By: Izueke Ifeanyi
THE Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) cannot claim to be autonomous when lecturers are paid from the government’s purse. Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, said.
According to him, autonomy can only work when a university generates its resources to pay workers and meet its obligation without any form of financial assistance from the government.
Ngige spoke while defending his ministry’s budget before the Senate Committee on Labour and Employment.
Striking lecturers have refused to call off their seven-month strike because of disagreement with the government over the Integrated Personnel Payroll System (IPPIS).
ASUU claimed that enrolling on the platform would erode the autonomy of the university system.
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) yesterday issued a 14-day ultimatum to parties to resolve the lingering strike or face nationwide protests.
Ngige, according to a statement by his media aide, Emmanuel Nzomiwu, told the lawmakers that the Federal Government was addressing the strike holistically to ensure that other unions in the university system were carried along.
Besides, the minister said the Federal Government has met most of the union’s demands.
“Out of the eight demands of ASUU, the government has solved five. We have made N50 billion available; N20 billion for the revitalisation of the universities and N30 billion for Earned Academic Allowances (EAA).
“The union agreed and went back to their members, only to return and say that the money for EAA should be for ASUU members alone, excluding other unions, namely, SSANU, NASU and NAAT,” Ngige said.
He explained that the Federal Government cannot ignore the other unions as such could be counter-productive to the smooth running of the university system.
“We cannot ignore the other unions whose services are indispensable for the full functioning of the university. If we ignore them, even if ASUU calls off the strike, the other unions will down tools-close the lecture rooms, the libraries, the laboratories- and, even the university gate,” the minister said.
On the contentious issue of IPPIS, the minister said the University Transparency and Accountability Solutions (UTAS), which ASUU brought as an alternative has been sent to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) for assessment.
Ngige, however, faulted the claim by ASUU that IPPIS would erode university autonomy.
“They said that university autonomy is being eroded. Autonomy cannot work when the government is paying the lecturers. It can work only when the governing council generates its resources to pay workers.
“IPPIS has blocked all leakages and exposed those who are not paying taxes, as well as those who underpay.
“So, we are meeting again with ASUU soon, so that they can also hear that other unions in the university have developed their payment system against UTAS. Do you now realise why we are tackling this problem holistically?,” the minister asked the lawmakers.
Addressing the concerns of the senators on the worrying unemployment situation in the country Ngige called for a systemic re-evaluation of the educational system with an emphasis on technical education.
He stressed the need to manage our resources and make concerted efforts to create jobs through multi-lateral and multifaceted approaches, including agriculture.
NANS resolved to organise a nationwide mass protest to press home its demand for the immediate reopening of all universities.
This is part of resolutions reached in a communiqué issued yesterday in Enugu after NANS Students’ Leaders Emergency Virtual Meeting held on Nov. 9.
The communiqué said the continued strike was an organised crime against students’ career and educational pursuits.
The statement reads in part: “The government has failed to prioritise education, hence the failure to deploy necessary fund for a complete overhauling of the education sector and total revitalization of university education in Nigeria.
“The association noted that governments had not earmarked meaningful budgetary allocation to the sector in line with the recommendation of UNESCO 26 per cent educational budgetary allocation.
“NANS has affirmed the perpetual and continued industrial actions by ASUU as the only tool to press home her demands as an organised crime against students’ career and educational pursuits.
“Consequently, NANS with no hesitation declares 14 days ultimatum for both ASUU and FG to resolve their impasse for our campuses to re-open or risk mass protest tagged #EndASUUStrike Nationwide – with economic shut down as the major target.”