UNIVERSITY teachers won a major battle yesterday.
The Federal Government granted their request that their N23billion outstanding Earned Allowances be released.
The money will be released next week, Minister of Education Adamu Adamu said.
The government said the Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company matter would be resolved with the Pension Commission in the next one week.
But he reiterated the refusal of the government to exempt the federal universities from the Treasury Single Account (TSA) system
Adamu gave an insight into the negotiation with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) during a meeting with the Senate Committee on Tertiary Education and the Tertiary Education Fund (TETFUND).
The minister said the Ministry of Finance had promised to undertake a forensic audit of the N30billion allowance earlier released to the lecturers, bringing the total to N53billion.
Adamu said: “They (lecturers) asked for N23billion to be paid. But we said the condition for that N23billion to be released was for them to account for the N30billion they had taken, which is a total of N53billion. And they were not able to account for it.
“The Minister of Finance undertook to do the audit from the ministry. We agreed that the result will be known in six months. During the six months, government undertook to be paying them N1.5billion each month during the time they are waiting for this.”
The minister added that the Ministry of Finance had already approved the release of the funds but not yet cash backed.
“Probably by Monday, they will be able to receive the cheque. And we will do forensic audit on the entire N53billion,” Adamu said
ASUU declared an indefinite strike last weekend over Federal Government’s failure to fulfill the 2009/2013 agreement with the union.
The issues in the agreement are: funding for the revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowances, registration of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company, university staff school, fictionalisation and non-payment of salaries among others.
On the TSA exemption request, he said:”There are other issues which we didn’t agree. And that was their request to be taken out of TSA. I told them that it is not possible because this is a new policy and government is not going to change it for anyone.”
On the non-payment of salaries, Adamu attributed it to the decision of federal universities to illegally recruit staff without recourse to the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
The situation, he said, had partially affected the government’s effort to eliminate thousands of ghost workers through thorough personnel verification and salary payment process.
Adamu said: “For instance, a university can just decide to recruit 50 people. And IPPIS is not aware. So, what they are going to get is they are going to get the money they got last month. And it will not be sufficient for them. They normally spread it among the entire staff. Let’s say they pay 70 per cent to 80 per cent but that is their fault. So, institutions, we said, must now stop doing that. And they accepted.”
The chairman of the committee, Jibrin Barau, expressed confidence that the minister would resolve the issues with the striking lecturers as soon as possible.
Barau pleaded with the lecturers to call off the strike while negotiation continues.
After a one hour meeting between the government team and the ASUU delegation, both parties agreed to return to the negotiation table next week.
Minister of Labour and Employment Senator Chris Ngige and ASUU President Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi led the delagations.
Ngige said the government was desirous of a quick resolution of the dispute to allow students return to school.
He said: “The meeting was not very long and we touched on the various issues. Within the last 48 hours, government has worked through the Minister of Education, Minister of Finance and the Attorney General of the Federation and we have communicated to ASUU the government position for them to take back to their members.
“The major issue is that we want the strike called off so that our children in school can write their degree and promotion exams. ASUU graciously said they would come back to us on a date within the next one week. It will not be later than one week so that we then take it from there.”
The government was desirous of resolving the dispute without apportioning blame, Ngige said, pointing out that if the government resorted to apportioning blames, the issues will not be resolved.
The minister insisted that the leadership of ASUU did not give the government the mandatory notice as required by Labour laws, a position which the ASUU leadership disagreed with, saying to them, the strike was a continuation of an action that was earlier suspended.
The minister was also not happy with officials of the Federal Ministry of Education who he said did not recognise the constitutional role of the ministry as the only body legally allowed to carry out reconciliation between employers and employees.
He said the terms of agreement between the union and the ministry as contained in the Collective Bargaining agreement was supposed to have been deposited with the Ministry of Labour to enable it monitor the implementation.
ASUU President Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi said the “government has made some offers on the issues we have raised and we have taken copious note of their offers and we have to get back to our members and make all the information available for them to consider and advise us and, based on their position, we will come back to government hopefully within the next one week.”
Asked what the offers made by the government are, Ogunyemi said: “I am sorry that I can’t go into discussing specifics. The offers are for our members and when we meet with them, we will come back and unveil all the issues as agreed on.”
On whether the strike; will be called off before then, he said “the leadership of the union did not call the strike, our members called the strike and they will decide when to suspend the strike. So, when our members decide otherwise, it will be off.”
Ogunyemi, who led a five-man team, including a former ASUU President, Dr. Dipo Fashina, disagreed with the Minister’s claim that the union did not adequately inform the ministry before the strike.
He said “I want to clear this allegation that ASUU kept the relevant ministries, departments and agencies in the dark before proceeding on this action. You will recall that when we came here two days ago, we drew your attention to a letter dated July 10 and it was while we were here that you confirmed that you were seeing that letter for the first time.
“Between July 10 and now, I don’t think it is one day. In the last 10 months or so, we have written five letters and have tried to reach out to the relevant stakeholders since we suspended our action last November.
“One other issue I want to clear is about the Babalakin committee. What we had at the end of our discussion last November were areas that are actionable and we left that place with the impression that there will be follow-up. ”
“We appreciate what has been done since we started this action and we are here again to see what we can get . In summary, we want to take information from here to our members who are our principals. So, we are open to your suggestions.”