The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has asked the federal government to stop distorting facts about funds released to the union and the universities, saying the ongoing strike by the university teachers is still lingering because of a few disagreement between the government and the union on the mode of releasing agreed funds to the Universities.
National President of the union, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi who spoke on the sideline of the Central Working Committee meeting of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) at the weekend said the union was not a spending agency of government, adding that the comment credited to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige that N163 billion was released to the Union was a distortion of facts.
Ogunyemi said the N163 billion referred to by the Minister was released to the Universities by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) to meet specific needs in the universities and should not be equated to the revitalization fund being demanded by the unions.
He said “The Minister of Labour referred to the release of N163bn which was not released by the Ministry of Education for revitalization. That fund he alluded to was from TETFUND.
“TETFUND was there when we carried out the NEEDS Assessment in 2012. What we called Revitalisation Fund today is a product of that exercise of 2012. We have always drawn a line of distinction between what TETFUND gives and what we should access from the NEEDS Assessment Fund. They are different terms of interventions that should not be equated to one.
“TETFUND as an intervention agency is ASUU brainchild which became a reality. The funds from the NEEDS Assessment is to fix specific items of deficiency in our system.
Unfortunately, both federal and state governments have now relinquished their responsibilities to TETFUND. The Federal Government budget for education in term of capital project funding is worrisome.
“That is why we keep saying that the Ministry of Labour and Employment should stop saying N163bn has been released to ASUU. ASUU is not a spending agency of government. We don’t spend government money. When money is released, it goes to the universities and governing councils who are representatives of government in the schools. It is a distortion if we say N163bn was released to ASUU.”
He explained that the issue of university revitalization has remained contentious with the union demanding a release of N50 billion to the Universities before the strike is suspended, while government is saying it cannot meet that demand as a result of the condition of the economy.
He said “The area that is perhaps most contentious is revitalization. That is where we said the Federal Government should release N50bn. We proposed that government should release one tranche of N220bn but it claimed that N20bn was released earlier. That N20bn was promised early in 2017 but was released late in 2018. The government is now taking that as part of the N220bn we are calling for.
“That means we have N200bn left to make it one tranche. We advised that the amount should be split into four tranches so that N50bn will be released first. That was our demand. It is a minimal position, but government said it was not possible because of the economic situation of the country.
“It proposed that it will be increased in the second quarter. That is what we are yet to agree on as it concerns revitalization. We hope government will do a rethink on this before the middle of this week so that we can meet again and sort out the gray areas.”
He expressed the hope that when both parties meet again later this week, the issues in contention will be resolved to allow students return to classes, saying “In the last meeting we had, we tried to trash the grey areas. They gave us the updates on items on the list and narrowed it to three areas that have yet to be finalised. Our members are serious about those areas.
“The one about shortfall is neither there nor here. Although government gave us evidence about payment to universities, we are still awaiting confirmation (of the receipt) from the universities. Only some have confirmed it.
“Concerning the issue of earned academic allowances, we are consulting our members on what the government wants to pay now. The problem there is the reschedule of payment of the balance. With the report of the forensic audit, we have a clear idea of what the government owes up till 2016.
“We agreed with the government proposal of paying in four installments. What we have not finalised is the proportion of the payment. We also agreed that government can pay the money in 36 months. This means that at the end of every nine months, something must be paid.
“On the issue of our Pension Fund Administrators which is Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company, we have seen some green light and hope that the licence for our operation, as promised, should be out this week. These are areas we are working on.
Ogunyemi said the union has tried to bend backward in its demands as a result of the intervention of Nigerians, saying “We have been reducing our demands because of the intervention from stakeholders and when we meet again, we will be hoping to arrive at something acceptable.
“As an individual, I don’t have a say in when the strike will end. If government comes up with a proposal that will sell before our people, it will be easier for us to tell them that government has tried its best. It is not enough for us to say that we have tried our best. Government must also show that it has tried its best. Our members are reasonable.”