By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
The amount of fundsÂ required to service the agreement between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), has been a subject of controversy between the duo since the nationwide strike by ASUU started over two weeks ago.
According to the Minister of Education, Dr. Sam Egwu, the sum of N78 billion is required to fund the FGN/ASUU agreement, adding that the academic staff are demanding 109 per cent, an increment which government cannot afford to pay.
But to ASUU, these statements are far from the truth, alleging that the cost of funding the agreement is about one third of that amount and that the agreed to pay Nigerian academics emoluments equivalent to the average of those paid to academics in those African countries that raid Nigeria for academics, adding that this average was determined empirically an scientifically.
The President of ASUU, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie says: â€œIt is simply not true that N78 billion is needed to fund the FGN/ASUU agreement. It was an assertion meant to politicise the issues, deceive and hoodwink the Nigerian people.
The much touted sum of N78 billion is actually the shortfall in the amount needed to fund personnel emoluments arising from the various agreements, which government has reached with all Federal tertiary institutions in the country.
Polytechnics, College of Education and Universitiesâ€™ academic and non-academic staff.
Yet the Honourable Minister of Education has deliberately tried to mislead the public to believe that ASUUâ€™s agreement requires N78 billion, when, in fact, it requires less than 30% of that amount.â€
Awuzie, who spoke in Lagos at a press briefing, also faulted the Education Ministerâ€™s remarks during his appearance at the NTA News of June 24, that there was no agreement between the FG and ASUU.
According to Awuzie, there is an agreement. He said: â€œIf there was no agreement to sign, what did he ask us to come and do on May 12, this year when he invited us? Could the Honourable minister have invited us to sign an agreement where was none?â€
He explained that on May 12, 2009, ASUU negotiation team assembled at the National Universities Commission to sign the agreement reached between the FGN and ASUU, since December 2008, adding that at least, two previous dates given by government for the same exercise were cancelled by government.
The Federal Government has also given a number of reasons why it finds it difficult to pay increased salary to ASUU members. One is the global economic meltdown which, according to government, is taking its toll on the countryâ€™s economy and that the number of academic staff is higher.
In his reaction to these two reasons, the ASUU president says: â€œThe global economic â€œmeltdownâ€ should not in way its staff emoluments because of the economic meltdown, and they are far less economically endowed than Nigerian.â€
He continues: â€œWe keep hearing that number of academic staff is higher. Is this an admission that government prefers the exodus of Nigeria academics?â€
On governmentâ€™s reluctance to pay the African Average based on its claim that those countries that pay their academics well have fewer universities and fewer lecturers, Awuzie said: â€œGovernment and its agents have not stated that our country is less endowed than those countries.
That although, the number of universities in this country is inadequate to grant access to Nigerians who are qualified to enter the universities, it must however be borne in mind that the universities were not established by ASUU.
For government to now argue that the salaries of professors shall be inversely proportioned to their number defeats all accepted ways of determining the wages and worth of employees.
We are aware of the real plot being played out. Government does not want to sign an agreement because it wants to repudiate collective bargaining. On our part, we shall defend our right to collective bargaining, recognised by international and Nigerian labour law.
Again, meltdown or no meltdown, none of the African countries sampled and used in evolving the African average used in the computation of academic staff conditions of service has in anyway reduced its staff emoluments because of the economic meltdown, and they are far less economically endowed than Nigeria.
â€œIt is also sad to note that even though the present government touts education as one of the issues in its 7-point agenda, the allocation to education in this yearâ€™s budget betrays governmentâ€™s lack of commitment to the education of Nigeria people.
ASUU believes that with an average of N120 billion earned from oil each day, government should be able to fund education effectively, including free and compulsory education, under a fair and conducive environment.
We cannot aspire to being one of the developed economies by 2020, if the bulk of our citizenry remain uneducated as is the case today.â€
The statement credited to the Minister of Information and Communication, Prof. Dora Akunyili that the Federal Government has met ASUUâ€™s demand on at least three out of the four main issues, with only the resolution of the salaries demanded by ASUU still outstanding, was also described as false.
While reacting to the statement, Awuzie said, â€œThis is to say the least a sad development coming from the Federal Executive Council as it is a bundle of misinformation and a calculated attempt to trivialise the essence and spirit of the negotiation that lasted two and half years.
This is a clear manifestation of governmentâ€™s insensitivity and lack of commitment to education. It also shows lack of urgency on the part of government at resolving the present impasse.â€