The Federal Government, on Thursday, said demands by the Academic Staff Union of Universities to be paid salaries for the six-month strike period is stalling its negotiations with the union.
This was as the FG insisted that it will not concede to ASUU’s demands to be paid the backlog of salaries withheld within the period. Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, disclosed this to journalists at the 47th session of the State House Ministerial Media Briefing organized by the Presidential Communications Team at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.
The PUNCH reports that ASUU embarked on a one-month warning strike on February 14. However, the union has extended the strike several times in the past six months. Other associations such as the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions and National Association of Academic Technologists later followed suit, shutting down their activities in universities nationwide.
But fielding questions from State House Correspondents on Thursday, Adamu affirmed that five of the striking university-based unions will return to work within the next one week, whereas ASUU’s remain uncertain. He denied receiving a two-week ultimatum from President Buhari adding that he successfully concluded his work one week after meeting the President on July 18.
The minister explained: “The President never gave me any deadline. I promised that I could do it within the shortest possible time. And for your information, one week after that pledge, I had already finished my job because I had given all the six unions the offer made by the government, and I want to tell you, in principle, all of them accepted it.
The only exception was ASUU that gave me two other conditions, which I told them would not be acceptable to the government. “Let me seize the opportunity to commend ASUP (Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics). ASUP were on strike. But at the time I was given this (negotiation) responsibility, they were threatening to go back. So, I called ASUP and I made them withdraw the threat and they agreed.
“The next I met were the College of Education Academic Staff Union, they are on strike already. I gave them the offer and this is a final offer. And they accepted it. But you know the mechanism of acceptance, they will not just tell me, okay, the strike is called off. They have to go and tell their unions. And that is what is happening with NASU. I met NASU and SSANU. And they have accepted but they need time to go and tell the unions. The last group I met was NAAT.
“So, I can tell you within the next one week, these five unions will call off the strike. But I cannot say the same for ASUU because what they’re asking is, they can accept this offer if the federal government will agree to pay the salary for the month they have not worked. And I told them the federal government will not. All contentious issues between the government and ASUU had been settled except the quest for members’ salaries for the period of strike be paid, a demand that Buhari has flatly rejected.” Adamu also argued that ASUU should bear the liability of compensating university students for the time wasted, not the Federal Government.
According to him, if the students are determined to get compensated, they should take ASUU and other striking unions to court and claim for damages incurred over the strike period. “Who do you assume will compensate the students? The federal government? No. Probably you should take the leaders of striking unions to court to pay them. Yes. Probably the court will award damages and then we’ll see how they pay,” he said.
He regretted that ASUU proceeded with the strike despite the Buhari regime and agencies such as TETFUND and UBEC directly investing N2.5tn into education. Adamu, however, noted that renegotiations are ongoing among ASUU members to determine when to call off the strike.
“Unions in Tertiary Institutions in the country, especially the Academic Staff Union of Universities have been engaged in recurring and avoidable strikes that have crippled the university system.
“This is in spite of the huge investments of over N2.5tn in tertiary institutions in the last ten years from TETFUND alone. Just recently, we inaugurated a committee to renegotiate the 2009 agreement with the Academic Staff Union of Universities and related unions in tertiary institutions. We are doing everything humanly possible to conclude the negotiations. I am sure that the current efforts would yield the desired results and return our children back to school,” he said.
The Minister also disclosed that although the ASUU-proposed University Transparency Accountability Solution and University Peculiar Personnel and Payroll System out-performed the government-backed Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System in the efficiency tests conducted, the FG has not approved UTAS as claimed in some quarters.
Consequently, he said the FG would integrate ASUU’s peculiarities in any of the platforms eventually adopted. This includes updating IPPIS to now accommodate payment of lecturers on sabbatical.