*We hope to resolve the matter this week-FG
By Henry Tyohemba, Abuja
Unions in the nation’s university system are at loggerheads over the N30billion Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) offered them by the federal government as part of moves to resolve the industrial crisis within the system.
LEADERSHIP Sunday reports that members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have been on strike for eight months, while the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) issued a 14-day ultimatum to embark on a warning strike on October 5.
To meet the demands of the aggrieved workers, the federal government had offered N30 billion to all the unions in the universities and another N20billion as revitalization fund, totaling N50billion during their meeting on October 15.
The federal government had said the contentious allowance promised to be released for the striking ASUU members would be shared with non-academic staff unions.
LEADERSHIP Sunday also recalls that in 2019, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) had complained that ASUU took a whopping 80 per cent of the N25billion earned allowance released to them by the federal government, while the three other non-teaching staff unions were left with 20 per cent.
Reacting to the release of the N30billion Earned Academic Allowance offered by the federal government, ASUU president, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, argued that they negotiated for ASUU and not for other unions, adding that the money would be for only its members.
But the new president of SSANU, Comrade Haruna Ibrahim, yesterday said ASUU had no ground to say that the N30 billion should go to only them.
He said, “This is not the first tranche, the government had given this money earlier and it was shared, everybody got what was due to them, every union member got it.
“ASUU is not the owner of the money and the government is already discussing and dialoguing with the unions and today there is a claim by SSANU on allowances that were withheld and our money that is still with the government”.
Reacting to the development, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, said the federal government was optimistic on resolving the issue this week.
Speaking on Channels Television’s programme, ‘Politics Today,’ Senator Ngige said he was optimistic that the disagreement with the lecturers would be resolved.
“Even if countries go to war, at the end of the day you come back to the negotiation table,” he said.
Ngige further stated that he would be inviting ASUU in the coming week, adding that there had been government’s side meetings where collations were being made to ensure that all pertinent data and pending issues were brought to the place of negotiation.
The minister said he was very optimistic that with the myriad of options available, the matter would be resolved.
Ngige also said NASU and SSANU were opposed to the University Transparency Account System (UTAS) payment platform being canvassed by ASUU instead of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) for the payment of lecturers’ salaries and allowances.
He said; “There are other unions in the university system that are saying they will develop their own systems, and that they are not going to go to UTAS – Senior Staff Association of Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT), … ASUU is not the only union in the universities.”
Ngige stated that the government was making efforts to meet up with ASUU’s demands but warned against the use of different payment platforms in Nigerian universities.
He stressed that it was important for the government to ensure that the concerns of SSANU, NASU, NAAT, and others were addressed while working to ensure the return of the lecturers to the classroom.
The minister hinted that the payment system proposed by ASUU had been forwarded to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) for assessment.
He said; “If we ignore those people and what they are saying, even if ASUU calls off the strike, they will close the lecture halls, they will close the laboratories, they will close even the gates.
“It has happened before, entry gates into the universities, we don’t want that to happen. That is why we are taking them holistically and going in measure steps to be sure that we carry everybody along.”
Also speaking with journalists in Abuja yesterday on the prolonged strike, the permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Arch Sunny Echono, said the federal government would work with the union to find a solution to the ongoing strike.
“We are very concerned about the strike, many of us believe there are other ways of getting things done like the shared acceptance of so many of the issues. We believe the reason will prevail and that the overall national interest will be the guiding principle in coming to a quick resolution on this and I can assure you that work is going on seriously. Only two days ago ASUU executives were in the ministry for consultations and we needed to tell them exactly what our position is.
“We will look at the overall interest of the Nigerian people and we are operating within the context of various segments even within the university system. We have different unions with different demands and we have to balance it,” he said.