[ASUU STRIKE]: FG To Meet With University Councils And Vice Chancellors

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.

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