FG owes varsities N623bn —ASUU •Demands immediate release, payment of salaries, pension to douse tension

THE Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) declared on Monday that the Federal Government must immediately release a whooping sum of N623.2 billion it owes universities to forestall disruption of academic activities in varsities across the country.

Besides, the association warned that the government must quickly address the shortfall in salaries leading to payment of fractions of staff salaries in universities and non-payment of salaries of staff in staff primary schools since December 2015.

Addressing a world press conference at the Labour House, Abuja, ASUU President, Comrade Biodun Ogunyemi, said the Federal Government owed the universities a total sum of N128.2 billion under the Earned Academic Allowances in line with the agreement reached under the 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement and the subsequent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) reached with the government in 2013.

He also pointed out that the government owed the universities the arrears of N495 billion as at the first quarter of 2016 in respect of the Needs Assessment Fund for Revitalisation of Public Universities.

Comrade Ogunyemi said: “Our union is seriously worried about a number of issues emanating from the 2009 Agreement and subsequently, the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal Government which have remained unaddressed. The major ones are…. the Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) and funding of universities.

“The 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement Implementation Committee (IMC) had submitted a report of the outstanding balance of N65,833,047,372.24 (2009-2013) plus N62,417,645,224.23 (2014-2016), amounting to an unpaid balance of N128,250,692,596.42. This was in line with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Federal Government and ASUU while resolving the crisis of June-November, 2013. Government has not added or paid a kobo beyond the initial N30 billion paid university staff as part of EAA in 2013, a clear breach of the MoU.

“Funding of universities, based on the FGN-ASUU Memorandum of Understanding of November 2013, government was in arrears of N495 billion as at first quarter of 2016 in respect of Needs Assessment Fund for Revitalisation of Public Universities.”

He regretted that as at the moment, all Nigerian universities are in a state of serious crisis which is becoming worse by the day, adding that beginning from December 2015, almost all public universities begin to experience a drastic reduction in their personnel cost.

According to him “although, the Federal Government promised that it would not relent in implementing the MoU and will also gradually work towards that 26 per cent budgetary allocation recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), this promise has not been translated into action. Rather, budgetary allocation to education dropped from 12% to 11% and 8% in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively.”

The ASUU president warned that the issues of staff salaries and pension must be addressed immediately without further delay; adding “there are two key issues that must be addressed to douse tension in our universities today. These are shortfall in salaries leading to payment of fractions of staff salaries in universities from December 2015 and the non-payment of salaries of staff in staff primary schools since December 2015 contrary to provisions of 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement.”

ASUU also expressed worries over the issue of pension.

ASUU president said that the issues raised with the government on pension over the years were yet to be resolved.

Comrade Ogunyemi equally lamented the antics of state governments on the under-funding of public universities.

He pointed out that while the state governors, citing the example of Edo and Ekiti states, failed to release funds for the running of the universities they met on ground they were busy establishing new universities.

He regretted that the state governors have turned establishing state university to constituency project.

In a related development, ASUU has kicked against the cancellation of Post Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (Post-UTME) conducted by universities in the country.

ASUU President, Comrade Ogunyemi, who spoke at a news conference in Abuja, said the cancellation of the Post-UTME by the Federal Government portends serious danger for the quality of education in the country.

He said the granting of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) the exclusive right to admit students into tertiary institutions was not only wrong but eroding the university autonomy and as such unacceptable to ASUU and the university authorities.

Ogunyemi said: “The argument of the Federal Government on the policy is unacceptable and potentially harmful to the future of Nigeria’s education system.

“We call on government to rescind its decision and convene a genuine stakeholders’ meeting on the issue before making any policy statement.

“In this era of ‘change’, the process of taking decisions that could adversely affect the people and basic institutions vital for national development ought to be democratically and scientifically taken.

“The ban on Post-UTME and the granting to JAMB exclusive rights to admit students to tertiary institutions, especially universities are mistakes that will come around to hunt our nation in the not-too-distant future.

“Everywhere in the world, universities Senate is responsible for admissions and Nigeria cannot be an exception,”

Ogunyemi admitted that the Post-UTME has its problems which could be addressed to curtail the exploitation of parents and candidates.

ASUU suggested that government could review the validity period of UTME or its registration fees from one to three years, saying this would reduce exploitation by JAMB and ensure fairness to candidates.

He noted that government could also decide to peg the Post-UTME fee at N1,000.00, to forestall the outrageous charges of over N5000.00 to N8,000.00 by some universities.

He reiterated that ASUU would never accept policies which violate university autonomy.

“This is a call to all well-meaning Nigerians to intervene to avert a looming crisis in the Nigerian University System. We have a duty to defend the education system,” he said.