Thursday, November 28, 2013

FG gives ASUU one-week ultimatum to end strike


Supervising Minister of Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike
The Federal Government has directed all federal university vice-chancellors   to reopen their institutions  for academic and allied activities.
The government also declared that lecturers who fail to resume on or before December 4, would lose their jobs.
The Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, stated this at a news conference  in Abuja on Thursday.
The development which elicited mixed reactions, has consequently put the President Goodluck Jonathan-ASUU leaders truce meeting in  jeopardy.
 The meeting had raised the hopes of students and parents on the  resolution of the crisis but an accident on November 12,  in which a former President of ASUU, Prof Festus  Iyayi, lost his life, cast  gloom on the calling off of the strike.
Iyayi and some   members of the University of Benin chapter of the union were on their way  to the  Bayero University,  Kano for  a meeting where the outcome of the meeting with Jonathan was to be tabled before the NEC members’ for consideration.
Due to Iyayi’s death, ASUU  called off  the meeting  but  reconvened penultimate Thursday in Kano   where it harmonised its members’ position on the   offer by government.
The  union, as part of its conditions for calling off the strike,  demanded  the payment of its members’ salary arrears and a commitment on   the part of the government to  review  the agreement in 2014.
They also requested the release of the N200bn promised for this year as a condition for suspending  the strike.
ASUU had in a  letter issued after  its NEC  meeting on November 22,  demanded the following:
- that the N200bn agreed upon as 2013 revitalisation fund for public universities should  be deposited with the CBN  and disbursed to the benefiting universities within two weeks;
-  that the renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement in 2014 be included in the final document as agreed at the discussion with the President;
- that a non-victimisation clause, which is normally captured in all interactions of this nature, be included in the final document; and
- that a new memorandum of understanding shall be validly endorsed; signed by a representative of government, preferably the Attorney-General of the Federation, and a representative of ASUU, with the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress as a witness.
The letter dated November 25, 2013 which was addressed to President Jonathan through Wike was obtained by The PUNCH on Thursday. (See the letter at the end of  this story).
But as students, parents and other stakeholders  awaited the government’s decision on the demands, Wike warned ASUU members  to  resume  on December  4 or be sacked.
To clearly indicate government’s  seriousness, the supervising Minister of Education  advised the vice-chancellors to advertise the positions of those who failed  to resume.
He said, “Vice-chancellors should ensure that staff who resume for work are provided with the enabling environment for academic and allied activities.
“Any academic employee who fails to resume on or before   December 4, 2013 automatically ceases to be an employee of the institution.
“Vice-chancellors are also directed to advertise vacancies (internal and external) in their institutions.
“The National Universities Commission is hereby directed to monitor the compliance of these directives by the various institutions.”
Wike said the government took the decision in the best interest of the country.
He  recalled  the meetings with the ASUU  leadership, including one with  Vice-President Namadi Sambo   where the contentious issues of earned academic allowances and funding for the revitalisation of the universities were discussed .
  Wike, who expressed surprise that ASUU returned to the government with “unacceptable new conditions”, said, “Government does not operate that way.”
He said  Jonathan’s gesture was more than sufficient to guarantee the commitment of government to address all issues resolved at the meeting with the union.
The government was also not comfortable with the union’s request that the AGF should sign the MOU  and that there should be a renegotiation of the agreement in 2014.
Wike said, “To start with, the agreement you (ASUU) said the Federal Government should comply with, was it the AGF  that signed it? It  was signed by the Federal Ministry of Education led by the Permanent Secretary. The AGF  was not even part of the negotiation.
“We have made every effort to see that   students go back to  their schools. Each time government made frantic effort, you would hear one reason or the other(from ASUU). For us, we cannot continue to see this thing happens. We will continue to make sure that we stick to  all we have agreed to do.
“If you cannot believe Mr. President, then who would you discuss with again? Mr. President cannot sit down for 13 hours having a discussion and at the end of the day the only thing you can do is to attach some new conditions.
“I don’t think that is acceptable to us. All we have promised them, we are going to do; we won’t go back. But bringing new conditions, we don’t think it is favourable. We don’t think it is for the good of this country.”
To pacify the lecturers, Wike said  the government had increased their  initial N30bn  earned academic allowance by extra N10bn.
