19 March 2017

Nigeria: University Lecturers, ASUU, Accuse Federal Govt of Deceit, Threaten Showdown

University lecturers have warned of "consequential damage to public university education in Nigeria" if the federal government does not stop the slash in lecturers' salaries.

The lecturers, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, stated this at a press conference on Sunday.

The text of the speech read by Theophilus Lagi, zonal coordinator of ASUU-Abuja zone, was sent to PREMIUM TIMES.

ASUU-Abuja zone comprises the University of Abuja; Federal University of Technology, Minna; Nasarawa State University, Keffi; Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai; and Federal University, Lafia.

Mr. Lagi said the federal government has since December 2015 been intermittently slashing personnel funds to federal universities which has affected payment of salaries.

He gave examples of funds to the University of Abuja and the Federal University, Lafia.

"In January 2017, the personnel costs released by the government to the University of Abuja, for instance, was a little above N359 million," he said.

"This amount could only pay about 91 per cent of the salaries of staff in the University for that month. However, in February2017, the same government released a little above N302 million to the same University of Abuja for the same purpose, when there was no reduction in the workforce at the University."

The don also questioned government's excuse of lack of funds due to the current economic recession.

"If FIRS, which generates revenue from taxes on economic activities met its target, when or at what point did economic growth contract and even went into negative as to warrant the claim of recession and existence of same?" he said.

He warned that the government must reverse the trend and ensure adequate funds are provided for universities to meet staff salaries or risk "consequential damage" to universities.

"It is on this note that ASUU unequivocally demand an immediate restoration of releases of the full personnel costs (including arrears thereof) to all Federal Universities in Nigeria, in order to forestall the infliction of consequential damage to public university education in Nigeria.

Read Mr. Lagi's full speech below.

On 15th of April, 2016, ASUU-ABUJA ZONE (comprising University of Abuja, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Nasarawa State University, Keffi Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai and Federal University, Lafia) briefed you and by extension, the general public on the ugly and worrisome unilateral drastic cut by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) in the personnel costs allocations to Federal Universities across the country. Today, almost a year after, we again sadly invite you for briefing on the same issue of shortfall in salaries paid to our members across all Federal Universities. This ugly phenomenon began in December, 2015 and it has become a pattern employed by FGN to debilitate the workers movement in the country, especially ASUU.

THE CAUSES

It is very unclear what informed the FGN decision to callously and brazenly indulge in this inimical practice of unilateral pay-cut. One thing is clear however and that is, the extant authorities like the Ministry of Finance and the Budget Agencies have no inkling how the University system works; this is the most probable reason for the pay-cut. It does appear that the Finance and Budget and Planning Ministries have failed to realize or refused to accept and correct their mistakes in the figures they project as appropriation for tertiary education, particularly the University education sub-sector. Gentlemen of the Press, you would recall that the issue of salary shortfall was one of the cardinal points that led the Union to embark on a one-week warning Strike in November 2016. Further to the intervention of the Senate President in the week-long warning strike, some understanding was reached, virement was made and funds were released to clear up some of the accumulated salary shortfalls. One would have thought that the right thing to do was to sustain the temple and maintain the drive to clear all outstanding shortfalls and to put mechanisms in place to forestall any future reoccurrence of any form of shortfalls. Sadly, this was not done.

In January 2017, the personnel costs released by the government to the University of Abuja, for instance, was a little above N359 million. This amount could only pay about 91% of the salaries of staff in the University for that month. However, in February2017, the same government released a little above 302 million naira to the same University of Abuja for the same purpose, when there was no reduction in the workforce at the University. This dipped the pay-cut further down. While the staff of University of Abuja received 81% of their total salaries in February, their counterparts in the Federal University, Lafia received only 45 per cent of their total salaries for the same month of February2017. At the Federal University of Technology, Minna, the story is also not different, as the University experienced over N21 million cut in salaries each for the months of January and February, 2017.

This is now the norm, with no end in sight. The most worrisome part of the problem is that in the 2017 Appropriation Bill submitted by the Executive arm of FGN to the National Assembly for consideration and possibly passed into law, the agencies responsible for budget preparation have maintained the figures they used for personnel costs projections for 2015 in almost all Federal Universities. The implications of this are many. First, this gives the impression that none of the Federal Universities was expected to recruit any staff from 2015 through 2017. Not just that; the same Universities were not expected to promote any staff as well, for even if the appropriation for 2015 could be sufficient to pay salaries for 2015, it certainly would not be sufficient to pay 2016 salaries, if one or two staff were promoted in the Universities. Rhetorically, one would ask if the intention of the Federal Government was to stop recruitment and promotion in the Federal Universities while student enrolment increases yearly, putting more excess workload on the academic staff.

Government would want to predicate this shortfall on the so-called recession that they claim the country is in. Technically speaking, recession means quarterly back-to-back negative economic growth for consecutive quarters of a year. In meeting with the 2016 appropriation, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) was expected to generate 4.2 trillion naira from taxes; taxes on economic activities. It is common knowledge that as at the end of November 2016, FIRS met this target of 4.2 trillion naira. If FIRS, which generates revenue from taxes on economic activities met its target, when or at what point did economic growth contract and even went into negative as to warrant the claim of recession and existence of same? In fact, it could be proven that the nation recorded budget surplus in 2016. Therefore, the Federal Government has no reason whatsoever, other than deliberate intent to inflict pains and misery on the citizenry, to hype the gimmick of recession and in that garb, decide to unilaterally cut the earned salaries of the academic staff. It is imprudent for a democratic government like the Federal Republic of Nigeria to implement unilateral pay-cut in workers' salaries knowing that such an action is against its own policy thrust, being a signatory to most of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions. This is condemnable in every sense.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE PAY-CUT

Myriad consequences could cascade from this action of FGN. Foremost and most disturbing is the fact that State Governments who are the Proprietors of State Universities are waiting to copy this style adopted by the FGN to manage Federal Universities. Yea, with the benefit of hindsight, the State Governments will follow suit and this would precipitate a breakdown of industrial harmony across all public Universities in the country. Therefore, this singular action of the FGN is a recipe for the death of public university education in Nigeria. This implies that the masses shall no longer have access to university education in Nigeria and therefore, Nigeria shall continue to be under-developed.

WAY FORWARD

Unfortunately, this unacceptable practice which started in December 2015 has continued unabated. World over, salary is sacrosanct and payment of full salary (including all earned allowances) is the lubricant of the wheels of industrial harmony within the university establishment. ASUU insists that her members have rendered their duties in full (100%) and as such, they should have their salaries and allowances paid in full and not in percentages or decimals. It is on this note that ASUU unequivocally demand an immediate restoration of releases of the full personnel costs (including arrears thereof) to all Federal Universities in Nigeria, in order to forestall the infliction of consequential damage to public university education in Nigeria. Long Live ASUU, Long Live the forthright people of Nigeria!

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