By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
MINISTER of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige on Wednesday said the Federal Government was addressing the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, holistically to ensure that all other unions in the university system were carried along.
The Minister said this while defending the budget of his Ministry before the Senate Committee on Labour and Employment.
Reacting to the concerns expressed by the senators on the prolonged ASUU strike, Senator Ngige told the committee that the Federal Government has met most of the demands of the union.
According to him, “Out of the eight demands of ASUU, the government has solved five. We have made N50 billion available. A total sum of N20 billion for the revitalisation of the universities and N30 billion for Earned Academic Allowances (EAA).
“The union agreed and went back to their members, only to return and say that the money for EAA should be for ASUU members alone, excluding other unions, namely, SSANU, NASU, and NAAT.”
In a statement from the Minister’s media office last night, Ngige explained that the Federal Government cannot ignore the other unions as such could be counter-productive to the smooth running of the university system.
He said, “We cannot ignore the other unions whose services are indispensable for the full functioning of the university. If we ignore them, even if ASUU calls off the strike, the other unions will down tools-close the lecture rooms, the libraries, the laboratories- and in fact, even the university gate.”
On the contentious issue of IPPIS, the minister said the University Transparency and Accountability Solutions (UTAS), which ASUU brought as an alternative has been sent to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) for assessment.
Ngige however faulted the claim by ASUU that IPPIS would erode university autonomy.
He said, “They said that university autonomy is being eroded. Autonomy cannot work when the government is paying the lecturers. It can work only when the governing council generates its own resources to pay workers.
“IPPIS has blocked all leakages and exposed those who are not paying taxes, as well as those who underpay.
“So, we are meeting again with ASUU soon, so that they can also hear that other unions in the university have developed their own payment system against UTAS. Do you now realize why we are tackling this problem holistically?”
Addressing the concerns of the senators on the worrying unemployment situation in the country Ngige called for a systemic re-evaluation of the educational system with an emphasis on technical education.
He stressed the need to manage our resources and make concerted efforts to create jobs through multilateral and multifaceted approaches.
“White-collar job syndrome has afflicted us. We have green and blue-collar jobs that will feed people and give them shelter. Agriculture can give us jobs. We have Anchor Borrowers but we can do more. The educational curriculum is straight-jacketed. That is why everybody is in the labour market looking for jobs.
” It is for us to wear our thinking caps and see what can be done. We budgeted 60 percent for constituency projects to train people in empowerment. But, when you give empowerment to people, they sell it. They tell you that this is not the kind of job they want to do. They don’t want to engage in soap making or baking, welding, and fabrication. Even mechatronics, which we are encouraging because of its computer-based component, they are not going there,” he said.