He said the  government also offered N200bn  for the next six years as funding to the universities with a request for  them  to draw their priority list  based on  the need assessment report on universities.
 “We all agreed. ASUU said we should put the resolution down. That was done and signed by the permanent secretary,” he said.
The supervising  minister said the government had reviewed the entire situation and came to the conclusion  that the continuation of the strike  was an attempt by ASUU to sabotage all efforts to address the issues.
“As a responsible government, we cannot allow the continuous closure of our public universities for this length of time as this poses danger to the education system, the future of our youths and national development”, he added.
Asked if the decision to compel the lecturers to resume work  had no legal implication, Wike replied, “Leave legal implication for us. We have weighed all options and I  think government has done all it is supposed to do.
“The Federal Government has met all its commitments and obligations with respect to the 2009 Agreement. We appeal to all stakeholders to appreciate the position of the government which is in the best interest of our dear country.”
- FG’s threat’ll fail –ASUU
But ASUU’s   National Treasurer, Dr. Ademola, Aremu,   said  the ultimatum to  the university teachers   had shown that the  government  was  not committed to implementing any of the resolutions it reached with the union.
  Aremu expressed   shock that the government could have such a plan when  there was a shortfall of 60,000 lecturers in the nation’s universities .
 He added that the threat would not hinder the union’s determination to ensure that  the  universities were  well funded.
The ASUU   chief added,   “It is a pity if the Federal Government is not willing to perfect the resolutions reached with the union. This is why we find it difficult to trust our leaders by their words.
“How can someone be threatening to sack lecturers when universities are already short-staffed by almost 60,000. We are not in a military era. The military tried it and failed. This one will fail again. They can re-open the schools. ASUU did not shut the universities. It was their  management that ordered the students to go back home.
“With the latest action, the government has shown that it is  not committed to all it has  been saying. We are saying that since we agreed at the meeting that N200bn is for 2012 and 2013 revitalisation, the government should deposit same in the Central Bank of Nigeria .
“ We are already in November and December is around the corner. If they don’t do that now, when do they want to do it?
“We are saying  that  a non-victimisation clause should be included as agreed while the renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement should be included as agreed with the President.”
He flayed  Wike for  alleging that  ASUU  was making outrageous demands from the government.
“Government should address the issue we sent to them in the letter and we are not demanding extra kobo. Under the military,  the threat to sack lecturers   did not work. What the current government has done  is another long path to make the strike linger  than necessary,” Aremu added.
- SSANU  warns  of  strike
But as Wike and the ASUU national treasurer  were  talking tough in Abuja and Ibadan, the Senior Staff Association of Universities was also threatening to embark on strike over the possible implementation of the NEEDS Assessment Report.
 SSANU   expressed the  fear that the  government could be forced to reduce workforce in the universities if  the report was implemented.
The Chairman of the Western Zone of  the association, Alfred Jimoh,   warned at a news conference in Ibadan, Oyo State,     that any attempt by the  government  to do so could lead to another strike in the education sector.
He said the report was targeting members of the association by the claim that the system was top-heavy.
Jimoh said non-teaching  members of staff of the universities had not enjoyed what their colleagues in the academics had  profited from.
He added,  “It has been a common knowledge that the non-teaching staff of public universities constitute endangered species of the very hostile environment, in which they found themselves. With my position in the association  and the privileged information at my disposal, I will like to say that the adjective “endangered species” is even mild to describe the precarious situation of the non-teaching staff of the universities.
“As it were, the elite members of the university community, the teaching members of  staff have finally gone for the broke, by goading the government to empanel a one-sided committee, comprising their members only, to conduct a NEEDS Assessment of the Nigerian public universities and produce a pre-determined report with a damming and damaging recommendation on the non-teaching staff of the university system.”
Jimoh said the report among other things, claimed that the numerical strength of the non-teaching  members of staff constituted the major conduit that drained the scarce financial resources  of the universities.
“We frown on this as the report fails to match up the numerical strength of the various categories of members of  staff with the quantum of fund being expended on them in terms of salaries, wages and training finances.”

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