By DAYO ADESULU, AMAKA ABAYOMI, LAJU ARENYEKA & IKENNA ASOMBA
Two days after a marathon 13-hour closed door meeting between President Goodluck Jonathan and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Vanguard Learning has gathered that there are hopes of optimism for students to return to schools soonest, as the union and FG seem to be on the same page.
As there are indications that the meeting, which started at about 2:40 p.m Monday afternoon and went on till about 3:30 a.m Tuesday morning may yield positive results, all things being equal, concerted efforts made to speak with ASUU leaders to make public their position has proved abortive, as those contacted have kept mum.
They only obliged to make known their position after a National Executive Council (NEC) meeting scheduled for this week.
Though ASUU officials refused to disclose details of the meeting, but according to close sources at the meeting, one major agreement reached was that Federal Government would inject N1.1 trillion into public varsities in the next five years, which would be released on a yearly basis at N220bn per annum starting from 2014.
“For the outgoing year, government will only release N100bn which has been processed. To further show its commitment to the agreement, government accepted that the N1.1trn be domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria to be released on a quarterly basis to the varsities,” the sources said.
Meanwhile, before now, there have been contentious insinuations from the Federal Government and the Senate that ASUU took advantage of the ignorance of those delegated by government to negotiate on its behalf with the union in the October 2009 agreement.
Against this backdrop, one of the signatories of government, Dr. Bolanle Olawale Babalakin (SAN), has broken silence.
Speaking through his Special Assistant, Mr. Olawale Ganiyu, Babalakin has clarified that there was no point taken towards signing the agreement that was not clear to the government.
According Babalakin, impressions that somebody from nowhere negotiated the agreement was far from the truth, as he argued that the calibre of people whom the Federal Government consulted to negotiate on their behalf were not mediocres whom ASUU would outwit to sign the document.
Speaking to Vanguard Learning, he said among other respected individuals, government re-negotiation team included the likes of Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, Chairman of the Committee, who was at that time, the Pro-chancellor, University of Ibadan and Chairman, Committee of Pro-Chancellors.
Other members who signed on behalf of government were Late Professor Musa Abdullahi, Secretary General Committee of Vice-Chancellors and immediate past Pro-Chancellor, University of Jos; Professor Greg Iwu, immediate past Pro-Chancellor, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; Rev. Father T.E. Uwaifo, immediate past Pro-Chancellor, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma; and Barrister Emeka Nwankpa, former Pro-Chancellor, Abia State University, Uturu.
Others were Amb. Muhammed Jumba, immediate past Pro-Chancellor, Bayero University, Kano; Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Executive Secretary, Education Trust Fund (ETF), Abuja and Senator Abdalla Wali, former Pro-Chancellor, University of Technology, Yola, who was a member of the committee until February 23, 2008.
Besides the Federal Government renegotiation committee members, Babalakin also revealed that there were 11 advisers of FG, comprising of Professor Julius Okojie, Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, (NUC), Abuja; Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe, former Chairman, Committee of Vice-Chancellors; Professor J.D. Amin, immediate past Chairman, Committee of Vice-Chancellors; Professor E.A.C. Nwanze, Chairman Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Vice-Chancellor, University of Benin among others.
He said to ensure that no stone was left unturned, the Federal Government chose 12 dignitaries who served as observers of the renegotiation and agreement with ASUU. The observers were Mrs. V.A. Eghobamien, representative of Federal Ministry of Labour; Mr. S.A. Ajibola, representative of Federal Ministry of Labour; Professor Ignatus Uvah, Deputy Executive Secretary (University Education), NUC and Mr P.I. Ekun, representative of Special Services Office of the Presidency, Abuja.
Others were Mrs. Ori Okojokwu, representative of Federal Ministry of Education; Mr. Chike Ogbechie, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission; Mr. P.E. Oyong, Federal Ministry of Justice; Mrs. Cynthia Okigbo, Budget Office of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Finance, Abuja and Mr. I.O. Malaolu, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Abuja.
On ASUU’s part, they were represented during the signing of the agreement by Dr. Abdullahi Sule-Kano, a former President and Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, the then President, alongside 26 other members.
Meanwhile, Monday’s meeting is the first time the President would lead government’s delegation team for negotiation with ASUU since the commencement of the strike four months ago.
Emerging from the meeting at the First Lady’s conference room at the presidential villa, ASUU President, Nasir Faggae said, “We have had lengthy meeting with Mr. President, rubbing minds on how best to address the problem of university education in this country.”
“We now have a message from Mr. President that we are going to take to our members and we are expecting that our members will respond appropriately to the message of Mr. President.”
On whether the lecturers are now going back to the classroom, the ASUU President said, “that is up to our members.”
When asked to disclose the the President ‘s message that would be delivered to the members of the union, Mr. Faggae said, “I cannot tell you, it’s not for you, it is for our members.”
On whether he was impressed with the President’s message, Mr. Faggae said, “Don’t put words into my mouth, our members will determine that”
However, Labour Minister, Emeka Wogu told State House Correspondents that meaningful progress was made in the negotiations with ASUU, expressing hope that the striking lecturers would call off the strike.
Mr. Wogu said, “We made progress, the President of ASUU told you that they are going back with a message from the Federal Government back to their members and the message is full of high expectations and hope.”
On whether the strike would be called off, he said: “That is why the message is full of high expectations and hope. So our prayers is that they come back with positive outcome. They might not even come back to meet us, they might take decisions there that will meet your expectations.”
“Nigerians should be patient for ASUU to finish their meetings and come out with a message to Nigerians.”
Responding to whether the Federal Government made a fresh offer to the striking lecturers, the Minister said, “the offer we made are the offer they are taking in line with the 2009 agreement. The issues that led to the strike are issues contained in the 2009 agreement and we did not go beyond the agreement.”
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