The Federal Government will before Sunday meet with university councils and vice-chancellors to update them on some of the decisions it had reached in its bid to end the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities..
The Chairman of the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy Assessment Implementation Committee of the universities, Governor Gabriel Suswam, made this known on Tuesday after President Goodluck Jonathan met behind closed doors with key officials of his administration over the almost two months’ old strike.
The officials included Vice-President Namadi Sambo; the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Pius Anyim; the Chief of Staff to the President, Chief Mike Oghiadome; the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqqayat Rufa’i; and the Minister of Labour, Chief Emeka Wogu.
ASUU, however, said shortly after the meeting ended that the strike would not be called off because the Federal Government was not sincere in its efforts to end the dispute.
It was learnt that the Tuesday meeting afforded the government officials taking part in the negotiations with the striking university teachers the opportunity to brief the President on the latest development.
Suswam, who is also the governor of Benue State, told State House correspondents after the meeting that substantial progress had been made in the negotiations.
He expressed the hope that the strike would be called off soon based on some of the mechanisms that had been put in place to move university education forward.
The governor said while the issues surrounding the NEEDS assessment had been concluded to some extent, those bordering on the earned allowance component being handled by the SGF were pending.
Suswam said, “As you must have heard, the Federal Government made an offer of N30bn to assist the various councils of our universities to be able to pay the earned allowances.
“There is also N100bn and that is why the Minister of Finance, the SGF, the ministers of education and labour as well as the Chief of Staff, the VP and myself have just risen from a meeting to take some decisions that would end the strike soon. The President has instructed us on what to do and he has shown a lot of commitments by starting a project worth about N100bn in all the universities in about 61 universities in the country.
“So we are hoping that we will be able to see the end of the strike very soon if at the end of the day, ASUU is satisfied with the measures that we have so far taken .
“The Federal Government will also be meeting with the university councils and vice-chancellors of our universities within the week towards updating them on some of the decisions taken.”
The governor added that the meeting with the varsity councils was necessary because earned allowances had to be certified by the management and councils of the universities.
He said since the Federal Government had offered to assist the councils with N30bn, it was important for them to go and verify and pay the people who are actually entitled to the allowances.
“I think that the government had demonstrated some substantial faith . Yes, if ASUU said that this is the amount of money that the Federal Government is owing them and the government has shifted ground from its initial posture, it means we are moving forward. With a N100bn available now for addressing the physical infrastructure deficit in our universities, I think the Federal Government has done quite well to have moved to where we are today,” he added.
But ASUU has said after the meeting which held in Jonathan’s office in the Presidential Villa, that the Federal Government was only using propaganda to curry public support rather than facing the issues raised by it.
A member of the National Executive Council of ASUU, Dr. Nasir Adesola, told one of our correspondents on the telephone that theN30bn offered to the striking lecturers as earned allowances was even worse than “where we were before the deadlocked meeting on Monday.”
The government, he said, had not shown enough commitment towards the settlement of the conflict.
According to him, the government only offered N30bn without saying anything on when the balance of the earned allowances would be paid.
He also said that the declaration by the government that it had approved N100bn for the development of infrastructure in the universities was a mere propaganda.
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress has asked the government to honour its agreement with ASUU in order to end the strike which began on July 1.
The APC, in a statement on Tuesday by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said ASUU’s demand for N87bn was not open to government’s negotiation.
The statement reads, ”The N87bn that ASUU is demanding represents earned allowances hence cannot be renegotiated.
“In any case, this amount pales into insignificance when placed side by side the N1tr that has been spent on federal legislators in the past eight years; or the frivolity involved in a government minister travelling to China to negotiate a $1bn loan in a chartered jet (with its attendant costs) and with a retinue of officials who earned generous estacode in hard currency.”
It said ASUU was not making any fresh demand beyond the agreement it reached with the government in 2009.
“Agreements are meant to be honoured, and breaching them comes with some consequences,” the statement added.
The party said while the Federal Government refused to honour its own side of the agreement with ASUU since 2009, “it could pay out N3tn in non-existent fuel subsidies to fat cats”.
It added that in place of ASUU strike, the Federal Government preferred to spend N1tn annually “to maintain the jets in the Presidential fleet and do little or nothing to prevent the stealing of 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day.”
It condemned the “non-chalance” of those who should be working round the clock to resolve the crisis, especially the Minister of State for Education, Nyeson Wike.
The APC claimed that instead of focusing on the problem, Wike “was launching vigilance groups and dancing ‘palongo’ around town when the nation’s public universities are shut and students are languishing.”
Reacting, Wike’s Special Assistant on Media, Simeon Nwakaudu, said “no administration has impacted on education like the Jonathan administration.”
He said Wike had actively participated in the process of resolving the ASUU crisis, with the Federal Government team led by the SGF.