The Federal Government has said it will begin the process of paying members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities their outstanding funds today.
The Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Senator Chris Ngige, who said he had yet to be officially put on notice by ASUU, said the government would not allow the union to embark on the strike threatened by the university lecturers on Monday.
Ngige made this known on Tuesday while appearing on Politics Today, a current affairs programme on Channels Television monitored by our correspondent from Abuja.
He said, “The strike will not happen. For one, I know that the fund to pay with is there and the Ministry of Education has assured me that by Wednesday they would emanate letters to make sure that the disbursement reaches the accounts of the various universities. We are not paying the unions directly, it will get to the universities’ accounts.
“I will have a meeting with the Minister of State for Education who is the one in charge of the affairs now because the main minister (Adamu Adamu) is overseas on health grounds. I will evaluate the situation with him and we would make sure that the disbursement goes on.”
ASUU has given the Federal Government a 21-day ultimatum over the failure of the government to implement the agreement reached with it.
This is as the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, claimed in an interview with The PUNCH that the union had failed to submit a breakdown of the workers entitled to the N22.1bn earned allowances.
President of ASUU, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, at a press conference held on Monday had blamed the Federal Government for failing to honour the agreement it signed with the union, which made it call off its strike in December 2020.
ASUU embarked on a nine-month strike in March 2020, following its disagreement with the Federal Government over the funding of universities and alleged ineffectiveness and discrepancies around the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System and others.
ASUU, however, developed the University Transparency and Accountability Solution to replace the IPPIS and had several meetings with the ministries of Finance, Education, Labour and Employment, and the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation before it was approved, but it has yet to be implemented.
Likewise, the government and ASUU signed an agreement aimed at addressing some of the demands of the union, a development that led to the suspension of the strike on December 23, 2020.
After a meeting with the government on August 2, 2021, Osodeke said the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency insisted that the UTAS must be re-presented to the end-users.
At the meeting, the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Chris Ngige, had assured ASUU that the N22.1bn earned allowances captured in the 2021 supplementary budget would soon be accessed by university workers.
The National Universities Commission had also promised to pay the sum of N30bn as a revitalisation fund for federal universities.
Osodeke, however, told journalists on Monday that the Federal Government had yet to implement the agreements and was not giving cogent reasons for not doing so.
On Tuesday, Ngige was asked if he had received a notice from ASUU indicating that the lecturers would embark on strike. The minister said, “No. I’m still in the office (as of 7 pm) and I’m working. Till now, I have not gotten communication from them but that is not to say that having seen that they have been addressing press conferences that they have issued an ultimatum, that the government won’t be proactive or the Ministry of Labour will not be proactive.”
According to Ngige, one of the mandates of the ministry is to settle industrial disputes. “As far as we are concerned, we have hit the ground running, making contacts with their real employers – the direct employers of university teachers, which is the Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission,” he said.
The minister stated that while ASUU has the right to express its grievances, all the stakeholders at the government side have been working towards addressing the issues.
When asked if the revitalisation fund was ready, Ngige said, “The fund is ready. The fund is in the account of the National Universities Commission and the Ministry of Education. They were doing what they called auditing of the earlier disbursed funds.
“Universities were supposed to retire the earlier funds given to them. As of the last meeting, 11 universities had not satisfactorily done that and, therefore, we gave a timeframe of two weeks to get those universities to conform and they would release the money.”
The minister argued that what was agreed with ASUU “in December last year has been paid,” saying the current issue has to do with the subsequent payment. “The other one had been paid (between) January and February. This is now the second charge that is due in the agreement,” he added.
According to him, the government has paid earned allowances totalling N22.72bn.
“I am not trying to make a case for the Ministry of Education and NUC (on) why they should not do what they are supposed to do but I know that before the next two weeks, we can sort out some of those low-hanging fruits. There are no problems because the money is already there,” Ngige said.
Speaking on UTAS, Ngige said the National Information Technology Development Agency had subjected the payment software to “critical tests,” while university bursars were in Abuja to review the platform. He also said the NUC had also made provisions for the hardware.
The minister said, “Don’t buy everything hook, line and sinker that the Federal Government is not doing anything. If it was a system that we didn’t want to use at all from Day 1, we would have said it and we would not waste anybody’s time. But this government believes in home-grown things; we believe in local content. This is part of our local content so that we can save foreign exchange for the country.”We are social! follow us on: