The recent disclosure by the federal government that it would begin the disbursement of the N30 billion revitalisation fund to public universities soon should serve as a soothing balm for the Nigeria’s Ivory Towers, which have over the decades suffred series of disruption, no thanks to the incessant and prolonged industrial actions by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)..
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, made the disclosure at the end of a closed door conciliation meeting between the federal government and ASUU last Friday in Abuja. The meeting was convened by the minister to evaluate the level of implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by both parties in December 2020 and the resolutions of the follow up meeting, held on August 2.
Ngige said the meeting held fruitful deliberations and the six issues on the agenda were satisfactorily addressed. He assured that the government was not dragging its feet on anything that would make the university system to be good, adding that it was desirable that public universities should be seen as fit and proper places for learning and research. The minister reaffirmed the commitment of the government to uplifting the standard of the country’s university system.
“The Buhari administration will try as much as possible within its limited resources, to make meaningful contributions to the development of the university system,” he said. On the revitalisation funds for public universities, he said the meeting received an update from the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the Federal Ministry of Education.
According to him, they are happy that the assignment given to them has been done satisfactorily. Ngige said the NUC and the Federal Ministry of Education did their assignment in terms of getting the universities to come and defend the various allocations given to them based on the needs in the universities.
“A committee to monitor has also been sent up by the NUC. We are happy about that and expect the disbursement of the revitalisation funds to commence very soon.”
On earned allowances, Ngige said the meeting was equally satisfied with the work that the NUC had done having compartmentalised the payments based on the universities and the existing unions. He said N22. 172 billion was provided in the 2021 Supplementary Budget for Earned Allowances to all workers in the universities.
Ngige expressed optimism that the payments to the individual universities would commence very soon, as the meeting had set a timeline for the payment to begin on or before Oct. 30. He said they received the report from the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) on the preferred payment platform of ASUU known as the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) system.
“We are also happy with the report they gave. We asked them to liaise with ASUU and NUC, to work on this system for deployment by the users, as soon as possible.”
In his remarks, the national president of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, expressed hope that all the issues would be resolved quickly, for the benefit of the children, the university system and the country in general.
The federal government’s gesture may have been prompted by ASUU, which had in September accused the government of going to sleep over the implementation of the December 22, 2020, Memorandum of Action (MOA) signed prior to the suspension of its nine-month-old strike. The union threatened that it might be left with no other choice than to activate its procedure of resuming the suspended strike.
The Zonal Coordinator of ASUU, Bauchi zone, Professor Lawal Garba Abubakar, said during a press conference held at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Bauchi, that ASUU and its members have been stretched beyond their limits as it cannot continue to wait for government and its agents, displaying all manner of antics which amount to delay tactics.
The ASUU zonal coordinator said that the union and government team have since concluded on the renegotiation exercise with a draft agreement for both teams to take to their principals since May 19, 2021, pointing out the month of September has come with the Draft renegotiated 2021 agreement yet to be signed by both parties, a development, he noted, was a deliberate effort by the federal government to ridicule the process by absconding.
On the issue of funding for the revitalisation of public universities, Professor Lawal said that no university has received a dime despite the agreement that N30 billion will be disbursed to all public universities by the end of January 2021, adding that the fund is yet to be paid to universities even after a claim at a meeting on August 2, 2021, by the minister of labour and employment and the accountant general of the federation, that the money has been deposited in the central bank of Nigeria since January 2021.
We commend the federal government for its determination to improve the nation’s university system and ASUU for their for patience and patriotism while government sorts itself out. It is, however, pertinent to underscore that the money should be judiciously expended to avoid a resort to another round of disputes. ASUU, therefore, has a duty as a critical stakeholder in the vanguard for the development of the nation’s university system to monitor the deployment of the fund and ensure its prudent utilisation.