Niyi Maraiyesa in an INTERVIEW WITH THE PRESIDENT Of THE ACADEMIC STAFF UNION OF UNIVERSITIES (Asuu) PROFESSOR BIODUN OGUNYEMI. THE HEAD OF ASUU A PROMINENT UNIVERSITY UNION FORCE IN NIGERIA WANTS WELL MEANING NIGERIANS TO PREVAIL ON THE NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT NOT TO RENAGE IN THEIR PROMISE TO ENABLE NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES COMPETE WITH THE GLOBAL UNIVERSITIES.
Q: Five issues were placed on the table by ASUU before the Federal Government.
1. The revitalization fund based on 2013 MOU
2. Negotiations of 2009 agreements
3. The constitution of visitation panel to all Federal Universities
4. Payment of arrears of Earned Academic Allowance EAA and
5. Proliferation of universities as well as the governance issues in the universities.
What is the latest position of ASUU and the Federal Government on these issues.
PROF: we signed a memorandum of action with the government on those issues and other related matters. Already part of the issues have been addressed, and the ones that were not addressed are been engaged by the Federal Government for action. For instance, the revitalization fund we have been informed that the 30 billion government promised to release as a sign of commitment has been set aside and we are to attend the meeting where they will be talking about on how to allocate the funds. The issue of visitation to the Federal Universities, Government has released the information related to that, a panel has been constituted and the names of the panelists are in the published so government is waiting for the universities to settle down before they inaugurated the panel so that they can go to the universities to do their work. On EAA, we have a letter informing us of the allocation to the universities, and we hope and believe that government will release the fund very soon, if it has not done so. on the NUC laws with respect to proliferation of universities and governance and other issues involved, we are working with the NUC with the review of the laws to strengthen NUC, to ensure that there will be a strict compliance with regulations that will make it difficult for state governors to create universities that they are not going to fund. These are areas that we are engaging with government the essence of our memorandum of action is that each of the issues has a timeline when it is to be implemented. We also have it in focus that by February we are going to meet again to review memorandum of action with reference to the level of implementation and outstanding issues if there would be any. In summary, we have the understanding with government and we hope that government will not renege in it promises to our members.
Q: I want to revisit the issue on revitalization based on 2013 memorandum of understanding. This has been lingering on for some time now, and the present administration is not ready to give you the bulk of the fund, they say they re going to give you 30billion naira, with this money re you now saying that ASUU ready to understand with the government?
PROF: In our engagement with government we make it clear that we are not going to close our eyes to the proliferation of the MOU 2013 because that memorandum of understanding arose from the Federal government committee on its assessment of the universities. If government set up a committee that went around the universities to assess what they need for the universities to function and to be repositioned to stand competition as the universities of twenty-first century and government has documented the gaps in resource positions, in facilities, the gaps in governance and all those aspects that are there, what we have in 2012 assessment report is the most comprehensive assessment reports of the public universities in Nigeria since the commencement of university education in Nigeria. Such as valuable report should not be allowed to come to waist . It’s that report that forms the basis of government agreeing to inject the total of 1.3 trillion into universities over a period of six years. And government only release for one year subsequent, government started foot dragging and last we have before the promised of 30 billion and since government doesn’t release them as a sign of commitment. We want to keep that commitment in focus because government said we should propose sources from where funds could be generated. We have done that in past and government has now activated some of these sources and as government implement them, we keep reminding government that you told us that once you activate those we suggested to you, you would go back to the memorandum of understanding of 2013. Is not that we are ready to jettison 2013 MOU, governance is continuous, there is no vacuum in governance. We want the Federal government to keep it promise to us and to the Nigeria people so that is why we are holding to 2013 MOU and of course is for government to be back to the tranches in the revitalization fund. Government has released 200 billion Naija which was the first tranche. After that government was expected to release 220 annually for five years that has not happened and we are trying to bring government back to doing that. .
Q: By February if government does not fulfill its promise what will happened?
