The Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting held on Wednesday in Abuja failed to vote more funds to halt the lingering university strike, describing the insistence by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to continue with the strike until all its demands are met as smarking of insensitivity to other sectors which it said have pressing demands.
It raised the alarm that government activities in the country risked shutting down if ASUU and other groups in the country insisted on total resolution of their problems.
Speaking with State House correspondents on the outcome of the FEC meeting, Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, alongside his Education counterpart, Professor Ruqayyat Rufai, blamed government’s paucity of funds on the activities of insurgents which he said had forced government to spend lots of money to contain.
He, however, stated that no government elsewhere funded education the way the Federal Government did, pledging the readiness of government to domore as soon as its finances improved.
Maku said, “when you look at this nation at the moment and you look at the various challenges that we have had to confront in the last two years including insecurity that is induced in some northern states, the money we have spent dealing with Boko Haram and other avoidable crises that have been generated could in fact provide all the infrastructure for universities but we have to address them.”
He said, “don’t forget that in 2010, we announced a 53.4 percent increase in public workers’ salaries across board which affected all the people in the public service, that has still left a huge deficit in the annual budget of the country.
“If we all insist that every sector’s problem must be completely solved, we will down tools, we will not work, then the country will stop working. If we say we will not work until every particular problem we face in this country is resolved, then I’m sure there is no sector that will work, so is our country.
“We are partners with ASUU, we are friends, they are our patriots and we understand the critical role that the university teachers are doing to create a new society that we are hoping to have. But at the same time, this is a reality question that we need to look at and we have to put the nation first.
“I know all of us desire more from the system but the truth is that there are limitations and from the limitations we have, we believe that ASUU really needs to do a rethink and ensure that we reopen our universities because really,we are feeling the pain of our children being at home and this, indeed, is completely avoidable.
“And people can compare the statistics. When we were on the Good Governance Tour, when we got to the University of Benin, we saw 37 completed projects, including the new senate chambers constructed under this administration, most of the projects were through the tertiary education trust fund.
“There is no federal university today that does not have multiple projects going on by the tertiary education trust fund. At the University of Port Harcourt, you will see the samething. At the University of Jos, we saw student hostels and lecture theatres being constructed. There is no federal university that is not being funded at the moment.
This includes polytechnics and colleges of education, even state polytechnics,”he said.
On her part, the Education Minister, accused ASUU of being bent on portraying government in bad light despite efforts made to resolvethe lingering academic crisis.
She said, “If you talk about theissue of funding, you are talking about 26 per cent of the budget. Even though education has been having one of the highest in terms of allocation, still it is not good enough as far as ASUU is concerned.”
“They asked why should we go for N400 billion when it is suppose to be one quarter of the budget of the federation, which if you compare with other sectors of the economy, may not be feasible for now.
So improvement in terms of that funding not even the budget, that is why we will try to let the public know that there are other areas of funding for the education sector.
“We have money coming in from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund for the tertiary institutions, we have UniversalBasic Education Commission for basic and secondary education. We also have majoragencies also funding education like CBN, NNPC PTDF,ESPF, NCC many other agencies of government are also contributing.
“So if you go into any institution particularly the tertiary institution, you will see one thing or the other going on that is being done byany of these agencies, or government funding and so on.
“So on funding, we have said that government is doing the best it can. But all the same, government has earmarked the sum of N100 billion and 24 of our tertiary institutions have been asked to identify the infrastructure that needs to be develop for now, and by the beginning of next year we are going to add another N100 or N200 billion depending on what we are going to get from all the other agencies that we are now going to harmonized and ensure that we harnessed the funding into the sector. And this is ASUU’s number one case.
“Another major one is the issue of the Earned Academic Allowances. Yes, government signed that it was going to pay in principled that it will pay earned academic allowances. But by tradition, we are paying that through our Governing Councils through our various universities. So it was not untilthe agreement was signed that we realized that government according to ASUU that is not the various councils that will pay but the central government.
“And if you look at the break down which is already in circulation, the earned allowances, the responsibilities allowances, supervision of students, the number of students that one isteaching per hour, about 14 items or so. At the time that agreement was signed, even though they said responsibility allowance for deputy vice chancellor N750,000 per annum and for the lowest person in the university N150,000 per annum, that is just one category.
“Another one N350,000 per annunm so all these are in the agreement yes but nobody knew how many staff were entitled to it in each of these universities until February this year.
“Even in February this year, ASUU always accused government of not paying for three years, even for them theyknow quiet well that they did not come out with whatever entitlement until February this year and even then it was an arbitrary figure. That is why we said governing councils should take N30 billion to go and verify.
“Not all staff can earn allowances, not everybody is a professor, not everybody is senior lecturer so it depends, I may earn this and not earn that. So we said our governingcouncils should verify whatever category of staff will earn let them be paid.
“What we have given is an assistance from federal government to the governing councils of the universities, they can make up the difference if they so wish but the federal government done has it’s part. And that is the most thorny issue of this strike. It is a surprise that up till now ASUU is not calling off this strike.
“Look at the issue of landed property, how can you accuse government that it has not done anything for universities on that. We cannot just say take this landed property, you have to have a company and compete along with others and if you are lucky we can now say yes you have that property but no government can say take this land from thisarea and give go this university, it will not be done and this is one of the things they are accusing the federal government of not doing.
“On the issue of pension, they are saying that federal government has not done their pensions scheme. On the Pension scheme the federal government is only assisting them, they choose the particular pension managers they wanted to use and we said fine, and now they said they have to pay certain amount of money and they don’t have.
“Federal government now saidtake N250,000 as it’s contribution but yet ASUU is waiting for federal government to register for them.
“So all those things if you take them item by item, that is why we put it out in the media for people to see. Look at the issue of budget implementation monitoring committee even at their level of university they are accusing the federal government of not doing anything, this is what any responsible vice chancellorcan simply constitute. What can federal government do apart from directing them to do so. We have done so already, weW have issued the circulars we have done retreat and we have told them to go ahead and yet this is part of what they are accusing the federal government of not doing. And at the same time we are talking about university autonomy.
“So these are things people have to comprehend very well, federal government as far as we are concern, from the beginning to the end it has done the most that it can do and we are working closely with them on areas that may not have been completed. So we don’t see any reason they are not back to classes. So we are calling on them using this medium in the interest of the nation, in the interest of our students who are very dear to us, we hope that they call off that strike”
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