In this interview National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, says lecturers are yet to reach a resolution with the Federal Government on their demands.
There is speculation that the union threw out a deal reached with government in an attempt to end the strike by universities academic staff. Why?
There was no agreement so we didn’t reject any deal reached with the government. What they gave us at the last meeting was a proposal of our demands. Proposals are not the same thing as agreement. They gave us a proposal and we said we will take the proposal back to our members. What we have been doing in the last one week was to consult with our members and we still convey the report of our consultation to the Ministry of Labour and Employment. Now they are saying we will meet on Monday (last) to discuss the positions.
You discussed almost all your demands with government. What are the controversial aspects?
The major issues discussed were about three and the first is on revitalisation fund, which is key to our struggle. The entire struggle revolves around it. It is the fund that we will need to fix our laboratories, libraries and furnish our classrooms and others. So, we cannot suspend strike with nothing to show for our effort in terms of making our environment conducive for us.
What government proposed was to release N20 billion in two installments and we said that is not it; there are five tranches of N220 billion that are pending and our members are saying that government should at least release one tranche and as a sign of commitment to that they should release N50 billion immediately.
So, if they can release N50 billion immediately they can now spread the balance over the next three quarters of this year, That is the way we have reported to government on revitalisation.
The second area has to do with the payment of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) for which the government promised to release N20 billion and we said the N20 billion should be strictly for ASUU members. And if that money is for ASUU members, government should tell us how to pay the balance as indicated in the report of the Government Committee on Forensic Audit.
Government said they will pay in four installments but the installments have no timeline; government should give timeline and the amount that will be released at each installment.
Another issue discussed is that government should stop the payment of academic allowances from falling into arrears. Government promised in 2017 that they will mainstream it into the budget but that wasn’t done. We are saying that the compilation of 2019 budget is ongoing; government should include the EAA in the budget so we won’t come back in 2020 to restart talks about arrears of EAA.
The third area we are trying to iron out is shortfall in salaries. Government promised to pay salary arrears on Saturday 18th of January, 2019 and we are still waiting to see the evidence of payment. There were three universities that were omitted and we are drawing government attention to those universities and we hope they will address them alongside others.
Those are the three controversial areas that we are waiting to be implemented and then there are issues related to our pension fund administrators. We have done the final inspection and we are hoping that government will do the right thing as promised.
Many people say the striking lecturers aren’t considering the future of students and the concerns parents have for their kids. What’s your reaction to these?
Don’t forget that ASUU members are also parents, but what we are doing now is that we are making a sacrifice for students to secure their future. We are sacrificing our today so that our children can have public universities that they can be proud of in the future. Those of us who are struggling now, went to public universities and if students are lucky to be in those universities they should also support us in defending the universities from collapsing.
The trouble we are making is that we don’t want a situation in which our universities would collapse just like our primary and secondary schools have collapsed. That is the context from which we want people to appreciate the ASUU struggle. This is because public primary and secondary teachers were not supported to defend the schools. We have lost them; we don’t want a situation in which we will all be ashamed to send our children to public universities. So, the sacrifice is for the future of our children.
Going by the proposal you have, are we likely to see the strike end anytime soon?
The strike will end when government addresses our minimalist proposal send to it. We have reduced what we proposed drastically, what we propose now is a far cry from where we started. So, government must address this proposal that we have before it in order to pave way for the suspension of the strike action. Unless it does so, we cannot go back to our members to prevail on them to consider other positions than where we are. We enjoin Nigerians to help us appeal to government to do what is necessary to fix Nigerian universities.