The federal government Thursday distributed N100 billion to 59 public universities as its first intervention fund for the provision of critical infrastructure in the institutions. It also appealed to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to call off its strike and allow resumption of activities in the ivory towers.
But its plea may have not swayed the union, which Thursday announced that it was withdrawing from further negotiations with the federal government, which it accused of insincerity.
In a bid to ensure equity and national spread in the distribution of the money, each of the 36 states of the federation would have one university covered in the first phase of the intervention programme.
The funds would be deployed to building new hostels, renovation of old ones, provision of libraries, laboratories, lecture rooms and theatres and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities, among others.
Chairman of the Presidential Implementation and Monitoring Committee on the Needs Assessment in Nigerian Universities and Benue State Governor, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, announced the distribution of the funds at a news conference yesterday in Abuja, called to brief the public on the outcome of the committee’s meeting.
The meeting was attended by the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruquayatu Rufa’i and her counterpart in the Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu, representatives of both the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Education, representatives of federal agencies involved in funding university education and the various workers’ unions in the university system.
A statement from Suswam’s Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Dr Cletus Akwaya, said the meeting unanimously adopted a report of its technical sub-committee, which had earlier carried out the distribution of the funds to each of the beneficiary universities based on a criterion adopted from the Needs Assessment report.
Suswam explained that the benefitting universities have been charged to use their share of the N100 billion to address the gross deficit in critical infrastructure on their respective campuses.
He also said the distribution of the funds was done in a fair and equitable manner based on a properly defined criteria, adding that a representative of ASUU participated in the technical sub- committee that made recommendations to the main committee. “Our committee will present the spreadsheet of the projects to Mr President for his approval after which the funds would be released to the governing councils of the benefitting universities after meeting with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Minister of Education,” he said.
Suswam renewed his appeal to ASUU to call off the ongoing strike in the interest of the nation.
According to him, most of the issues that gave rise to the industrial action have been substantially addressed by the federal government.
He specifically referred to the contentious issue of the earned allowances for which the federal government has approved N30 billion for immediate release to the universities to enable them pay their staff members after due verification of the various claims of their workers.
However, ASUU at a press conference in Lagos, yesterday, rejected government’s ongoing efforts to meet its demands, saying they have been mere palliatives that are not enough to make it suspend the strike.
The union, therefore, said it was withdrawing from further negotiations with the federal government because it had not been sincere in implementing the 2009 agreement between the two parties and the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) both parties signed in January last year.
ASUU had resorted to a total strike on July 2 following the federal government’s reluctance to honour the terms of the 2009 agreement.
ASUU President, Dr. Nassir Faggae Isa, told reporters at the news conference that the federal government should commence with the implementation of the 2009 agreement rather than making a dubious statement of supporting universities with N100 billion.
According to him, “Government has declared that it will not pay university academics their earned allowances, which accumulated from 2009 to 2013. Rather, it is talking about providing N30 billion to assist various governing councils of federal universities to defray the arrears of N92 billion owed to all categories of staff in the university system . It was a sinister ‘take it, or leave it’ threat of grab the crumbs or starve to death.”
He added that since the signing of the MoU, the government had not demonstrated enough sincerity to show that it was ready to fulfil its obligations to the teachers. He explained that the union considered last Monday’s meeting, which ended in a deadlock, and other recent positions on the matter by government bewildering, embarrassing and highly unacceptable and it would therefore stop further negotiations with the federal government.
“ASUU cannot believe that the agreement, the MoU and the Needs Assessment report undertaken and endorsed by the highest public officials in the land, would be so blatantly ridiculed by the same people. We are opting out of the Suswam committee because it is as if the government team are using the strike to enrich themselves,” the union president said.
He expressed concern that the federal government that had within the last three years supported private concerns such as airlines and banks with trillions of naira from the public vaults as bailouts, is suddenly turning around to say it has no funds to conscientiously revitalise its own universities.
“Available information indicates that the Suswam committee was used as smokescreen to deceive ASUU, Nigerian students and their parents, as well as other unsuspecting members of the public on the purported released N100 billion for the implementation of the Needs Assessment report. First, government plans to divert the yearly allocations to universities by TETFund to make at least 70 per cent of the N100 billion. This is unacceptable to ASUU. It is like robbing Peter to pay Paul, since the idea of revitalisation took full cognisance of the intervention role of TETFund ab initio,” Isa said.