What is it that could destroy the world of Nigeria students more than the “clash of the titans” that alarmingly occurs too frequently between the Federal Government and ASUU? On July 1, 2013, Nigerian University lecturers, under the aegis of Academic Staff Union of Universities [ASUU], began a nationwide indefinite strike. The decision of ASUU to embark on the industrial action, according to its President, Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge, was taken due to the failure of the Federal Government to implement a 2009 agreement and 2012 Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] it entered with the union.
The suspension of its earlier strike of December 4, 2011 in January 2012, declared to pressurize FG to fulfill its promise, gave rise to the MOU which equally captured the various issues contained in the 2009 agreement. Key areas of the agreement as identified by ASUU then are; funding requirement for revitalization of the Nigerian Universities; Federal Government’s assistance to State Universities; Establishment of NUPEMCO [Nigerian University Pension Management Commission], progressive increase in annual budgetary allocation to education to 26% between 2009 and 2020 and earned allowances. Others are; amendment of the pension /retirement age of academics on the professional cadre from 65 to 70 years; reinstatement of prematurely dissolved governing councils; transfer of Federal Government landed property to universities and setting up of Research Development Council and provision of research equipment to laboratories and classrooms in the universities
Out of the above items in the said treaty signed by FG and ASUU, government had made essential laws on the 70years retirement age of lecturer as well as the creation of NUPEMCO. Among the remaining issues, the funding requirement for the revitalization of Nigerian universities and the payment of Earned Allowances appeared to have caused more brouhaha.
The 2009 pact reportedly provides that all federal universities would need the sum of N1.5trillion to be spread over three years [2009-2011] for the regeneration of the institutions. However, this figure was said to have been reduced to N1.3trillion and the gesture extended to through the 2012 MOU. The N1.3trillion, according to the MOU, was expected to be released over a period of four years-N100b in 2012 and an annual sum of N400b in the following three years.
“By our estimation, the MOU should have fetched the Nigerian public universities a total of N500billion now if government were to have faithfully implemented the understanding reached with ASUU in 2012. A continuation of that process would have yielded a revitalization fund of N1.3trillion by the year 2015,” the ASUU helmsman, Fagge, was quoted. So far, the FG has released the sum of N130bilion. From this released amount, N30billion is for the payment of earned allowances to lecturers, which is supposed to be N92b and N100b is for the revitalization of the universities, as against the N500b which it ought to have released based on the MOU.
According to the FG as postulated by its Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku and his Finance Ministry counterpart, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the government has no money to meet the entire demands of ASUU, as doing so may lead to a total shutdown of governance in the country. But ASUU is of the view that the Federal Government was just being deceitful and dishonorable, and as such, it insisted their members would not go back to work until their demands were fully met.
It would be recalled that the FG had shown great generosity to private concern like airlines and financial institutions with trillion of naira from taxpayers’ money as bailout, and Goodluck Jonathan’s government largesse extended to the Nollywood, is still fresh in Nigerians’ memories. It would therefore amazing any well-meaning Nigerian why the same government that was throwing money around, could now say it has no money to fund the revitalization of public universities, knowing full well that education is the bedrock of any development.
It must be noted that the cost of running the government is too high. The need to do away with inanities in the budget cannot be overemphasized. President Jonathan should cut down on the profligacy of his government. A situation whereby the government of a third world country like ours maintains ten (10) aircrafts in its fleets, on which about N9bn of the taxpayers’ funds is being expended yearly is the highest level of profligacy and insensitivity to the plights of the Nigerian populace. The difference the monetary value of the 10 airplanes could bring to some of our universities begging for infrastructure is better imagined.
In other sane climes that take welfare of the people and the development of their education and other sectors seriously, they don’t maintain presidential fleet. Heads of government go on commercial aircrafts because it is cost-effective. Even in the United State of America, the Presidential Aircraft Fleet could only boast of two airplanes, and the United Kingdom that colonized us doesn’t have any. The Prime Minister, David Cameron flies British Airway. Hence, the FG should consider commercializing some of the aircrafts to generate revenue.
Likewise, our lawmakers have been fingered to be earning the highest salary in the world, even more than the president of the United States. This is another height of criminality that must be addressed as a matter of urgency. A situation where the National Assembly eats 25 per cent of the annual budget is uncalled for. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation says any country that wishes to become part the 21st Century should be devoting 30 – 40 per cent of her total annual budget to education, but our ruling class has been underfunding the education sector while they send their wards abroad to acquire that which they deny the children of the masses.
CACOL therefore calls on the Federal Government to yield to ASUU’s demands as contained in the agreement it signed with the body. A sincere and judicious implementation of the said agreement by the FG, freely entered into with the union, will go a long way in improving the quality of education in Nigeria. Hence, the need for the two sides to quickly reach a compromise and allow the universities to resume academic activities so that the students who are presently idled by the strike can continue with their studies. It is regrettable that no Nigerian university was listed among the first one thousand in the world. The best any government can do for its youths is to invest in their education, by continuously providing a conducive environment for learning, appropriate funding, equipping the institutions with the needed facilities to boost academic standard and to make education an attractive and productive sector. Sadly enough, the federal government has only been paying lip service to education from time immemorial. The best we had has been frequent promises that have not been fulfilled. Rhetoric will not build a true 21st Century institutions that can compete side by side with other universities and colleges across the world, putting adequate resources will do.
Executive Chairman, CACOL