By Ben Agande, Olasunkanmi Akoni, LAIDE AKINBOADE
Abuja — President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, directed the two Federal Government committees negotiating requests by Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to take immediate measures towards ending the ongoing strike.
The Chairman of the Universities Needs Implementation Committee, Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State, made this known after a closed-door meeting of the two committees and other stakeholders with President Jonathan at the State House in Abuja.
Vice-President Namadi Sambo, Chairman of the Earned Allowances Committee and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Senator Pius Anyim, were in attendance at the meeting.
Also in attendance were Ministers of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Rufa’i; Labour, Emeka Wogu; the Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission, NUC, Professor Julius Okogie and Chief of Staff to the President, Chief Mike Oghiadomhe.
Suswam told newsmen that the meeting was summoned by the President “to take some decisions that would end the strike.
“The President has instructed us as to what to do, and he has shown commitment to flagging off projects worth about N100 billion in all the universities in the country: about 61 of them.”
FG offers N30bn
Suswam said with the progress so far made in negotiation, the strike embarked upon by the university teachers should be called off in no distant future, noting that from its initial position that there was no money to meet the demand of academic staff, government had offered N30 billion and indicated its willingness to meet other demands by ASUU.
He said: “I can say that we have made substantial progress and we are hoping that this strike should be called off based on some of the mechanisms that we have put in place to move the sector forward. We met extensively yesterday (Monday).
“You know there are two components to the whole issue: the needs assessment component, which is the one that I’m handling. We have, to a large extent, concluded on that.
“The other is the earned allowances committee, which is being headed by the SGF; that is where there are some contentions.
“But as you must have heard, Federal Government made an offer of N30 billion to assist the various councils of our universities to be able to pay the earned allowances.
Another N100bn for projects
“There is also N100 billion. That is why I, the Minister of Finance, the SGF, ministers of education and labour, Chief of Staff to the President and the Vice President have just risen from a meeting with the President to take some decisions that would end the strike.
“The President has instructed us on what to do and he has shown commitment and flagging off a project worth about N100 billion in all the universities in the country.
“So we are hoping that we will be able to see the end of the strike very soon if at the end of the day ASUU is satisfied with the measures that have so far been taken.”
Governor Suswam further revealed that the Federal Government will also be meeting with the university councils and vice chancellors of universities within the week to update them on some of the decisions taken so far.
He said: “The President has graciously agreed that in the first week of September he will be able to flag-off the projects.
“You also know that the procurement process will have to be followed and these projects include hostels in our universities, classrooms and theatres, libraries and laboratories, amongst others.
“Some are renovation, some are new and all the 61 universities are going to benefit from one project or another. So it is not going to be selective. All the universities are going to benefit from this infrastructural revitalisation of our universities.
“The Federal Government has opted to also meet with the councils and managements of the universities because earned allowance is something that can be certified by the management and councils of the universities.
“I think that the government had demonstrated some substantial faith. If ASUU said that this is the amount of money that the Federal Government is owing them and the Federal Government has shifted ground from its initial posture of there was no money to offering N30 billion, it means we are moving forward.
“With N100 billion available for addressing the physical infrastructure deficit in our universities, I think Federal Government has done quite well to have moved to where we are today.”
APC tasks FG
Meanwhile, All Progressives Congress, APC, has called on Federal Government to honour its agreement with ASUU to end the ongoing strike that had paralysed academic activities in the nation’s public universities.
According to a statement by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, ASUU was not making any fresh demand beyond the agreement it reached with the government in 2009, adding “agreements are meant to be honoured, and breaching them comes with some consequences.”
The party said the system had deteriorated so much that no Nigerian university was listed in the top 100 universities in the world and only a few Nigerian universities have made the top 100 in Africa.
It said: “The 87 billion naira that ASUU is demanding represents earned allowances, hence, cannot be renegotiated. In any case, this amount pales into insignificance when placed side by side with the one trillion naira that has been spent on federal legislators in the past eight years.
“Or the frivolity involved in a government minister travelling to China to negotiate a $1 billion loan in a chartered jet (with its attendant costs) and with a retinue of staffers, who earned generous estacode in hard currency.
“It is an indication of the kind of priority that this Federal Government attaches to education that while it has refused to meet its own side of an agreement it reached with ASUU since 2009, it could pay out three trillion naira in non-existent fuel subsidies to fat cats, spend 10 billion naira annually to maintain the jets in the presidential fleet and do little or nothing to prevent the stealing of 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day, which translates to $120 million.”
Niger Gov blames corruption
In a related development, Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, yesterday, blamed corruption in the public sector for the collapse of educational system in Nigeria.
He stated this in Abuja, while declaring open the 3rd African Regional Centre of expertise meeting in Abuja.
The governor said: “Educating our children is imperative for the development of our country.
“I strongly believe that Nigeria can afford to give free education to its citizens, from primary to secondary and a highly subsidised university education without any lecturer going on strike.
“If we reduce the amount of stealing in this country, we would be able to give quality education to our children.”
Education Minister reacts
In her address, Professor Rufa’i said no nation could make sustainable economic progress without quality education that addressed development challenges.
She said: “Our universities must, therefore, see themselves as champions of our desire for progress and position themselves as leaders in addressing problems where they exist.
“Let me use this opportunity to reiterate that it is unacceptable, for example, that a university that prides itself in the presence and acknowledge scholarship of professors of urban planning would have its campus surrounded by sprawling slum.
“I, therefore, call on the NUC to institute means of encouraging universities to live up to their community outreach mandates by engaging in community-centric research.”