The Federal Government has agreed to release within one month a whopping sum of N220 billion to public universities to fund the revitalization of federal universities in the country.
The fund represents part of the agreement the Academic Staff Union of Universities reached with the Federal Government at a 15-hour meeting they held on the way forward regarding the strike action embarked upon by university lecturers.
The sum is expected to be paid not later than next month while signals indicated that university lecturers are close to calling off their one-month-old strike in another one week.
The money is to enable the institutions buy working tools needed for effective discharge of their responsibilities.
Representatives of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are scheduled to present details of the agreement to the National Executive Council of the union within the next one week for ratification, and possible calling off of the strike.
Besides, government at the conciliatory meeting, coordinated by Labour and Employment Minister,Chris Ngige, agreed to commence the immediate payment of the salary shortfall to the lecturers.
Ngige told reporters at the end of the meeting that government had also commenced the payment of the earned allowances of members of the union.
He said the meeting also discussed how to set up the National Universities Pension Management Company as well as the issue of university staff schools and the Treasury Single Account.
His words: “We also discussed the issue of university staff schools and treasury single account with a view to finding how the system could accommodate funds for research grants that need to be independent of the government. We also discussed the issue of how the Federal Government could be involved in the running of state universities.”
He said the meeting agreed to set up a seven-man committee on the implementation of the proposals.
The union and the federal ministry of education will each be represented by three persons on the committee, while government will be represented by one person who will serve as chairman.
Continuing, Ngige said: ”There’s the fund for revitalization of public universities and the issue of Earned Academic Allowances; the issue of University Staff Schools on which there is a court judgment; the issue of National Universities Pension Management Company; and the issue of salary shortfalls for lecturers and staff of universities. There is the issue of TSA exemption and the problems in the state universities. All are the issues that ASUU felt that government should address.
“Most of these issues stemmed from the 2009 agreement that government had with ASUU and also from the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding that the government had with ASUU. Government is a continuum. Most of those issues were not issues that cropped up from the Buhari administration, we inherited them.
“But be that as it may, we are to ready to address those issues.
“But ASUU has to take back this our proposal to their organs, so we decided that there’s an agreement for government to make some funds available in September and October to show that they are not repudiating their agreement and to also show sign of good faith.
“On the issue of Earned Academic Allowances, we have listened and payment has started in that direction and the same with staff schools. Government is though not appealing, we have agreed that the decision should be conveyed to the various universities.
“The Issue of NUPENCO was addressed and ways have been fashioned out for the registration of that company. Salary shortfalls for lecturers and university staff were also addressed and government has shown their commitment and evidence that payments have started in order to liquidate the outstanding allowances.
“The issue of TSA exemption was also discussed and an agreement or proposal was muted by which the Central Bank would open a special account.
”State universities which have been the concern for ASUU and everybody who has been looking for quality education in the country was also discussed and the Minister of Education was mandated to take the memo to the council of state and the Federal Executive Council.
“Based on these discussions, ASUU leadership will consult with its organs and revert back to government within one week. They will consult with their organs with a view to calling off the strike. And we expect them that within one week, they will get back to government. These are the highlights of the meeting and I can tell you that the meeting took place in very cordial atmosphere.”
Also speaking, ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said the proposals made by government were concrete but said the ASUU team would take the offers back to their colleagues for consideration within the next one week, and the position of the members would be communicated to government.
He said: “We have had useful deliberations and we had some concrete proposals that we will take back to our members as part of our consultations.
“And like the Honourable Minister of Labour has said, we plan to come back here to take decisions as advised by our members.”
Also at the marathon meeting were the President of the Nigeria Labour Comgress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba and the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang.
ASUU embarked on the strike on August 13, following government’s failure to implement the agreement reached with the union in November 2016.