members of the union would not enroll into the policy, claiming that it infringed on the freedom and autonomy of the university system.

 

Following the insistence of ASUU not to enroll for the IPPIS, the government ordered that the members’ salaries and other allowances should be withheld, declaring “No IPPIS, No salary.” ASUU, therefore, suggested an alternative payment policy, tagged: “University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS),” which it said is applicable to the university system in line with global practices, and had since been submitted to the Federal Government.

 

Despite, the Federal Government is insisting that the union, as employees, could not dictate the mode of payment of their salaries to the government, its employer, and therefore withheld the lecturers’ salaries for refusal to enroll for the policy.

 

Following the disagreement between the two parties after a series of meetings and negotiation parleys the two parties refused to shift ground, resulting in the endless strike with the students and their parents at the receiving end.

 

ASUU, which vowed not to suspend the ongoing strike in the face of non-payment of its members several months’ salaries, said the continued use of hunger as a weapon to weaken them in their agitation and demands by the Federal Government by withholding their salaries would not work.

 

This is as the Federal Government has sustained its threat that without IPPIS, the lecturers will not be paid, even as the Minister of Labour and Employment last week insisted that the government could not meet the request of the Academic Staff Union of Universities due to the present economic situation in the country.

 

Part of ASUU’s demands include payment of N110 billion for revatilisation of tertiary institutions, release the withheld salaries of its members, remittance of the check-off dues of the union to the rightful owner and speed up the process of testing the integrity of UTAS in order to deploy it for payment beginning from January 2021, among other contending issues.

 

While appraising the strike, the union, which also expressed worry over the lingering eight months’ nationwide industrial action last week, announced the readiness of its members to resume work, if the Federal Government was ready to pay their outstanding salaries.

 

But, Ngige after a closed-door meeting with ASUU members in Abuja   said that the government had offered N20 billion it could afford, insisting: “The government is not against revitalisation but that this government says that because of dare economic situation, because of COVID-19, we cannot really pay in the N110 billion which they are demanding for revitalization.”

 

Ngige noted that the N20 billion was offered to ASUU as a sign of good faith based on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered into in 2013 as a result of the renegotiation they had with the government in 2009.

 

However, the Minister once threatened that the government might be forced to take legal action against the union owing to the seeming intransigence of ASUU, and if it failed to respond to the offers made to resolve the crisis and call off its eight-month strike.

 

Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with New Telegraph on Sunday, the National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, recalled the union’s meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Ngige last Wednesday, where he promised to send to the union the government’s written position on ASUU’s response to their initial offer.

 

According to him, the Minister said all concerned Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) would be consulted on Friday, November 6, for their inputs into the government’s new position.

 

Ogunyemi, who urged Nigerians to bear with the union, noted that ASUU was doing their battle, saying “our union is struggling to ensure that the children of the poor, who cannot afford the cost private universities or studying overseas, get quality education which is not priced beyond their reach and that this will only happen when we make the government to adequately fund public universities and address the rot and decay in the system.”

 

…Ogunyemi, who insisted that ASUU had shifted positions in some areas in order to resolve the face-off and allow the institutions to reopen, stressed further: “For instance, our members have reduced their demand for one tranche of N220 billion of the revitalisation fund by 50 per cent.

 

The union has also agreed to N30 billion out of the arrears of N40 billion Earned Academic Allowance arrears to be paid to our members while the balance of N10 billion could be spread over the next two tranches.” While saying that the union is also making steady progress on other issues, the ASUU leaders pointed out that what has stalled meaningful dialogue was government’s insistence that payment of the withheld salaries and other entitlements of members of the union would only be effected through the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).

 

The government, according to him, is punishing university teachers because they rejected IPPIS which was imposed on the universities against the provisions of the law on autonomy.

 

ASUU, he assured stakeholders, is at the final stage of the integrity test of the Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) with the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), adding that the UTAS was developed locally by ASUU members, unlike IPPIS which was engineered by the World Bank.

 

He said: ‘UTAS has been presented to the Minister of Education and senior management staff of the ministry, the President and leadership of the Senate, and the Office of the Accountant-General where NITDA and Office of the National Security Adviser and other MDAs were fully represented. “Last Thursday, November 5, 2020, the National Universities Commission (NUC) facilitated the presentation of UTAS to the Vice- Chancellors and Bursars of Federal Universities.

