By Oludayo Tade
Within two weeks of the conditional suspension of the nine-month strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the federal government has stuck to her notoriety of flouting agreements willingly reached with the union. As of December 31, 2020, the federal government failed to fulfill three agreements reached with the union.
One, it promised to release N40billion Earned Academic/Earned Allowances to offset part of the outstanding claims of the members of all registered trade unions in the universities on or before December 31, 2020, but did not. Two, lecturers received only two months’ salaries out of six months (including December 2020 salaries) owed lecturers. Not all lecturers were even paid for the two months.
In the University of Ibadan for example, a list of over 120 lecturers who did not receive payments for the two months is being compiled. In some other universities, some have not received anything since February 2020! Three, payment of deducted check-off dues of the union ought to start on or before December 31, 2020, as promised but the federal government also failed to deliver!
With regards to the funding for the revitalization of public universities, the government promised to pay public-funded universities (not ASUU) N30 billion on or before January 31 as part of one tranche of an expected N220 billion government is supposed to pay as a sign that they are still committed to implementing the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Union in 2013.
Recall that the federal government inaugurated a Needs Assessment Committee to assess the level of decay in publicly funded varsities in 2012 and come up with what it will take to reposition it to attain global standards. The assessment was undertaken in 74 (37 federal and 37 states) public-funded universities.
The committee recommended that a total of N1.3 trillion would be needed to make Nigerian universities close to world standards. They agreed it will be paid between 2014 through 2018.
Since assuming office in 2015, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been consistent in reducing budgetary allocation to education and did nothing with the agreement until another strike in 2019 when the Buhari administration paid N20 billion (instead of N220billion for 2015) to revitalize public varsities as a show of commitment to the agreement. PMB’s government promised to pay 55billion each quarter but failed woefully to do this until another strike in 2020.
In relation to withheld lecturers’ salaries, the federal government promised to pay lecturers who had not enrolled in the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) in instalments starting in December 2020 and ending on January 31. Many universities have updated their lists with the office of the Accountant General of the Federation as agreed and they are waiting to get their salaries.
The NUC and Federal Ministry of Education reported that the process of mainstreaming the Earned Academic Allowances into the national budget had been concluded and sent to the National Assembly who agreed to include it “provided the amount involved is sent in as quickly as possible by the Federal Ministry of Education”. ASUU leadership cannot afford to sleep now and needs to track this in the signed 2021 budget to be sure this has been done.
Of course, the union has threatened to down tools should the government renege on the understanding it reached with the union. It is left to President Muhammadu Buhari to prove he is trustworthy and keep his side of the truce. Emerging issues are: how will lectures be delivered in our congested lecture rooms with the threat of a new variant of COVID-19 that is more contagious and deadly?
Where will water for handwashing come from when many public varsities don’t have a functional water supply to even keep a clean toilet? Where will sanitizers as a social responsibility of government come from apart from telling people to take responsibility? Has the government inserted money in the budget to fund migration from face-to-face to online teaching as a response to COVID-19?.
Sadly, the same government that finds it hard to provide quality education to law-abiding children is happy funding terrorists’ education abroad. Early breaches in the covenant with ASUU are not signs of a good omen and it will be sad if this government that mounted leadership on the CHANGE mantra cannot allow positive change in education to begin with it by makeup for breaches. A stitch in time saves nine.
- Dr. Oludayo Tade, email@example.com