Uchechukwu Nnaike, Funmi Ogundare in Lagos and Kuni Tyessi in Abuja
The five-hour meeting held Thursday between the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), and the federal government with a view to ending the 12-day old strike embarked upon by public university lecturers ended in a deadlock.
This is coming as the Chairman of the FGN/ASUU Renegotiation Team, Dr. Wale Babalakin, has disclosed that the purported agreement by the federal government to release N220 billion annually into the university system was an unsustainable arrangement that did not emerge from the current renegotiation team or from that of the immediate past administration.
The federal government and ASUU teams , however, agreed that the negotiation will resume next week.
National President of ASUU, Prof. Abiodun Ogunyemi, who spoke briefly to journalists immediately after the meeting ended last night, said the strike was still ongoing and would not be called off as ASUU’s demands were yet to be met.
According to him, “We have just started the discussions; we have not really gone far. So, what we have done today is just to open up the issues. So, the strike still continues. “We have not fixed a date for the next meeting but by tomorrow, we should know,” he added.
Ogunyemi while reacting to claims of the federal government over the ongoing strike before the commencement of the meeting, said universities in Nigeria had been subjected to 20 years of continued re-colonisation under alleged democracy.
According to him, this has further retrogressed the economy in all spheres.
He buttressed the necessity of the strike and questioned the offer of N20 billion revitalisation fund despite the fact that the same government released N1.3 trillion to a distressed bank recently.
ASUU boss further reiterated that the strike is total, comprehensive and indefinite as members have withdrawn their services until government fully implements all outstanding issues as contained in the MoU of 2017, and concludes the renegotiation of the 2009 agreements.
“This strike is total, comprehensive and indefinite. Our members shall withdraw their services until government fully implement all outstanding issues as contained in the MOA of 2017, and concludes the renegotiation of the 2009 agreements.
“We have been subjected to 20 years of continued re-colonisation under alleged democracy in which all that the ruling circle have been regrouping among themselves in their various faction they called political parties.”
Ogunyemi also argued that the government was not interested in public universities as the children of the top politicians and rich men in the society patronise private universities to the detriment of public institutions.
The meeting had in attendance Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige; past President of ASUU, Dr. Isa Fagge; Permanent Secretaries of Education and Labour Ministries – Sonny Echonu and Mrs. Ibukun Odusote, respectively and other members of the federal government and ASUU delegation.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the FGN/ASUU Renegotiation Team, Dr. Wale Babalakin, has disclosed that the purported agreement by the federal government to release N220 billion annually into the university system was an unsustainable arrangement that did not emerge from the current renegotiation team or from that of the immediate past administration.
According to him, there was a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between ASUU and President Goodluck Jonathan’s government where the former president offered to release N220 billion per annum and did release the first tranche.
“If you listened to the minister at the onset, the first statement he made on the ASUU strike is that as the minister of education he will not put his hand on any agreement that is unsustainable; he will not promise ASUU what he cannot achieve. What has been happening all along is that ASUU manages to hold the government down; get the government to sign an agreement that it knows will not be able to be implemented and then continues to strike based on it.
“When President Jonathan paid this money, I just gathered that the money came from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) so it was not an additional money into the system; it was using what was available to the system to pay. That tells you how tight it was for government to find the money.”
Babalakin, who doubles as the Chairman, Governing Council, University of Lagos, in an interview on Arise Television, refuted the union’s claims that he is not willing to negotiate and that his ideas are not in sync with the union’s ideas. “Whatever views I have expressed are the collective views of the committee.”
He said the team is currently working with ASUU’s proposal on funding, which stated that it would cost $3,365 to train each student in the Nigerian university system.
“We as a team spoke to ASUU ‘what do you think is required to fund education in Nigeria’? ASUU made a proposal that on the average it will cost $3,365 to train each student in the Nigerian university system and that view was communicated to the National Universities Commission (NUC) and communicated to us directly. When you add this together, what you will achieve is something close to N2 trillion.”
While faulting the alleged UNESCO’s recommendation that 26 per cent of each country’s budget be allocated to education, Babalakin said, the teams position about funding is that: “We must recreate Nigerian universities. We have come up with a needs-based budgeting, so if a university requires more than 26 per cent, we must find it.
“You cannot tie yourself to a percentage of a budget especially in the face of the challenges of the economy, which fluctuates very spectacularly. Last year, the government’s budget was N9 trillion, this year, it is going to be N8.5 trillion; if you had tied your funding to a percentage, this year, you will be spending less. University education cannot be reacting to such inconsistencies. As a means of funding education, tying it to a percentage is inaccurate and not a scholarly proposition.”
“We want a properly funded university education system; we want funds that are created which are sustainable; we want a ring-fenced funding, not funding exposed to the vagaries of the Nigerian economy.
Babalakin added: “Where we disagree with ASUU is that ASUU says federal government must provide all the money for funding education. Our stand is that the federal government should provide as much money as it can afford, but education can only be funded from all sources. We have to allow the private sector, government sector and individuals to contribute to education funding.”