• VCs Committee push for 50% increase
• Petrol subsidy funds can be channeled to pay lecturers- Akabueze
In a move to end the seven months closure of public varsities in the country, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, yesterday, said government could only afford 23.5 per cent salary increase for lecturers, while a 35 per cent increment will be enjoyed by professors, as its last effort to break the industrial dispute between varsity teachers and the Federal Government.
This was fallout of the meeting between government, pro-chancellors and vice chancellors of federal universities aimed at finding lasting solutions to the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) at the National Universities Commission (NUC) in Abuja.
The union has been on strike since February 14 over revitalisation of public universities, payment of earned academic allowances and deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) for payment of university lecturers’ salaries, among others. Amid the strike, government had invoked the ‘No work, No pay’ policy.
The Minister, who noted that President Muhammadu Buhari warned against signing agreements that the government will not be able to meet, said the only issue yet to be resolved with ASUU is the position of the law on ‘No work, No pay.’
He said: “The Federal Government can only afford a 23.5 per cent salary increase for all category of the workforce in federal universities, except for the professorial cadre, which will enjoy a 35 per cent upward review.
“Henceforth, allowances that pertain to ad-hoc duties of the academic and non-academic staff shall be paid as and when due by the Governing Councils of universities to which such services are rendered and to the staff who perform them.
“Also, a sum of N150 billion shall be provided for in the 2023 budget as funds for the revitalisation of federal universities, to be disbursed to the institutions in the first quarter of the year, and a sum of N50 billion shall be provided for in the 2023 budget for the payment of outstanding arrears of earned academic allowances, to be paid in the first quarter of the year.”
At the meeting, the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU) urged government to pay university professors N800,000 as against the N1.2 million negotiated by the Nimi Briggs committee. This recommendation will represent a 50 percent salary increase offer, as against the 23 percent increase being proposed by the Federal Government.
While making efforts to end the strike, the committee further set up a sustainable peace team of elders to resolve the lingering disagreement. Secretary-General of CVCNU and co-ordinator of the team, Prof. Michael Faborode, said their goal was not to allow the current impasse in the ASUU strike continue, as its toll on all stakeholders and the nation had become colossal.
Faborode said to arrive at the final list, no serving vice chancellor or pro-chancellor is included and membership was based on the record of service as recorded by the CVCNU.
The Minister insisted that government has made every effort to resolve the concerns ASUU is clinging on to for the protracted strike.
He said: “We have done the best we can in the circumstance. After inter-ministerial consultations and rounds of hard negotiations with all government agencies, we interacted with the unions. I personally, gave it all it required to resolve the current challenges.
“I met the unions anywhere and everywhere possible with facts, figures and with absolute sincerity. For example, I directly met with ASUU leadership in my house, in my office and at the ASUU Secretariat on several different occasions, in addition to other formal engagements going on.
“To be frank with all the unions, especially with ASUU, one major issue over which government and the unions could not reach amicable agreement was the issue of the law on ‘No work, No pay.’ In the spirit of sincerity, government made it clear that it would not break the law and lecturers would not be paid for the period they stayed away from work,” he said.
The lecturers had kicked against this as the strike lingered, but at the meeting yesterday, Adamu announced that the Federal Government had set up a committee to revisit the issue.
Members of the committee are Prof. Nimi Briggs, chairman, ASUU/FG negotiation team; Prof. Olu Obafemi, chairman, Governing Council, Federal University, Minna and Udo Udoma, former Minister of Budget and National Planning.
Others include Prof. Bashir Dalhatu, an elder statesman; Prof. Kabiru Bala, Vice Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Prof. Kayode Adebowale, Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan and Prof. Lilian Salami, Vice Chancellor, University of Benin.
Also, Prof. Duro Oni, the President, Academics of letters; Prof. Akinsanya Osibogun, President, Academics of Medicine and the President of Academic of Science made the list.
Prof. Charles Igwe, Vice Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, JAMB Registrar and Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC) are also included.
He said the committee would look into the additional demands ASUU is making, particularly, the areas where there was no consensus.
While he could not give the time frame for the committee to work, he said giving the atmosphere in the meeting, they are looking at days. He, however, said they are not jettisoning the Briggs committee, but that it is in continuation of what the committee did.
On whether there will be a review of the government’s position on ‘No work, No Pay,’ he said: “There has been an appeal generally for the system to take a second look at that and that is what the committee will look into.”
Earlier, the Minister said: “Government should not, in the guise of resolving current challenges, sow seeds for future disruptions.
“For me, the past two weeks have been a very dark period of personal anguish and internal turmoil. I used to deceive myself that in a climate of frankness, and with mutual goodwill, it will fall to my lot to bring an end to the incessant strikes in the education sector. This has not proved possible – or, at least, not as easy, quickly and straightforward, as I used to think,” he said.
The Minister, however, noted that the statement by ASUU president that the union would no longer negotiate with the current Federal Government must be resisted.
He said: “Government and ASUU have no option than to continue talking until our universities have reopened their doors to students, who, clearly, are the principal victims of the seemingly unending strikes. In the circumstances, therefore, all Councils and Senates of our Universities are enjoined to rise up to their responsibilities.”
Speaking at the end of the meeting, the pro-chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Prof. Peter Okebukola, noted that government was ready to go all out to ensure that the university lecturers return to classes.
Meanwhile, the Director General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, has said the trillions spent on fuel subsidy in the country can be used to end ASUU strike and increase the pay of government staff.
Speaking on Arise TV’s Global Business Report, yesterday, he said: “The truth is public servants need to be paid far better than they are now. It’s like the ongoing issue regarding ASUU and the pay for lecturers.
“I haven’t come across anyone in government who thinks that lecturers are adequately paid or who thinks lecturers should not be paid significantly more. The crux of the (ASUU) matter is the ability to pay. It is why this matter has dragged on, because government has refused to commit to a number that it does not have the ability to pay.”
When asked if petrol subsidy could be redirected to ASUU and increase the pay of government workers, Akabueze replied: “There’s no doubt that when you eliminate fuel subsidies or cut back on it, there will be an immediate impact on people.”