As Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) were trying to iron out issues yesterday at a meeting convened by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, revelations that the union was demanding N106 billion from government as end allowances came out at the National Universities Commission (NUC).
The House of Representatives Chairman, Committee on Education Farouk Lawal and his members were on an oversight function to the NUC but the discussion soon moved from the university system to the current problem on the minds of many – the ASUU strike.
Executive Secretary of NUC, Professor Julius Okojie said ASUU was demanding N106 billion as end allowances which cover assessments by professors for projects of PHD students and professorship. This amount is nearly 10 times what universities get as capital grant yearly, which is about N11 billion.
Professor Okojie said government was made to believe that the governing councils of universities who had hired the academic staff would foot the bill but rather government was been made to pay.
His words: “The issue of end allowances government said the councils are employers of the university staff, you can’t go and budget for end allowances, it is job that is done that you pay for. Government said let us even see what it amounts to. It took them two years to bring the data. When it finally came, only 11 universities submitted and only four of them were useful and they are asking for N106 billion when capital grant for federal universities in a year is N11 billion. The issue of consolidated salary was to reduce the issue of many allowances and we are going back to the same old process.
The indefinite, total strike declared by Academic Staff Union of Universities, has cripped academic activities at several institutions.
“As a professor, I have gone to many universities to assess final year students’ projects for PHD and people on professorship. I have never collected money; they are now prescribing what should be paid for assessing professorship. The understanding then was that council should be able to address those issues but we now know that councils which are supposed to be employers of the universities do not have that authority the way they are going because they hire and fire. They can even dismiss the vice-chancellor but when it comes to issue of paying end allowances they go to government.”
He argued that contrary to accusations by ASUU that government had reneged on the 2009 agreement, it had met some of their demands to an extent.
“To a large extent, government has met most of the requirements. They said let us just sign, if there are matters arising we would just sit down with the implementation committee and get it resolved. Nobody is saying that now. They keep saying that government has reneged. As soon as the agreement was signed government, paid all the arrears then initiated the issue of the 70 years retirement age. The issue of improved funding has gone on, through the intervention agencies, even government subventions have also improved.
“We implemented salaries up to 52 and half per cent; yearly subvention from government has improved, ETF has been injecting a lot of money in respect of book fund, research fund and zonal laboratories. Two of the first generation universities have received over N3 billion each to upgrade their facilities and infrastructure. This is more than 10 times what they have been receiving in the last 10 years.”
But Lawal who was part of the last agreement signed two months ago by ASUU and the Federal Government said government went to sleep after that and did not do much to avert the current strike. He explained how the National Assembly was trying to meet the legislative demands of the union especially the 70 years retirement age for professors.
“In the sixth assembly, we introduced a bill that was meant to address that issue. It was passed; unfortunately when it got to the president for assent it was discovered that the bill did not reflect what ASUU wanted and so two months ago, when government and ASUU signed an agreement to try to see that most of the issues were implemented before an indefinite strike action was embarked on by ASUU, we took it upon ourselves believing that the legislative requirement would also address some of the demands, we pressed on the executive to submit an executive bill. When we realized it was not forthcoming, the committee sponsored private member bills – one is an amendment to the universities miscellaneous act that would upgrade the retirement age and the other is a bill that would ensure that for academic staff of tertiary institutions it is raised to 65 years. We have taken first and second reading, we would work on it latest by next week and that bill would be passed by the House of Representatives and I believe once that is done the Senate would concur with us,” he said.
He also agreed that the university system was in dire need of improved funding but that even that was been addressed by government.
Farouk said: “On the issue of funding, even though we could not address a significant improvement in the funding, I know we were able to amend ETF Act to now change it to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund so that more funds would go into funding our tertiary institutions and universities. When there was the warning strike two months ago, there was a meeting with the executive, particularly the Minister of Labour, Minister of Education and leadership of ASUU, and we were in attendance as observers and an agreement was signed by two sides hoping that within two months a lot of the remaining issues would be addressed. It is in that respect that government did not do much. The momentum by the executive was lost.”
He, however, cautioned that such funding must be put to proper use.
“I agree with ASUU, we need to fund the universities better. But while we are doing that we also need better transparency and accountability in the management of the funds and we also need greater efficiency. They need an efficient system of implementing the budget. We need to improve on the prioritizing of the funds that go to the universities because sometimes they use the funds for something that is not a key aspect of what a university is supposed to stand for,” he further said.
The committee chairman expressed disapproval that NUC was yet to present before the National Assembly a proposal for the amendment of its act so it can be empowered to criminalize establishment of illegal degree awarding institutions.
He said: “Like I always say, the danger of these institutions is that when they award these certificates, it erodes the integrity of the actual certificates of those who are termed legal institutions. They are a serious menace and sabotage on educational standards. We need to criminalise the existence of these institutions; we need to capitalize punishment because this is creating more havoc than financial crimes.”
Professor Okojie, however explained that a proposal for amendment had been approved by the Federal Executive Council and would soon be sent to the National Assembly.