PROF: it’s not a matter of what would happen, once we engage the government it is over to our members, as we speak we still have some sideline issues that have come up in the last strike action to be addressed. One of the sidelines issues is the withheld salaries of some of our members, as we speak, we still have some people that are owed as much as 10 months salaries because of the IPPIS problems and of course probably government thought of punishing us for going on strike. We are ready to go back to class but we implore the government to pay their salaries so as not to dapple their spirit to go back to the class. We also have other sideline issues which is our proposed alternatives to IPPIS which is University Transparent and accountability solution UTAS . We have gone far in the test of its integrity and we are on the final stage now. The government has been cooperating so far but our members we need to assess the situation by the time we get to February. What am saying in essence is that we have a number of issues that we are attacking and has to ensure that there is no gap in communication to put the mechanism in place for constant industrial engagement and that is the line we are pursuing now.
Q: Very soon should we expect that UTAS will officially replace IPPIS?
PROF: we have an understanding with government that our alternative is better than the IPPIS. And we have demonstrated this at various levels. We started with the ministry of information, we moved to the Senate, we moved to the accountant general’s office and we have moved to NITDA, National information technology development agency. Which is the regulation agency for ICT development in the country. We are with NITDA now that’s why I Said we have gone far and every point NITDA has given us tumps up. So for there is no where we present datas including the end users, the vice chancellors , that it was faulted rather it was seeing as a comprehensive software of improving universities governance so to that extend, it a highly welcome platform and it is a great value addition to the universities operations. It’s not whether it will adopted, it is how soon.
Q: The issue of the payment arrears of Earned Academic Allowance EAA that is creating controversy with the sisters universities unions and ASUU which it may lead to the sister Unions going on strike and may affect academic procedures. What is ASUU doing to ensure that this will not lead to disruption of schooling in the universities?
PROF: let me say that we are always in reluctant to comment on this matter, because we respect the right of other unions to demand for the improvement in their wellbeing and in the welfare of their members. To that extend, we cannot stopped them from using the best strategy they deem fit. However the frame work with which we operate is the agreement which each unions had with the government because this allowances we are talking about have their origins in the agreement with various staff unions negotiated and signed with the government in 2009. As far as I can talk on ASUU agreement, all Allowances we are talking about were spelt out and we have the payment values in terms of naira and kobo attached to each of the Allowances . Am not sure that is the case with other unions. Each unions always negotiate for their members,
As we moved, government say we should bring along other unions. How do we arrived at what we ask for ? in due calculation based on the formula agreed with government with those figures that we press forward for release, am not sure whether other unions present their calculated Allowances based on agreement in clear terms. I think that’s where the problem is. The right to demand for their members should not stop us from demanding for our members also. We have told government that it is not possible for a union to negotiate for another union and because of that difference some groups in the system takes us to be the problem but we are not the problem. The problem can be traced back to their employers . What we have done this time around is to ensure that the interest of other unions are accommodated. The history of this problem we are having goes back to 2013 when government released the first payment of the areas of EAA when universities were on strike and as we are on strike this is how they go ahead to ensure they got a lion share and when we came back we challenged because the basis on what they tendered was not clear to anybody. The issue was so arbitrary that even the members of the governing council who does not work at the universities Earned Academic Allowances. Each time we meet with government we always presented the scientific basis for our demand. In between 2013 and now we have Presidential committee for continuous verifications which also went around to ensure that the issue of 2013 does not repeat itself especially when ASUU is on strike.
Q: In a bid to develop tertiary institutions in Nigeria and make our universities to compete with others globally, don’t you think that the incessant ASUU strikes is an impediment?
