• Appeals to union to call off strike
•NANS threatens mass protest â€¨• Extract workable agreement, Ikimi tells lecturers
Omon-Julius Onabu, Damilola Oyedele and Chineme Okafor
The federal government Tuesday released the sum of N30 billion to the Ministry of Education for onward disbursement to the universities for the payment of earned allowances of the striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Benue State Governor, Mr. Gabriel Suswan, made this disclosure at a meeting with the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), at the state Governor's Lodge in Abuja, where he reiterated his appeal to the striking union to return to the classrooms in the interest of the future leaders of the country.
Suswan, who is also the chairman of the Needs Implementation Committee, said the money for the earned allowances was released yesterday afternoon.
The governor admitted that although there was delay in the commencement of the implementation of the existing agreements, the government had already addressed almost all of the demands of ASUU except on the allowances.
He described as 'unfair' comments allegedly made by ASUU leadership that the government was insincere and that the government disbursement of N100 billion for infrastructure needs of the institutions was done without consultations.
"ASUU participated in all the meetings where it was agreed to raise N100 billion, which has already been distributed to all the universities. In fact, the president of ASUU nominated one Dr. Baffa, who is very resourceful. He did all the work, and presented the criteria for distribution of the money which is based on the population of each university," he explained.
Suswan added that after the draft distribution was drawn up, he asked the union to go through the document for their satisfaction.
"Instead, they wrote me a letter accusing the committee of insincerity. The councils are the ones that would verify what we are owing, go and ask them. ASUU said no, that unless we put N92 billion on the table," he added.
The governor clarified that the government cannot hand over any money blindly unless it verified the need. This, he said, was necessary so that every university would be allocated the money it needed for the earned allowances.
On the N100 billion for infrastructure, which had already been disbursed to the schools, Suswan said the governing councils would be the ones to award the contracts, and not the Needs Implementation committee.
Suswan also alleged that the strike had assumed a political dimension. He appealed to all well-meaning Nigerians to work with the federal government to find a permanent solution to the incessant strikes, which held the danger of seeing to the production of mediocre graduates.
He also urged NANS not to embark on a protest as being canvassed in some quarters. Instead, he appealed to the union to urge ASUU to return to work.
"To raise N100 billion in two weeks is not an easy task. We are making efforts to ensure that this intervention is sustained beyond 2013," he said.
NANS President, Mr. Yinka Gbadebo, in an earlier address, expressed the intention of the students' body to embark on a protest either against the government or ASUU.
He also urged the government to consider the idea of interest-free loans for tertiary education students to ease the financial burden on those, who cannot easily pay for their education.
But as if goading the union to maintain its hard stance,the Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence (fjhd) has given ASUU a pat on the back for its commitment in prosecuting the three-month old strike to compel the federal government to finally address the myriad of problems bedevilling the country's university education system.
The group said the action of ASUU was not unjustified while questioning the sincerity of the federal government "to meeting the said demands" despite the reported release of N130 billion to the governing councils of the different universities.
In a statement by its National Coordinator, Oghenejabor Ikimi, the group lamented that hindsight has not shown the government acting in a sincere manner that would cause it to be trusted by the ASUU leadership.
In the opinion of Ikimi, the leadership of ASUU should not shift ground on the strike issue until the government demonstrated its seriousness by signing a kind of undertaking to implement the reformatory recommendations of the academic union after the strike would have been called off.
The statement said: "Even if the federal government's intention in the above regard is sincere, it is our considered opinion that before ASUU calls off its strike action, it must ensure that the federal government as a matter of urgency, signs a workable document with the leadership of ASUU on how it intends to meet their demands bearing in mind that a similar agreement signed in 2009 between the federal government and ASUU has not been implemented by the Federal Government till date.
"The group believes that ASUU's demands are genuine and real as (the strike) is an attempt by ASUU to save our educational system from extinction. For instance, in a recent world assessment of universities where the list of the world's first 1,000 universities were published no Nigerian university was mentioned.
The group stressed that “our universities deserve better funding to be able to re-position and revitalise itself as citadels of learning before they can turn out graduates the nation can be proud of."
However, the Delta State University, Abraka (DELSU) chapter of ASUU has expressed appreciation to Nigerians "for the support availed ASUU so far in the struggle", saying it would not waver but remain resolute until victory was achieved.
In a statement signed by its chairman, Dr. Emmanuel Nwafor Mordi, the body also condemned what it called shoddy conduct recently of the university's Post-UTME, claiming that its organisation "fell short of minimum standards for DELSU examinations."
Meanwhile, the National Association of Philosophy Students (NAPS) has said the federal government’s inability to implement the 2009 agreement was a clear indication of its untrustworthy nature.
NAPS stated at a press briefing in Abuja yesterday, that the issues raised by ASUU, which had resulted in an indefinite nationwide strike were basically for the good of all Nigerian public institutions and as such should not be hard for the government to implement..
Its Chairman, Adeshina Lukman, said in his address, that the union and all other student bodies in the country were disturbed with the development and had giving the government an ultimatum to address the situation as soon as possible, failure of which, it would galvanise a mass protest against the government.
“It is no longer news that Nigerian universities are underfunded, Nigerian universities cannot be compared with any university in the world and this explains why there is brain-drain in the country,” the association lamented.