A fresh insight into the negotiation between the federal government and university teachers indicates there is still a long way before an agreement between the two parties on their dispute.
The union warned that there is still nothing concrete on ground to push any optimism of the over two months old strike by the university teachers being called off soon.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) went on strike November 4 last year to demand improved funding of universities and implementation of previous agreements with the government.
Other demands of the lecturers include the implementation of 2009 FGN/ASUU agreements, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU; 2012 and 2013) and Memorandum of Action (MoA, 2017) and the truncation of the renegotiation of the union’s agreements.
The union went on strike in 2018 to compel the government to make funds available for the revitalisation of public universities, based on the FGN-ASUU MoU of 2012, 2013 and the MoA of 2017. Another issue was the failure of government to release operational license to the Nigerian University Employees Pension Company (NUPEMCO).
The unions also asked for the release of the forensic audit report on Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), payments of all outstanding earned academic allowances and mainstreaming of same into salaries beginning with the 2018 budget; payment of all arrears of shortfall in salaries to all universities that have met the verification requirements of the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA); and release of University Pension Fund operational license.
Meanwhile, one of the major issues that has been dragging the negotiations forth and back is revitalisation of the universities. At present, the government is yet to release the N1.1 trillion of the N1.3 trillion it agreed to provide for the revitalization of public universities.
The 2013 MoU stipulated that public universities needed N1.3 trilion for a modest revitalisation. The fund was to be paid in tranches of N200billion in 2013, N220billion 2014, N220billion 2015, 220billion in 2016, N220billion in 2017 and N220billion in 2018.
The previous government of Goodluck Jonathan administration released N200 billion in 2013 but since then nothing has been released.
On Tuesday, after the seventh meeting between federal government and ASUU, the union said it had a figure to take back to its members for consideration, noting that it was a step forward compared to the outcomes of the previous six meetings.
The union leaders said the National Executive Committee of ASUU would review its the situation based on the new commitment by the government before taking any step on suspending the strike.
Hope was further raised of an imminent end to the strike after the Tuesday meeting when the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, explained what the federal government was offering the unions.
According to him, the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Ministry of Finance had confirmed with evidence that N15.4 billion had been released to public universities.
On earned allowances, Mr Ngige said President Muhammadu Buhari has approved N20 billion to offset the outstanding arrears of the 2009 to 2012 verified earnings in the universities.
The national president of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, stressed that the union was yet to reach an agreement with the government on any issue.
He said what the union took from the government were proposals because “We told them where there were low and what our members will not take but they said that was the best they could give.”
According to him, the difference between the last meeting and earlier ones was that it was the first time the union was given figures “that we could take back to our members.”
He said the union leaders warned government representatives that ASUU members were not likely to accept those figures “but they insisted that we should go and inform them first.”
“We agreed to go back to our members in order to show to them that we are not difficult people. We have been having consultations and telling the government the initial reactions we are getting. So, if they want this problem resolved, they should consider the low things.”
Speaking on revitalisation of universities, Mr Ogunyemi said if the government did not release another tranche of the agreed sum, his members would think the government is not ready to solve the problem.
“Revitalisation is key to this issue. That was the point I was making when we had the exit engagement and Senator Ngige was saying we agreed on many issues. There are issues that did not require agreement. If you say you will set up a committee and you do, it is implementation not agreement. So, our intention is not to attack any government but to get our demands,” he said.
“They didn’t release any money. If we are talking about the N1.1 trillion that they should release in tranches and government has not said they will work towards releasing one tranche, then how do you think our members will take that from us? They are mixing up issues. They did not tell us if the N20 billion is a deposit,” he said.
He said no Nigerian will believe the country does not have money to resolve some of the contentious issues.
“I don’t believe any Nigeria will believe government does not have money for what they see as a priority. We keep telling them that overnight they brought out N800 billion to bail out what they now call Polaris Bank. When they had a problem with subsidy, they knew where they went to; so they cannot keep telling us there is no money,” he said.
When asked when the union will meet the government again to discuss when the strike will be suspended, Mr Ogunyemi said the union was still consulting.
“I am not going to determine whether we are resuming or not. Our members will determine that and we will go back to them,” he said.
The federal government released N23 billion to pay outstanding Earned Academic Allowances for 2009 and 2010. From 2011 to date, however, no release has been made.