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Indication that the four-month old strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the ASUU/FG 2009 agreement emerged Wednesday, with the Senate mandating its President, Senator David Mark, to engage both the federal government and ASUU with a view to ending the strike.
The senators, who urged the striking lecturers to return to the classroom to prevent what they described as further devaluation of the country’s educational fortunes, also mandated the committee on education to liase with the Federal Ministry of Education, National Universities Commission (NUC) and all other relevant stakeholders to proffer lasting solution to the crisis.
However, President Goodluck Jonathan, for the second time in a week, yesterday admonished the striking lecturers to let the interest of the nation and students be the basis in calling off the strike.
He said the step would go a long way in assisting the government systematically to continue to address the challenges facing the nation’s university system.
Dissatisfied with the president’s admonition, Chairman of ASUU-University of Uyo (UNIUYO) branch, Dr. Nwachukwu Ayim, also urged Nigerians not to be sympathetic with the federal government over the prolonged strike, but said Nigerians should appreciate the position of the union in moving the educational sector forward.
Incidentally, the Senate’s resolution, which followed a motion sponsored by 107 senators and presented by Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, recalled that ASUU had been on strike since July 1 in protest of federal government’s alleged failure to implement the 2009 agreement signed with lecturers for proper funding of the nation’s universities.
According to him, the Senate noted with concern that the strike had paralysed academic activities in the universities and consequently rendered the institutions redundant, stressing that several negotiations between the striking lecturers and the federal government along with the intervention of some prominent Nigerians have failed to produce the desired results.
Ndoma-Egba also revealed that despite the release of N100 billion for infrastructural development to the universities as well as additional N30 billion as accumulated allowances by the federal government, the lecturers have refused to be pacified, regretting that a situation where ASUU is on strike, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) is also on strike and the College of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) also recently embarking on seven days of warning strike is worrisome.
However, the presentation of the details of ASUU demands as contained in the 2009 agreement with the federal government by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Education, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, shocked his colleagues as a number of the demands were either perceived to be bizarre or absolutely unnecessary.
Such demands include maternity leave allowance, sick leave allowance, injury allowance, car allowance, postgraduate (PG) grants for the supervision of PG students, external excess workload allowance, sabbatical leave allowance, teaching practice and industrial training allowance as well as funding of the state and federal universities.
Chukwumerije, who also disclosed that the total sum of the demands by ASUU in figure amounted to N1,05 trillion, added that it was agreed that N5 billion would be released in 2009, another N5 billion in 2010, among others.
In his remarks, Mark, who implored ASUU to return to the classroom on behalf of the Senate, said he thought details of the agreement when being read by Chukwumerije were mere proposals in view of the degree of triviality involved.
According to him, the nature of the agreement showed that those who represented the federal government at the negotiation table where it was signed, were people who did not know their right from their left. He described the action as unfair to the nation.
Speaking at the 29th convocation ceremony of the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), where he was represented by the supervising Minister of Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, President Jonathan called on the university teachers to join hands with government in turning the country’s universities to centres of excellent.
He noted that his administration had allocated the sum of N55.74 billion to the university sub-sector this year alone, while also maintaining that: “Apart from establishing 12 new federal universities, government has also increased the carrying capacities of existing universities to address the issue of access to higher education, government has also increased the budget of education progressively from N234.8 billion in 2010 to N426.5 billion in 2013 with N55.74 billion allocated to university sub-sector alone.”
According to him, “It is on this premise, that I wish to once again call on ASUU to allow reason to prevail by immediately calling-off their ongoing strike action in the interest of the nation and our children while government systematically continues to address the myriad of challenges facing our university system.
Meanwhile, Ayim, who addressed journalists yesterday, after a public awareness road walk, hinted that about 52 letters had be written to the federal government reminding of the agreement reached with the union since 2009.
He argued that contrary to government propaganda and misinformation by its agents, the strike was in the interest of university education in the country.
“We wish to remind the general public about the reason for our strike, which is, the refusal of the federal government of Nigeria to implement the agreement it freely entered into with ASUU in 2009. This patience notwithstanding, ASUU had to additionally enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with government on the strategy of implementation of the said agreement in 2012, all to no avail, as government only paid lip-service to its commitment with the union.