The Federal Government’s efforts to make the Academic Staff Union of Universities to call off its nationwide strike failed on Thursday.
It was gathered that at a meeting with ASUU in Abuja, the Federal Government asked the lecturers to end their strike, but both parties did not agree on some issues.
ASUU consequently rejected the FG’s request to call off the strike.
Our correspondents gathered that the two sides failed to reach an agreement on the demand of the union that universities should be exempted from the Treasury Single Account.
ASUU had on Sunday called a nationwide strike over the failure of the Federal Government to implement the 2009 agreement between the two sides.
The ASUU president had, at a press conference on Monday, explained that the union decided on the strike after the FG failed to implement the 2009 agreement and a Memorandum of Understanding it signed with ASUU in 2013.
He listed the areas in dispute in the current industrial action to include funding for the revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowances, the registration of the Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company and pension matters, fractionalisation and non-payment of salaries and the issue of universities’ staff schools.
A source, who was present at the meeting, told The PUNCH that the Federal Government promised to honour all of ASUU’s requests except the one regarding the TSA.
The source said the government admitted wrongdoing and appealed to the lecturers to call off the strike immediately, but the appeal was rejected by ASUU leaders, who pleaded for time to meet their members because of the TSA.
He said, “The meeting was straightforward. The government admitted wrongdoing and promised to honour its past promises. The only issue on which no agreement was reached was the TSA.
“The members of ASUU executive said they would meet with their members and give us a response next week.”
Addressing journalists after the meeting, Ngige stated that the government was expecting feedback from ASUU on the overtures made to it, adding that the union promised to return to the negotiation table within one week.
He explained that the government position was drafted by the Ministers of Education (Adamu Adamu); Labour and Employment (Ngige); Finance, (Kemi Adeosun); and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and was communicated to ASUU.
Ngige said, “Within the last 48 hours, the government has been working; the Minister of Education, Minister of Finance, Attorney General of the Federation met and we have taken some government positions which we have communicated to ASUU leaders to take back to their members to see if that is adequate enough for them to call off the strike.”
“The major issue is that we want the strike called off so that our children in school can write their degree and promotion exams. ASUU leaders said they will come back to us on a date within the next one week. It will not be later than one week,” the minister said.
ASUU President, Biodun Ogunyemi, said he would not go into the specifics of the offers made by the government until he met with his members, adding that the union would not call off the strike.
He said, “Like the minister said, government has made offers on the issues we have raised, but we have to get back to our members for them to consider the offers and advise us. Based on their position, we will come back to government, hopefully within the next one week.”
Explaining why he could not call of the strike, Ogunyemi said the action was called by the union members, noting that they were the ones that would determine when it should be called off.
He said, “The offers are for our members and when we meet with them, we will come back and reveal all we agreed on.
“The leadership of the union did not call the strike, our members did, and they will decide when to suspend the strike.”
Strike didn’t follow procedure –FG
Ngige, however, accused ASUU of not following the proper procedure before starting the strike.
The minister, who stated this in his opening remarks shortly before the meeting began around 3:45pm, explained that the union did not issue the mandatory 15-day notice as required by the Trade Dispute Act.
He expressed displeasure over the agreement brokered by the National Assembly, describing it as a political agreement.
He said, “If we want to apportion blame, certain things have been done by the government side that went for the negotiation in the National Assembly and made political agreement with them.”
He attributed the inability of the government to implement the 2009 agreement to “some trajectories.”
“One or two things happened and due to lapses in labour administration, there were some trajectories that made it impossible for some of the conditions to be fulfilled,” the minister said.
He said the Dr. Wale Babalakin-led renegotiation committee was working on various issues in the agreement signed by the government and ASUU.
ASUU president, however, denied allegations that the union failed to give notice of strike before embarking on the strike, adding that the union wrote five letters to relevant stakeholders after suspending the seven-day warning strike in November last year.
He said, “In the last 10 months, we have written five letters and tried to reach out to relevant stakeholder.”
Besides Ogunyemi, other members of the ASUU negotiation team included Vice President, ASUU, Emmanuel Osodeke, and a former ASUU president, Dr Dipo Fashina.
FG offers to pay ASUU N23bn
The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, at a meeting with the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions on Thursday, said ASUU had earlier demanded that it should be paid N23bn, but the government insisted that it should account for N30bn earlier given to it.
Briefing the committee on the outcome of the meeting between the government and ASUU two days ago, Adamu said both government and the union had earlier agreed that the result of the audit of the N30bn would be presented in six months.
“The government had then offered to pay the union N1.5bn each month while we wait for the result. The grouse of ASUU is that the forensic audit promised by the Minister of Finance was not done and the money promised was not paid.
“But we have agreed that the union would be paid the balance of N23bn, while a forensic audit on the entire N53bn would be done.”
He said he wrote the Minister of Finance on Wednesday, adding that the minister had approved that the money be paid.
The minister said, “Probably, by Monday, they will be able to receive the cheque. There are other issues which we didn’t agree on, especially their request to be taken out of TSA. I told them that it is not possible because this is a new policy and government is not going to change it for anyone.”
‘Varsities employ without approval’
The minister said many universities employed workers without approval, which resulted in the shortfall in lecturers’ salaries.
He said, “Concerning salary shortfall, many universities employed workers without authorisation.
“For instance, a university can just decide to recruit 50 people and the IPPI (Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information) will not be aware. So, the money they got last month will not be sufficient for the following months; and they will now spread it among the entire staff. We said institutions must stop employing without approval and ASUU accepted.
“I have written a letter formalising the meeting I had with ASUU. From the way they received it, I think it is possible that the strike will be called off within a week.”