 

All questions raised at the four levels of presentation of UTAS were satisfactorily answered. With the full cooperation of the concerned agencies, the final test with NITDA could be completed as a matter of days and UTAS adopted in place of IPPIS in our universities.

 

“We disagree with the government on the use of IPPIS during the so-called transition period because it would take a longer period to capture more than three-quarters of our members, who are not on IPPIS than the time required to conclude the integrity test.”

 

ASUU, Ogunyemi faulted the claim of the government that the platform used in paying our members’ salaries by the imposition of IPPIS had been dismantled as not true, insisting that some members of the union who have not enrolled in IPPIS were paid part of their withheld salaries last week.

 

On the way forward, he stressed that what ASUU is saying is that government should release all what is due to ASUU members and the union without the conditionality of IPPIS to pave the way for the quick resolution of the unwarranted crisis, even as the President insisted that it is the Federal Government that is prolonging the matter, not ASUU.

 

“In furtherance of the attack on ASUU, the Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF) has illegally seized all the deducted union checkoff dues of members in the last nine months,” Ogunyemi added. Stating the union’s position last week, the Ibadan Zonal Coordinator of ASUU, Prof. Ade Adejumo, who disclosed this at a press conference held at the Conference Room, Faculty of Art, University of Ibadan (UI), said despite the ongoing negotiation with the Federal Government, it had refused to pay their salaries and allowances.

 

ASUU, which, however, said last week that it was tired of being dribbled by the Federal Government’s consistent failure to honour agreements reached with the union, noted that the union was actually tired of having a circus show of talks, but in the interest of the students and the Nigerians at large, it still continues to hold meetings upon meetings with the government.

 

Adejumo, who was represented at the conference by Prof. Moyo Ajao, the Chairperson of ASUU, University of Ilorin chapter, also recalled that the union was forced to go on strike in March 2020 when the COVID-19 lockdown began, as this was done in order to give the government enough room to address lingering issues.

 

He said: “It was a patriotic act aimed at resolving the issues so that our students would be in school any time the lockdown was lifted. Some people have been wondering why ASUU is on strike again.

 

 

“The simple answer is that ASUU is on strike because of the survival of the Nigerian University System where many of us still have our children as students; ASUU is on strike in order to restore the past glory of public universities and address infrastructural decay and deficit in our institutions; ASUU is on strike for the legitimate dues of its members, who are the least paid in the tertiary education sub-sector.”

 

The union regretted that Nigerian university lecturers earned the least salaries when compared with “Chief Lecturers in some tertiary institutions that are not required to supervise post-graduate students or conduct research, but earned more than professors in the nation’s lopsided educational system.

 

Therefore, ASUU urged wellmeaning Nigerians to compel the Federal Government to release the withheld salaries of its members and honour the remaining agreements with the union, describing the ongoing disagreement on the IPPIS as a distraction to the demands of the union.

 

The union said that apart from IPPIS being a cesspool of corruption, “it is strange that the government would lump the payment of lecturers together with that of the civil servants as such is not done anywhere in the world.”

 

It further stressed: “The government, against international labour laws, opted to use hunger as a weapon against us. Our members have been battered by the suspension of our salaries for several months, but rather than capitulate and throw our universities to the dogs to suit the interest of politicians, we have decided to weather the storm until the needful is done.

 

Similarly, Ogunyemi, who bemoaned the attitude of the government towards university education, and noted that the issue of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System is a distraction to the union, and a cesspool of corruption, said that many Nigerians who are at its receiving end have attested to the fact that there is no serious-minded country in the world where the payment of salaries of university lecturers and intellectual assets of the country are lumped together with the civil service.

 

“Nigerians and the international community should be aware that despite the ongoing negotiations, the government has refused to pay our salaries and allowances. It has also callously withheld the check-off dues of some of our members, who were selectively paid amputated salaries, in order to starve the union of the energy needed to sustain the negotiations,” he had said.

 

ASUU added: “The government appears to be keen about making lecturers commit suicide, as some have been doing, due to economic hardship, though no society progresses beyond its education. It is a rough road but we continue to trudge on because when the going gets tough, only the tough get going.

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