By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA — The Federal Government has expressed regret over the on-going ASUU strike, even as the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, was yesterday appointed to lead the Federal Government Negotiation Team to interface with striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to resolve contentious issues that led to the industrial action.
Briefing State House Correspondents after the Federal Executive Council meeting, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, expressed government’s regret over the strike which has paralyzed academic activities in the nation’s universities.
ASUU declared strike two weeks ago to pressure government to implement the 2009 and 2013 agreements both parties had, part of which was to upgrade facilities in the nation’s universities.
The agreements contained the following demands: That government should pay shortfall of salaries; exempt universities from Treasury Single Account, TSA; set up endowment funds; pay university salary scale to teachers in primary schools; implement guidelines for the retirement of professors, in line with 2009 FG-ASUU Agreement; and grant waivers to set up Universities Pension Management Company.
Both parties were to have met on Tuesday but the union boycotted the meeting called by Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, who was then leader of government negotiation team.
Immediately after the FEC meeting, presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Vice President was locked in a meeting with the government team and is expected to schedule a meeting with the leadership of ASUU thereafter.
The appointment of the vice president came as government also blamed the private sector for the delay in constituting the Minimum Wage Review Committee.
It also, as part of decisions reached at the FEC meeting, awarded a contract of $5.792 billion for the Mambila Hydro Electric Power Plant in Taraba State expected to be completed within six years.
Govt sympathises with parents, students
Ngige said: “I want to say that the government sympathises with parents, even with the students, who are supposed to be taking their degree and promotion examinations now but have been forced by circumstances beyond their control to be at home.
“I have my child at home as we speak, so, government is leaving no stone unturned to make sure that we reach a conclusive agreement with ASUU so they can go back to the classrooms.
“This is the first national strike that this government is facing and we want to discuss. At Council today (yesterday), the Vice President has taken over some aspects of the negotiation and discussion. So we are continuing the meeting in his office and when we finish the meeting, we will get back to ASUU with another round of meeting.
“We are hopeful that with another round of meeting, we will be able to go an appreciable extent to solve some of the outstanding issues that have prevented them from going to work.”
Why we boycotted meeting with FG — ASUU
Explaining why it boycotted the meeting, the union said in a statement: “Members of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, were forced to proceed on indefinite, comprehensive and total strike on Sunday, August 13, 2017, following government’s failure to implement issues on which understanding was reached during the suspended warning strike of November 2016.
“We have since held talks with representatives of government and consulted our members nationwide on steps to be taken to immediately resolve the lingering crisis. Among issues in the dispute are registration of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company, NUPEMCO; fractionalisation of salaries in federal universities and gross under-funding /non-funding of state universities, and arrears and implementation of earned Academic Allowance.
“Other issues are release of funds for the revitalisation of public universities as spelt out in the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding, guidelines for retirement benefits of professors in line with 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement, Treasury Single Account, TSA, and withdrawal of support for universities staff primary schools.
“On Thursday, we met with officials of the Ministry of Education and Labour and Employment where it was agreed that the union should consult and revert to government.
“Following due consultations, we have collated the views of our members on the offers from government in dispute in the letter of August 16, 2017. These views were submitted to the federal government vide our letter dated August 28, 2017.
“As we await the federal government’s action on our letter, we hope that it would not be long before we receive a positive response which will bring an end to the dispute.
“Meanwhile, we thank all Nigerians, particularly our students (and their parents) and the media for their understanding so far in the need to speedily address the issues in the best interest of the Nigerian university system and for the overall development of the country.”
….We’re not aware of Osinbajo’s new role
Reacting to the Vice President’s appointment as leader of government negotiation team, last night, ASUU president, Prof. Abiodun Ogunyeni, said: “Nobody has told us. I am just hearing from you now. Until we hear from them, we (may not) know what to say.
“We are waiting for them to call a meeting now and when they call a meeting, we will go. If they call a meeting, we will attend in as much as it doesn’t fall within the holidays.”
FG blames private sector for minimum wage delay
Senator Ngige also blamed the private sector for the delay in constituting a committee to review the new minimum wage.
According to him, government had nominated its representatives, while the private sector was yet to submit its nominations.
He said: “On the new national minimum wage committee, the government side is ready. We have on the government side four ministers – labour and employment, finance, budget and planning, I can’t remember the last one now but we have our team ready.
“We also have Head of Service of the Federation, Acting Secretary to the Government of the Federation on the government team. The chairman will be unveiled when we have full components of the committee.
“The aspect that is delaying the inauguration of the committee is the organized private sector. The organized private sector has eight representatives of which Nigeria Employers Consultative Assembly, NECA, has four nominations. We have not got their nominations.
“Manufacturers Association of Nigeria has two nominations, theirs just came in yesterday. Nigeria Association of Small and Medium Enterprise , SMEs, has one nomination which has not been sent; NACCIMA has not also sent in its nominations.
“So we are waiting for these nominations. When they come in, the government will nominate the chairman and inaugurate the committee.”
FEC approves $5.792bn Mambila Hydro plant
Also addressing journalists, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said FEC approved the award of engineering as well as electro-mechanical works contract worth $5.792 billion for the Mambila hydro electric power plant in Taraba State.
He said the project, designed to deliver 3,050 megawatts of power, began in 1972 but made no progress since then, adding that the contract awarded to a joint venture with a Chinese civil engineering company would be completed in 72 months.
He said: “It requires the construction of four dams, one of them is about 150 meters in height , the immediate two are 70 meters in height and the smallest of them is 50 meters in height……
“ It also includes 700 kilometers of transmission line. It will be in Taraba State, in the area called Gembu, and it will unleash the potentials that have been reported about Mambila, including agriculture, tourism and energy.”
The minister noted that when completed, the project would help Nigeria strike a big blow onclimate change issue and fulfill it’s commitment under the Paris agreement.
“We have overcome the gas challenges and the vandals and pipeline repairs have progressed. And that has impacted success on the generation side.
‘’Our power is going to come from sources, hydro, gas, solar and that is why we are investing in Mambila for more hydro. This is so because when one source is vulnerable, we can rely on another source,’’ Fashola said.