This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: ASUU Strike - FG Soft-Pedals On Ultimatum to Lecturers

The federal government may have reviewed its controversial posture concerning the resume-or-be-sacked order given to striking university teachers, as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been nudged to confirm the payment the government made for the lecturers.

The CBN, it was learnt, has thus directed the Accountant General of the Federation to show details of the payment of the N200 billion as demanded by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

The varsity teachers are institing on evidence of the payment of the said sum, as such claims in the past had turned out to be empty.

Also today, the National Universities Commission (NUC) will meet with universities vice- chancellors, members of the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) Assessment and Implementation Committee to discuss modalities for the disbursement of the N200billion to the universities.

Addressing journalists Tuesday, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, showed a copy of the letter by the Deputy Governor (Operations) of the CBN Tunde Lemo, confirming that an account with number 00200*** 522 on Revitalisation of Universities Infrastructure had been opened. According to him, "the CBN in a letter dated December 10, 2013 with reference GVD/DGO/GEN/MPA/05/151 to the Accountant General of the Federation" confirmed that an account had been opened.

The letter titled "Confirmation of the execution of your mandate for the credit of account number 00200***522, Revitalisation of Universities Infrastructure Account", read thus: "I write to confirm the execution of the following mandates by the Central Bank of Nigeria for funding of the above mentioned account as follows Mandate FD/P2013/40/1/30DF N129,300,000,000; Mandate FD/FA/124/VolXII/DF N20,700,000,000; Mandate FD/LP2013/40/1/DF N50,000,000,000. "I wish to further confirm that the available balance in the aforementioned account is N200, 000,000,000 (two hundred billion naira only).

"Please accept the assurances of my best regards. Signed Tunde Lemo (Deputy Governor (Operation)."

The letter was addressed to Mr. J.O. Otunia, in the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.

Okupe said the federal government decided to make the letter public because the ASUU President, Dr. Nasiru Fagge, said "if there is evidence that theN200 billion has been paid that ASUU would call off the strike and immediately return to classes. So, this is evidence that the account has been opened at the CBN and the sum of N200 billion paid as part agreement between the federal government and ASUU.

"The federal government is making everything public because of the level of cynicism in the country is so embarrassing, but it is also clear that the federal government has no integrity issue", Okupe said, while explaining that government have soft pedaled with the ultimatum because there is also over 70 per cent substantial compliance with the order.

He cited University of Lagos, Department of Law, where he said out of 100 lecturers, that 70 lecturers have signed the attendance register. This, he said, "is substantial compliance with the directive and the ultimatum".

"On the 13th of November 2013, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation authorised the banking and payment system department of the Central Bank of Nigeria via a letter with reference number FD/OAGF/220/ADC/1/4DF to open a "revitalisation of Universities Infrastructural Account" with the CBN.

On November 29, 2013, the CBN confirmed in a letter reference BPSD/BSD/CON Vol 17/088 to the Accountant General of the Federation that the said account had been opened and an account number was given.

"Prior to all these, the Director of Funds in the office of the Accountant General of the Federation MK DIKWA, through a letter reference FD/LP2008/37/C/I/DF dated 8th of November communicated with the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Universities Commission requesting for the list of Federal Universities in Nigeria for the purpose of opening a Special Account for them".

Okupe further said: "On the 12th November, 2013, the NUC through the office of the Executive Secretary, Prof. Julius Okojie, in a letter reference NUC/ES/444/VOL15/280 responded to the request and gave the list of the universities with their various account numbers domiciled with the CBN. Following this, the Accountant General has communicated with the Executive Secretary requesting for the details of amount payable to each of the listed universities which is currently being processed by the NUC.

"I state categorically that I have personally seen the balance in the account as of today and confirm that it contains the requisite amount and disbursement will commence as soon as ongoing administrative processes are sorted out.

"Finally, given due considerations to the four items mentioned by ASUU as preconditions to their calling off the strike, we state categorically that none of them remains substantially pending or weighty enough to justify the continuation of the strike. Therefore, there are no further legitimate reasons for the strike by university teachers to continue a day longer. We therefore call on Dr Nasir Fagge, his distinguished colleagues in the ASUU leadership as well as other patriotic members of their union to put all else aside and call off this strike in the interest of our young men and women who have been kept out of school for five months and who have no recourse to any form of compensation whatsoever."

And in what looks like a search for rapproachment, in tackling the protracted stalemate, the Supervising Minster of Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, is set to meet with pro-chancellors of federal universities.

The meeting, which would hold in Abuja today, is expected to determine the next step of action against the lecturers in federal universities, who have refused to resume work. The federal government had given last Monday as deadline for the striking lecturers to resume duties or face mass sack.

Wike had also directed that positions of lecturers, who failed to resume be declared vacant and advertised for. This is as the government insisted there was massive resumption by lecturers across several schools in the country.

The Special Assistant on Media to the Education Minister, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu, said many lecturers have resumed work and have even commenced lectures. He explained that Unilag had formally announced that lectures would commence fully on January 14, 2014.

"You are aware that the University of Benin, they tried to attack those who started work, but that did not deter others anyway. At UniAbuja, over 250 lecturers resumed, and some lectures have started" he added.

But in the University of Ibadan, the ASUU members declared two days fasting and prayer. The decision to adopt a spiritual approach came during the congress held at the Faculty of Arts. The congress which was presided over by the Chairman, Dr. Olusegun Ajiboye, stressed the need for God to visit the Nigerian leadership to do the needful and document the resolutions of their meeting with the president.

Speaking after the Congress, Ajiboye said the union did not need newspaper confirmation from the president that N200billion had been deposited with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

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