The Federal Government yesterday admitted failing to keep some of its promises to university lecturers but said it would work hard to get them to suspend the strike declared on Sunday by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
It reiterated that ASUU did not follow due process before embarking on the strike.
Minister of Education Adamu Adamu, who spoke with reporters at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, said: “Very sad that I am here and ASUU is on strike. Late last year, we had a meeting because ASUU gave one week notice of strike and we were able to work out some agreement. I must confess government has not fulfilled its part of the bargain, even though we are unhappy that ASUU went on this strike without following due process and giving us good notice. We realised that we promised something and we didn’t fulfil it.
“I hope I will be meeting them later today or tomorrow and I’m sure we will be able to reach some agreement so that the strike will be called off as soon as possible.
“I’m sure you are aware of the issues we agreed on. There is the issue of renegotiation, which is the only one they agreed government has done what it promised because we set up the renegotiation team and negotiation is already ongoing.
“There is the issue of Earned Allowances and I think because of some miscommunication what we promised could not be done, but I’m assuring ASUU and the whole nation that this is going to be done.
“There is the issue of registration for Nigerian Universities Pension Commission. I think that one there are few issues that need to be sorted out with the Nigerian Pension Commission, I believe there will be no problem with that.
“The issue of their staff school which I think the court has given them verdict to go ahead with it. They have requested that they should be allowed to stay off TSA and I think the government will not do this but there are some peculiar funds in the university, like an endowment, which are monies kept and all the interest they generate, prizes and so on are given.
“Government will exempt that one only, but universities in spite of the peculiarities, they just must log on. I hope later on when I meet them today there will be total agreement.”
Adamu said ASUU should give an account of the funds it got for the Earned Allowances before more payment can be made. The government released N30 billion in 2010.
Adamu said the government had the money to pay the balance of N23b after a forensic audit of the N30b released earlier.
Asked to reconcile the statement he made during the last dispensation about ASUU strike, when he said “so, instead of hectoring ASUU to call off its strike, the nation should be praying for more of its kind in other sectors of the economy,” the minister said that was still his position.
He said if ASUU had not forced former President Goodluck Jonathan, he would not have created the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), without which, he said, the university system would have collapsed.
The minister said: “That is still my view. I believe ASUU is composed of patriotic people, very responsible.
“If I can look at what their struggle is, they forced the then government to create TETFund and today, without TETFund, the university system would have collapsed.
“I’m not supporting ASUU; I’m supporting what is good. If it is something bad, I will condemn it,” he added
But ASUU President Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi faulted the government’s claim that the union did not give a notice of the strike.
Prof. Ogunyemi said the union wrote to Minister of Labour Dr Chris Ngige about the impending strike last month.
“What the Labour Minister said I don’t agree with it because we only resumed an action we suspended. We showed him a letter and he could not dismiss it. We sent the letter around July 8 or 10. I will confirm the date,” he said.
On Dr Wale Babalakin’s claim that the union acted in bad faith by calling the strike, Ogunyemi said it was about issues outside Babalakin’s mandate, explaining that he (Babalakin) was a negotiator, not an implementer.
He said: “The issues Babalakin is handling are issues that cover areas we need to redefine.
We have specific issues we have engaged the government on, which it has refused to implement – issues like the unilateral removal of funding for staff schools of federal universities; payment of reduced salaries – we did not bargain for salary cuts; failure to facilitate the release of the licence of the Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO); failure to issue circular for professors who have spent at least 30 years in the university to retire with their salaries for life.
“Babalakin is mixing up negotiation with implementation. If the government wants to make Babalakin head of the Implementation panel, it should let us know.”
Ogunyemi said the union was still talking with the government to resolve the issues that led to the strike
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions, Senator Jibrin Barau, yesterday expressed shock that ASUU went on strike.
Barau said the Senate was already handling their grievances and that it was not expected that they should go on strike now.