Muhammadu Buhari said: ”My administration is committed to this engagement and dialogue, and I urge them to stay the course towards a joint resolution in the best interest of our children and nation,”
President Muhammadu Buhari has said his administration is committed to honouring promises made to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) towards averting strikes, engendering uninterrupted academic programmes and improving funding of educational institutions.
A statement signed by Mr. Buhari’s special adviser on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, noted that the President made the pledge on Tuesday in Abuja when he received members of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC).
NIREC members were led to the meeting by their co-chairmen, Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, and the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Samson Ayokunle.
Mr. Buhari said he has directed the chief of staff, Ibrahim Gambari, a professor; ministers of labour and employment, and education, Chris Ngige and Adamu Adamu respectively, to make resolving this issue with ASUU a priority.
He said the government “regards ASUU and the services they provide to the nation,” even as he urged them to bear with the government and consider the economic realities the country is currently grappling with.
The statement read in part: “Commending the leadership of NIREC for intervening in the year-long strike by ASUU and holding consultations with the parties, the President said no society which wishes itself well neglects its educational system and all its parts.
“President Buhari urged NIREC that in its subsequent consultations with members of ASUU, it is important that they share with them that the Government regards them and the service they provide to the nation very highly.
“However, they should be cognizant of the fiscal pressures that we are currently facing. Nevertheless, we remain committed to honoring our promises.
“For their part, I would like to encourage ASUU to continue to work with us towards finding resolutions to the challenges that confront us. My administration is committed to this engagement and dialogue, and I urge them to stay the course towards a joint resolution in the best interest of our children and nation.”
ASUU, in December, exactly one year after it suspended a nine-month prolonged industrial action, threatened to commence another indefinite action if eight issues it identified remained unresolved by the government.
ASUU accused the government of failing to implement the Memorandum Of Action (MOA) it signed with the government to end the strike in 2020.
The union, however, suspended the planned strike following interventions by NIREC and other concerned Nigerians.
A part of ASUU’s demands had included the issue of sustainability of the autonomy of universities, which it said the introduction of IPPIS violates.
ASUU has, however, said it is pleased with the ratings of NITDA on UTAS, saying it wondered why it took NITDA a year to come up with a report on the solution.
NIREC pleads with the government
CAN President, while speaking on behalf of the Council, said the meeting with the President was on the single point of averting strikes in the universities and the challenges of ASUU, which they consider to be of national interest.
Mr. Ayokunle told the President that from NIREC’s meeting with ASUU on January 10, 2022, the university lecturers outlined that the bone of contention between the union and federal government centered on eight issues including inconclusive renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU-FGN agreement, UTAS, IPPIS and distortion in salary payment challenges.
According to him, other contentious issues are reports of visitation panels to federal universities, funding for revitalization of public universities, earned academic allowance, poor funding of state universities and promotion arrears.
NIREC leadership, while acknowledging that some of the issues have been addressed by the government, appealed to President Buhari to direct the immediate return to the table to conclude the re-negotiation of the 2009 agreement.
“If the renegotiation process continues to a conclusion, issues that the government is not comfortable with can be re-negotiated to reach only implementable agreements. We believe that with renegotiation in place, other issues will be adequately addressed along the line,” he said.
In his response, Mr. Buhari expressed his commitment to meeting ASUU’s demands highlighting several payments made to the university lecturers and moves to address all of their demands.
He said funding has been provided for infrastructural development across several public universities and that several of them have begun drawing down on this facility to improve their level of infrastructure.
He said the adoption of the University Transparency Accountability Solutions (UTAS) developed by ASUU to replace the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) has also reached an advanced stage.
The President said: “Finally, and perhaps the most contentious of issues regarding the decision to use either the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) or the University Transparency Accountability Solutions (UTAS). As you may be aware, IPPIS was introduced as a means of blocking leakages. Through IPPIS, the federal government was able to save over N100 billion annually from the core civil service alone. Given the resistance from ASUU, we devised UTAS which is now on the table.
“I have also been informed that the System Assessment Report conducted by NITDA has been shared by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy to all stakeholders including ASUU, and they are to make the appropriate modifications and report their recommendations.”