ASUU : Strike May Linger If FG Persists In Blame Game, Intimidations - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE

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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

ASUU : Strike May Linger If FG Persists In Blame Game, Intimidations

... Insists ASUU's Stance Meant To Rescue, Preserve Soul Of Nation's Public Universitiess



From Ayobami Ife, Abeokuta

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on Tuesday warned that the on - going strike by the union may linger till next year if the Nigerian Government continued to blackmail and intimidate members instead of finding feasible ways to resolve the issue.

ASUU said that the strike which is in its 7th month, remained the only possible and obvious way to rescue and preserve the soul of public university education from being totally crippled and destroyed by Nigeria’s insincere leaders and kleptocrats. 

The union, regrettably, added that the university education is the only surviving public entity of the country's education sector, lamenting that successive government has deliberately demonstrated unwillingness to adequately fund it, so that it could go down like the public primary and secondary schools did, where no caring parents would send their children and wards anymore.

Addressing reporters at the Secretariat of the ASUU, Olabisi Onabanjo University(OOU), Ago - Iwoye, the Coordinator of the Lagos zone of the body,  Prof. Olusiji Sowande, alleged that the underfunding is meant to hurt quality of outputs, de - market public universities so as to gradually yield the space completely to private - owned ones and finally take university education away from the reach of Nigerians.

According to him, the essence is to render the Nigerian children less literate and subservient to the growing culture of poor governance and lack of accountability by the country's leaders.

Olusiji disclosed that the Federal Government is still running in arrears of over N200 billion of revitalization fund for the nation's public universities.

He said rather than make genuine efforts to resolve the lingering  strike issue, Nigerian Government has not only found the situation "very comfortable" with students facing the risk of being at home till next year, it has also resorted to "blackmail, intimidation and propagation of falsehood to the public in bids to push the blame on ASUU."

Some of the union leaders in attendance include the Chairman, ASUU-OOU, Dr. Joel Okewale, Chairman, ASUU- Federal University of Agriculture (FUNAAB), Abeokuta, Dr Adebayo Oni and Chairman, ASUU- University of Lagos (UNILAG), Dr Dele Ashiru, among others.

The Zonal Coordinator urged the government to discard her worn-out tactics of “keep them talking” and "time-wasting exercise" ostensibly to distract, blackmail, or wear the union out in its resolve to get funds for the revitalization of public universities, renegotiation of 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement, payment of illegally withheld salaries and Check-Off, payment of EAA, constitution of Visitation Panels and stoppage of proliferation of Universities. 

He also called on the general public and well-meaning Nigerians to prevail on government to do the needful and end the seven months old strike action.

Olusiji reiterated that the reason for the  ongoing strike was based  mainly on need for the survival of public Universities in Nigeria and the sustenance of University Autonomy, including  government’s reluctance to fulfil the 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement regarding provision of funds for revitalization of dilapidating infrastructure (hostel accommodation, befitting lecture theatres,  state-of-the-art laboratories, good working environment for lecturers, etc) and payment of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA).

Others, he said,  are setting up of Visitation Panels for the purpose of accountability and good governance of public Universities, arresting the trend of proliferation of Universities at both Federal and State levels while neglecting the funding of existing ones and the renegotiation of 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement. 

According to him, the issue of enrolment into the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) was deliberately introduced by government to draw away the attention of the public from the insincerity, lack of interest and disregard for the Education of the teeming Nigerian youth especially University students.

He noted that it was in the course of the strike and the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic that the salaries of ASUU members in Federal Universities were withheld by government under the guise that members did not enrol on IPPIS, saying it is disheartening that a government that should uphold the truth, fairness and justice has become repressive, oppressive and blackmailer of its own citizens. 

He said: "A statement recently credited to the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, that 57,000 out of 71,700 lecturers are already on IPPIS was the highest level of falsehood from an office that should be respected for propagation of truth. 

"In our various discussions on resolving the crisis, government has  been appealing to our members to enrol on IPPIS while awaiting the conclusion of integrity test on University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) software. Does the government need to appeal and beg that we enrol on IPPIS if such quantum of members had enrolled? 

"Our position is that ASUU members and public Federal Universities should be exempted from IPPIS in the interim while conducting integrity test on UTAS. It is evident that government is using withholding of salaries of our members and check-off dues of our Union as a war strategy to weaken our resolve.  

"Our members are resolved that even if the strike lingers beyond one year, we shall not succumb to the wickedness  of the highest order by the government. 

"It is important to inform that Government is owing our members the arrears of unpaid full salaries in all Federal Universities from July 2020 to October 2020 (4 months); arrears of unpaid salaries to some members in University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Michael Okpara University of Agriculture (MOUAU) and some Federal Universities from February 2020 to June 2020 (5 months). 

"There is apparent high level of fraud being perpetrated by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF); a self-acclaimed apostle of anti-corruption, and the Ministry of Finance. It would interest the Nigerian public that, while Government claimed to have fully paid “amputated” salaries of February to June 2020 to Academic Staff in Federal Universities, the OAGF deducted check-offs amounting to millions of Naira from our members’ salaries and refused to remit the deducted check-off to the Union up till now. We are aware this is deliberate. The insinuation that the Accountant General of the Federation and his cronies are fraudulently trading with these funds with commercial banks, and the interest accruable being diverted to their personal accounts would be difficult to defend. This is indeed, a paradoxical way of fighting corruption in the country.

" Our Union wants to state that, deducting check-offs and other third-party funds on behalf of Unions without remittance is illegal, unlawful and criminal. It is our Union’s belief that, the illegally withheld check-offs would be collected by  Union with interests without further delay.  

 
"We are also compelled to inform the general public that the most important reason why this strike will linger is government’s adoption of blackmail, falsehood and intimidation as well as its lack of willingness to commit fund for the revitalization of dilapidated infrastructure in our public universities. 

"Government does not see Education of its citizens as public good but rather unfortunately,  as a business. While government is committed to using public funds to bail out banks, electricity distribution companies, and airline operators, which are their private investments, the excuse of unavailability of fund for revitalization of our public universities is not acceptable to our Union. 

"Parents and students should not be persuaded that ASUU is asking for too much money for the survival of public universities. Parents should please note that, if our struggle fails, they will pay through their nose to send their children to university, that is, if many students will not drop out of school. 

"Government is in arrears of more than N200 billion naira of  revitalization fund and our Union is not insisting that this should be paid at once rather, quarterly or biannually but faithfully. Regrettably, there is no sincere commitment on the part of government on this all important issue.

"Our EAA has been calculated and  verified to be N40 billion up to 2013. Several millions is still being owed from 2014 to 2020.  While we are still considering government’s proposal to release N30 billion, government demonstrated its insincerity by insisting that it has to be disbursed through IPPIS instead of releasing the fund to the Universities. Government was also quick to announce the proposal to pay N30 billion as part of our outstanding  EAA to the public with a view to blackmailing members our Union.  

"Despite the fact that this is a budget season, the over two years promise to mainstream our EAA into the annual budget in order to end the EAA payment problem is not being actualized. Our understanding and inference on the state of discussion on the ongoing strike is that government is very comfortable with our students being at home and will do everything possible to keep them at home till next year while pushing the blame on ASUU."

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