Lagos and Abuja — Leaders of striking university lecturers yesterday said they will no longer participate in discussions with government representatives until the agreement reached between the two sides in 2009 is implemented.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) began an indefinite strike on July 1, demanding the implementation of an agreement under which government will release N100 billion in 2012 and N400 billion from 2013 to 2015 to address infrastructure decay in the universities.
The two sides have held series of meetings to resolve the impasse, butthis has so far failed because of what ASUU said was an attempt by the government to renegotiate the 2009 deal. The latest discussions ended Tuesday with no headway and no date set for next deliberations.
Speaking at a news conference in Lagos yesterday, ASUU president Nasir Isa Fagge said the union would no longer make any concessions or attend meetings with the government until the previous agreement has been implemented.
"ASUU members nationwide are saying this strike will not be suspended until and unless the government respects the 2009 agreement and makes concrete efforts to implement it in the best interest of the country," he said.
"We insist that we are not going to make any concession anymore. It is either the government honour that agreement or the strike continues. And if government is interested in re-negotiating that agreement, it has to first implement what we first agreed on before we can commence process of renegotiation," he added.
Fagge also criticised the government committee led by Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam, which he said was only interested in awarding scandalous contracts rather than improvement of the condition of the universities. The committee had announced on Tuesday that N30 billion would be provided to pay lecturers' claims while N100 billion would be released to repair the universities.
"Available information indicates that the Suswam committee was to be used as smokescreen to deceive ASUU, Nigerian students and their parents as well as other unsuspecting members of the public on the purportedly released N100 billion for the implementation of the Needs Assessment Report," he said.
"Until and unless the Suswam committee gives the union a guarantee that it will not serve as another means of recycling TETFUND money and of diverting funds meant for varsities, ASUU representatives will no longer participate in deliberations of that committee."
He said the National Universities Commission (NUC) has been turned into a tender board for the award of hostel contracts which he said would be used to siphon university funds.
"NUC has been acting contrary to its statutory function as a regulatory agency, transmuting itself to a 'tender board' which awarded contracts for the construction of 560 bed spaces hostel for each university at a whopping sum of N1.2 billion. This contract sum translates into N2.143 million per bed space and N8.571 million per room," he said.
"We foresee more of such scandalous contracts with the new students' hostel project being planned by the Suswam committee. To be specific, the committee is proposing to commit as much as N1.6 million to a bed space, whereas our random check suggests that this could go for between N200,000 and N400,000--depending on location. We call on National Assembly members to further investigate this matter as part of their oversight function."
FG begins funds release
As ASUU continues to flex muscles, the Federal Government said it will today begin injecting N130 billion into the university system as part of efforts to pacify the striking lecturers. Suswam, who is chairman of the Presidential Committee on Needs Assessments of Nigerian Universities, said yesterday in Abuja the universities' governing councils would today receive N30 billion for disbursement to workers after verification. He said N100 billion for universities infrastructural development has already been sourced and would also be disbursed, to target hostels and lecture theatres as well as other facilities.
"All the universities concerned will be starting with at least a project. We have also done very equitable distribution of taking the universities across the entire nation after we adopted the criteria," Suswam said.
"Most of the criteria are based on the population of the universities... . For instance, the universities that have about 50,000 population will benefit initially a new hostel and then there are other ones that we will give them money for renovation, ditto for the other projects that are going to be spread across the entire universities.
"And in this report, a subcommittee of the report had participation from ASUU, and the other unions and TETFUND; so all participated in that subcommittee in the distribution of projects to our various universities."
Answering a question on if the steps taken by government will end the strike, Suswam said "yes, we still hope that given the seriousness which the Federal Government has put in this negotiation, ASUU will have to cooperate with the Federal Government in bringing the children back to school. The Federal Government has shown a lot of good faith in the negotiation, the issues in contention have been addressed."
He added: "I think as a people we should sacrifice. One expects a lot of sacrifice on both sides and the Federal Government has gone ahead to do that. ASUU should also please make that sacrifice. If that N30 billion on earned allowance is not enough, if the governing councils whose responsibilities it is to actually pay this allowance verify and say look, this N30 billion you gave to us is not enough, I think when they come back, the Federal Government can listen to them. But there is an absolute need to call of this strike. We can't continue this way."
President of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) Mr. Samson Ugwoke and his counterpart in the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) Mr. Ladi Iliya were at the meeting and told journalists that Suswam had delivered their position.
After the Abuja announcement, Daily Trust contacted ASUU president Fagge by telephone to hear if they would consider the government's offer, but he insisted that only implementing the 2009 agreement would end the strike.