PROF: Before we criminalize strike, we need to ask the question what will led to strike? I just explained now why strikes have become inevitable in circumstances. Lets look at the example of 2013 MOU. Before we got this MOU , Universities have been going on strikes. Why did we go on those strikes, we had the report of the Federal government team that went round Universities in 2012 and they recommended what to be done to our universities to make them compete in terms of facilities, infrastructure, financing, governance and all aspects of universities operations were looked into and we had a comprehensive report on what to be done. After presenting that report to NEC , National Economic Council where governors were present, they went to sleep. It was not implemented. We now said we cannot take this , you cannot do what you cannot implement. We have presented government white paper, government judicial report and so on and so forth. It’s only ASUU that insists that we have an understanding that this is the way we are going we most go that way we must not go to sleep after.Government came up with its assessment report committee and government say they cannot implement because there is no money, why do you do it in the first place. If you don’t want to address the problem why do you say let’s look at this problem. That’s what’s has been happening. Government has been consistently dogging its responsibilities. Beyond that we have signed agreement with government and
by the time government failed to implement it . We now told ourselves that this memorandum of understanding that we are signing is not working let’s have memorandum of action in which case every item will have a timeline for activation. That is the difference between the memorandum of understanding and the memorandum action. Our overall interest in all of this is what you have just mentioned. We need to reposition our universities. We need to put our universities on the part that can make them fully empowered to compete with other universities in Africa not to talk of other part of the world. In the 70s our universities were competing with western world in fact it was reported that the Prince of Saudi was coming to University College Ibadan UCH which was part of UI to seek medical attention. Can we say something like that now. Among the Commonwealth universities, many of our universities were among the best 20. But today we are struggling to even have one among the first one thousand, that should not be the case. Let me also tell you that before ASUU interventions our universities are almost going into oblivion. Over 90 percent of capital development projects are TETFUND projects going on in public universities today which ASUU struggled produced. So I wondered when people say ASUU strikes has produced nothing. If not our consistent engagement with government trying to hold the government down our universities today would have been a shadow of themselves. We have turned ourselves to be the watchdog of the system. It not a palatable job but the moment we turn our back government will abandon Universities I can assure you that. The issue that is on is that government is trying to privatize the universities which we would not allow to happen. Because the gap between the rich and the poor will be too wide. ASUU as a union uses strike as the option of the last result. It is only when it becomes clear that all our struggles have produced nothing then that is when we result to go on strike.
Q: What is the position of ASUU ON schools resumption?
PROF: ASUU support the idea of reopening of universities because our universities cannot be closed forever. We have suspended our strike, our members are ready to work. However, this is very important, government has the responsibility to ensure the safety and health of our members as well as our students. Government has a guideline publication that was rolled out in July 2020 where it is clearly stated that before educational institutions are reopened there must be readiness assessment through the instrumentality of the assessment check list and there will also be compliance assessment through the instrumentality of compliance check lists. This two instrument are expected to be applied in the institutions before they can be satisfied as ready to commence buses of education, have they done so? If they have done so but they do not make it public we don’t know. But we are ready to work. We are saying that if the physical resumption is going to be problematic we can explore other areas. We have proposed a number of options that government can look at. The stagger resumption is an option. In line of the publication of guidelines on reopening of institutions government must take responsibility.
Q: Public Universities in Nigeria are not so compliance with E-Leanings, it’s part of the challenges that militates easy resumption of universities. What is ASUU doing to overcome this huddle?
PROF: now you are coming back to what I am saying. Take the issue of the revitalization for instance, it was given only once to make universities compliance to business of teaching. If government have been doing what is required long time ago it will be a different ball game now. Take for instance as back as 2013 we would not be lamenting about the decay in the educational system particularly on technology supported system. Nigerians are coming to see the essence of our struggles for revitalization of the universities system.
Q: Can you rate Nigerian public universities under ASUU on modern technology of teaching students and as a tool for lecturers to ease their work: High, Average or Low?
PROF: I would say average because as universities are struggling, as we speak now I know some public universities both federal and states that are already deploying LMS Learning Management Studies, that are doing online learning. They are using their resources human materials and financial towards achieving that goal. But my observation is that the program is putting pressure on the resources of the lecturers and the students. Because facilities that are supposed to be provided by the universities are not in place. You. Can imagine students who do not have android phone manages to catch up. Even staffs have to buy Datas and in some federal universities they are been owed salaries. In South Africa for instance, government subsidized E-Leaning to encourage students and lecturers. Government needs to come in to cusson the economy effect on students and the universities.
Q: ASUU parades intelligent professionals in verse area of development. What is ASUU doing for it’s members to assist Nigeria in some of its challenges?
PROF: Our members are ready to do that, it is the enabling environment that is lacking. Has the universities given the welwithout to position itself as the ivory position as the solution centers facing Nigeria?
Q: What should Nigerians expect from ASUU in year 2021
PROF: ASUU in all the union does put the interest of Nigeria and Nigeria first. I can assure you that ASUU is ready to do it’s best as an organization to ensure that our quality of our education does not nosedive. We are ready to put in our best and to support our students to have a seamless experience in learning. As long as government is cooperating. We also appealing to Nigerians to prevail on the government to fulfill it promise to ASUU